I’ve been struggling with the idea of why refugees are so unwanted throughout the world. I think the best way to become better people is by trying to see where they’re coming from. I worked on an article last year on the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who were questionably and violently arresting illegal immigrants. I had then spoke to Henry Carey, a Georgia State political science professor who had helped me understand why those people would bother leaving their homes.
The answer was simple: there is no option B. No one likes to leave their home, especially to ping-pong around countries that make them feel unwelcome and set up beds on the sand and the dirt, inside tents made for two-three families each. The biggest chunk of refugees fleeing to Europe, the U.S. and Canada are leaving war zones, and countries where being shot at and killed is something to dodge on a daily basis. Young boys are drafted by the neighborhood gangs, taught how to shoot a gun from 12 years old, deal drugs, face murder….
Can we really not look out for them because they’re not from where we’re from?
Don’t get me wrong – I understand why a country can not function with a constant influx of illegal immigration. We all would like to think we’re good human beings, but you wouldn’t necessarily host 67 strangers in your basement, pay for their meals, take them to the doctor — mostly because the majority of us can’t afford to do so, and because, as other groups of people like to say, “it’s your house, and you’re the one that belongs in it.” Sound familiar?
In other words, to divert from this analogy, refugees flooding into countries around the globe have put a strain on many governments, and have forced leaders to take extreme stances on illegal immigration, swaying many populations against ‘foreigners’ as well. As a result, we’re seeing a wave of new-found racism against populations that we never even considered before: the forgotten, the war-scarred, gang-fleeing, asylum seekers.
I’ll start off with what I know best: my home country, which I saw change from one second to the next when we started receiving boats filled with Syrian refugees.
Greece’s economy plummeted in 2008 when our broken political system gave out, leaving thousands without jobs, a distrust in government officials and operations, and the country in deep, deep debt. Not much has changed until today — not for the better at least. Under a European Union leash, the Greek government has bi-weekly negotiations regarding austerity measures with German leaders, college graduates who are looking to score a job at retail or a bar, and the biggest chunk of the nation’s senior residents who are getting less than 50 percent of what their pension was supposed to be.
Cue the arrival of refugees. Starting a couple of summers ago, Greece began to see its largest intake of refugees in the nation’s history – and not by choice. Turkish smugglers pushed inflatable boats over to the Greek coast, each carrying tens of hundreds of war-fleeing migrants. By the time the beaten refugee-flooded boats reached the Greek islands, residents and the coastguard took them in and provided them with food, water and temporary shelters. But the temporary soon became permanent.
Until today, Greek islands see about 400 refugees arriving in a day. Island residents are stil usually out on the beaches, offering assistance and necessities, while fighting their own battle of cut-down pensions and wages. So it’s no wonder that the citizens of Greece have begun to feel angered with the lack of resources, and the relentless arrival of refugees.
Over 60,000 refugees are hosted in Greek refugee camps, and over 1.6 million have travelled through the country to get to more economically stable nations in the European Union. Greeks expressed their inability to take on the influx, electing one of the country’s first (and only) far-right party into the Parliament, which vowed to keep illegal immigrants out. And as increasing crime rates were being blamed on those immigrants, and refugees began starting fires and trouble in the refugee camps, that party, known as Golden Dawn, gained even more power.
(I’d like to think) Greeks are not racist. They’ve aided in the European refugee crisis, but were thrown into the midst of it all without being provided any resources or guidance and have seen their country plunge deeper into a crisis because of “those people”. Already crippled by the financial crisis, Greeks saw their streets, beaches, and ports become living locations for hundreds of refugees rejected by most countries in the European Union. But Greeks are showing a pattern which has been becoming more and more evident among countries who (unwillingly) found themselves as beacons of hope for those fleeing war, terror, or simply, hunting for a better life.
A growing pattern
In the midst of the European migrant crisis, on June 23, 2016, the U.K. voted on Brexit and left the European Union in an act which some suspected had all too much to do with racism. The U.K. is no stranger to illegal immigration. Swarming in from Africa and India, immigrants have been populating British cities, often building up that uncomfortable feeling of “we don’t want you here” from the cities’ residents. Social media posts emphasized growing racism after the ‘Yes’ vote last summer, with videos showing violence towards immigrants, as well as Muslims – most of whom were long time residents of the country.
Then, there was Hungary’s “wall”. Hungarian Prime Minister Vikton Orban called immigration the “Trojan horse of terrorism” and shut down the country’s southern borders by detaining refugees in camps. Serbia and Slovenia joined along by building razor-wire fences to keep incoming crowds out.
And just a couple of days ago, Germany announced its had enough of its refugees, and has put forth over 400 resettlement requests – resettlement to Greece (that’s right, the financially disabled country), followed by the UK, France, Norway, and the Netherlands.
Taking back an open invitation
Possibly, the most disappointing of them all, is the news that Canada will now be shutting its “open-to-all” borders. Remember when President Donald Trump tried to enforce his infamous travel ban, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bounced back with a “diversity is our strength” #WelcometoCanada tweet?
That’s gone now. Trudeau made sure to emphasize in his Aug. 20 press conference that despite their so-far open-arm attitude towards refugees, Canada will be making sure that immigrants are coming to the country legally. While The Guardian labelled that as ‘backtracking,’ I’ll stay slightly more optimistic than that, and call it an ‘adjustment’.
This comes as tens of hundreds of thousands of immigrants left the U.S. in fear of being deported and are now temporarily located in Canada’s sheltering locations, like Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
Trudeau brought up “concerns Canadians may have about uncontrolled immigration”, and assured the nation border control is in place and warned the immigrants that they must follow the rules, “and there are many.”
And dare I turn my attention to the country of immigrants, the melting-pot, which was urged by its leader to put forth a travel ban, which is fighting conservative values from the 1700s, and just last week was warned by the United Nations over its “alarming” racism?
Change is hard for some, and the rest of us can understand that. But where does concern for my country turn into xenophobia (which turns into racism) and where does that line cross over to hate? It frightens me that this is an ever-growing pattern among Europe and North America – the two most powerful continents.
Economically powerful countries should be using their status as an advantage and helping the refugees by either intervening in their homeland troubles (that’s a whole other Opinion column, I know), or at least providing humane assistance when refugees seek asylum. Is that too much to ask?