I have spent a lot of time lately sitting in meetings of individuals and organizations devoted to finding ways of more effectively helping victims of the war in Syria, terrorism, desperate poverty, and the mass movements of people that is the result of these abominations. These victims are symptoms of the multiple terrible crises that are affecting the whole world. The participants in these meetings are good people who share a deep concern for the people who are victims of those tragic situations. Together, we are a constituency for refugees. We are disbursed, unorganized and too often silent. But we are also determined to be part of resolving these problems and making it possible for people to live in humane conditions with us until they are able to return to their own homes.
It is good to be able to help one little Syrian refugee girl in Lebanon get the emergency surgery she needs to save her sight, and we have done so. It is good to provide emergency food and shelter to good families who would otherwise find themselves hungry on the streets of France, and we have done so. It is good to collect medical supplies and ship them to people in desperate need of them inside Syria, and we have done so. Languedoc: Solidarity with Refugees — LSR (languedocsolidarite.com) and many other good individuals and organizations have done these things and many, many others. These deeds are good, necessary and need to be multiplied many-fold. They do not, however, address the crisis that just gets worse. This we cannot do as individuals and small organizations acting alone. We cannot take care of all of the Syrian children who need health care. We cannot provide food and shelter for all the good families who need it. We cannot collect and ship enough medical supplies to meet the need in Syria or many other places. We cannot do these things on our own as ordinary citizens acting individually.
It would be very nice to be able to say that the “good deeds” we can do will help to see people through the crisis while our various governments and international organizations work out solutions for the underlying crises that are the reason refugees are on the road in the first place. Unfortunately, our governments and the international organizations are letting us, and them, down – and in very bad and often very cynical ways.
Refugees are made political cannon fodder for ultra-right wing politicians in the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere while those who profess to be more humane, announce their dedication to social justice and humanity without taking much action to demonstrate it. Immigration targets are set at levels so low as to be inconsequential and then the same governments who set those limits fail to provide adequate support for those few people they do allow in. The refugees who are locked out pass their time as best they can in informal/illegal border camps in Greece, in the Calais “jungle” and under the bridges of Paris without proper shelter, food, medical care or security.
The big crises are going to be resolved neither in the many meetings I sit in nor by the sincere and valuable assistance that we are able to provide to good people in real need. They are also not going to be resolved by our governments and international organizations when they put more emphasis on building fences and walls to keep out the “symptoms” rather than show real seriousness in addressing the root problems. Pandering to xenophobes, racists, ultra-nationalists and others on the political extremes in order to ensure the politician’s own election is also not going to solve the problems. Politicians are going to continue to act this way until we, the people, demand change. We must call on our elected leaders to let them know that we demand better of them – and that we will support their efforts to do better. We must let the political class in all countries know that there is a constituency for refugees, that we are passionate in our concern, and that we are not going to disappear until they start doing some of the difficult things that can make a difference. In the meantime we must also continue our efforts to make life a bit more tolerable for those who have already lost so much.