Refugees are Still with us and Still Struggling

Yes, folks.  I am still alive and still trying to do something constructive about refugee issues.  This post is not exactly about economic development issues but, at least for an Ex-Development Cowboy it is very relevant.  I would welcome your comments about these thoughts and invite you to share the post into your own networks if you think it has anything to contribute to making things even a little bit better.  If it just sounds like one more rant from a frustrated do-gooder at least I got it off my chest.

Refugees are Still Struggling

Many distractions have pushed the refugee crisis out of the news in recent weeks.  Nevertheless the crisis remains – and it is not an “immigration crisis” or a “political crisis”.  It is a personal crisis for millions of individual families and individuals.  All of them have faces, names, families, hopes, dreams and fears.

BREXIT, terrorist attacks, leadership vacuums, budget deficits, political side shows presented by “reality” television stars, forest fires and earthquakes are serious matters.  They do not, however, in any way diminish the truly dire circumstances of millions of good families who have been forced to flee their homes in fear for their lives. Refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, Darfour, S. Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen and other places are over-crowded and under-funded.  People are still dying in their attempts to reach safety and an opportunity for a better life for their children.  Making the decision to abandon everything they have known and run is not any easy one for any of the refugees I know.  Many thousands of people are being forced to stay in illegal camps at blocked border points or under bridges in Paris or elsewhere. Others are still sleeping “rough” wherever nightfall overtakes them. Meanwhile the so-called developed world throws crumbs at them, if even that much.

People tell me that they have never actually met a refugee and I am sure that is true.  They are not actually swarming over the world in numbers that should cast fear in the hearts of local citizens.  I have met quite a number, however, and grown to know and enjoy the company of several who I would be proud to call my neighbors.  Guess what, folks, they are people pretty much like the rest of us.  Are they all saintly and easy to get along with?  Of course not.  They are people and their personalities run the full gamut that is found in any population.  The only differentiating factor I recognize is that they have all been through some experiences that the rest of us cannot begin to understand.  Many are traumatized and have health problems that have gone untreated for far too long. Would it be reasonable to expect anything else?

Meanwhile our so-called leaders bumble on about “the problem” as if it were their problem, without doing anything about “the people”.  They pander to their electoral base and talk about reducing already tiny immigration quotas or banning entry of whole religious, national or ethnic groups entirely.  They deplore the increasing racial violence directed against refugees in their countries out of one side of their mouth while tacitly encouraging or at least tolerating it out of the other.  It is clear that the only way to insure that responsible and humane action is taken is for the people to demand it. Right now it is the right wing fanatics, isolationists and xenophobes who are shouting the loudest and controlling policy. The rest of us are left mouthing platitudes at each other and bemoaning how those others don’t get it.

If those of us who see things differently fail to make ourselves heard in some constructive way, then we must share the blame for bad policy and negative changes in our culture (e.g. BREXIT).  We must, each and all of us, do something to change things.  If we are already doing something, then we must do something more.  “But, what can I do?” you ask.  We all have the power to do a lot.  We can vote !! We can put pressure on our elected representatives to improve policy.  We can write letters to the editor, or to our friends and relatives, to inform them and express our own feelings.  We can take the trouble to learn more actual facts about what is going on in the world.  We can provide financial support to any of a number of organizations (UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, MSF,etc), including my own (Languedoc Solidarity with Refugees), to support programs that work directly with refugees wherever they are.  We can stand up to bullies and refute the racist arguments of those who would limit the rights of refugees.  At its simplest:  We can all just give a damn. Please do give a damn — and then do something constructive.

Edmund Burke said: “All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”  He was right.