Refugees Are Not the Problem

Originally posted to Odyssey, February 13, 2017

We’re all exhausted, I know. We’re all tired of seeing the headlines and the Facebook posts spewing political rhetoric all over the place. As much as I’d like to say this isn’t going to be a hot-button political issue post, it kind of is. There’s not really a way around that. All I can say to encourage you to keep reading is my goal is never to change someone’s view or scream at them that they’re wrong. All I want to do is present another perspective that might show you something you didn’t realize.

Right now we’re in the midst of a massive refugee crisis. 4.9 million Syrians are now refugees, and more than half of them are children. It’s easy to wave a hand and say it’s not our problem in the United States. It’s easy to say we don’t want them to here, we have our own problems, good luck, and goodbye. It’s easy to sign a ban refusing to allow people from war-torn countries into our own. My question to you is this: is that right? Are we really looking at this the right way? And maybe boiling it down to “right” and “wrong” isn’t a good way to go about it. It would be a disservice to the complexity of the issue we face not only as a nation but as human beings. Too often, we condense these extremely complex issues into 30-second soundbites we like that we then repeat to others. I don’t want to do that here. I do advise you to do your own research so you can form your own educated opinions about the topic. You can find a good starting point here.

What I mean when I ask if we’re going about this in the “right” way is simply that I believe we’ve lost our perspective on the whole thing. We’ve gotten so caught up in the politics of the issue, fighting with our neighbors, friends, and even government over what we believe the right course of action to take is, we’ve forgotten what we’re even fighting about. We distil the catastrophic events that have taken place across the globe to numbers, to faceless refugees we don’t feel obligated to care about all because they come from a strip of land with a different label than ours. That is what I believe is wrong with our thinking. We’ve become so obsessed with labels and appearances we completely disregard the one thing that unites us: we are all part of the human race.

Those “faceless” people on the other side of the planet live and breathe and hope and fear the same way you do. They want love, security, acceptance, and connection. Just like the rest of us. We’ve created borders so we can compartmentalize atrocities that happen somewhere else as “not our problem” because they’re happening to “other people.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as “other” people. We are all one people. We’re all stuck on this rock in the middle of the universe and for some reason, we’re petty enough to keep flinging each other off it for no good reason. The sooner we can understand that, the sooner we can stop bickering amongst ourselves for not sharing identical views and start working together to fix the problems we all face.

Nothing bothers me more than seeing someone say they don’t care about an issue because it doesn’t directly affect them. If it’s affecting another human being, no matter where in the world they are, it’s affecting you. So when I see people turning away refugees simply because they weren’t fortunate enough to be born in a place that wasn’t in the midst of a civil war, and they are justifying it by saying they’re protecting “their own” citizens, it infuriates me. Because we’re all citizens of the human race; we’re all citizens of the world. The only things keeping us from realizing this are the abstract borders we’ve drawn onto a map.

You don’t see walls separating every single country. You know why? Because humans weren’t made for that. We were made to share our experiences and care about each other. We were made to live together on the only planet we have. I think we as a people need to learn to care again. We need to find our humanity again. It’s not hard to do. When you look at someone struggling, ask yourself, do they have any less right to live and breathe and be happy than I do? If the answer is no, then ask yourself what you can do to help. Because they deserve the chance to be here just as much as you do, no matter where they came from. I’ll leave you with this quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

One thought on “Refugees Are Not the Problem

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  1. I like this – so it’s basically Peter Singer’s principle of universalisability. The argument runs that there is no particular reason why moral regard should not extend to all of humanity (and indeed beyond). Tribal allegiances won’t cut it. But (and you’ve just drawn my attention to this) universalisability is a negative reason. So it’s difficult to get enthused about it, in the same way that nationalism or religion or local communities engender enthusiastic group membership. Perhaps this is why the refugee issue, above all others, is so utterly exhausting.

    Or perhaps it’s that in-groups always need to be defined against an out-group, because they are often not defined by much. ‘Europe’ is diverse and abstract, but cast it against Islam/Africa/The East and suddenly it seems united. But who do we cast ‘humanity’ against?

    On a practical level, I’ve come round to the idea that the comparative advantage of the West is to provide money, not resettlement places. Alexander Betts and Paul Collier are quite rigorous on this; they’ve got an article in the Spectator from 25 March. Considering how much hand-wringing global leaders engage in on the refugee issue, the annual budget of the UNHCR is hilariously tiny. It’s in the ballpark of $8 billion. There are a lot of governments in the world that could contribute that amount tomorrow.

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