Sunday, September 13, 2015

Responding to the Refugee Crisis

On my way to work a couple weeks ago, I heard the breaking news of the truck found on the side of the road in Austria with  bodies of refugees inside.  I had caught bits and pieces of the refugee crisis before, but with this new wave of realization, hearing of these people who had been seeking safety left dead and disgraced, it brought on the compassion human suffering should arise in all of us.  The next week, the photos of the drowned refugee boy went viral.  A week after that, I talked with my husband about the crisis and how there's hardly anything we can do to help.  

A Syrian refugee girl in a temporary Hungarian camp
Photo by Michael Cassel via Vice News
I don't know who these people are, and I don't know what they'll do once they arrive in their destination country.  I do know for certain that there are smugglers taking advantage of the desperate by demanding high transportation fees from those who are already poor and needy.  I was so angry with the truck drivers and all like him until one interview on NPR brought up a new perspective.   Leonard Doyle of the International Organization of Migration pointed out that "[w]hen you're a family trying to escape from Syria and you face ISIL with a roadblock, you've got to use the services of a smuggler to get you over the mountains into Turkey. What is that person? Is that person just saved your life - is that a humanitarian, or is that a criminal?"  On the one hand, and I don't think I'll be able to shake this view, the smugglers are profiting from this crisis, which I think is despicable, and many take no care for their cargo, I'm sure, but on the other hand, they are helping to rescue those able to pay for it.  In a situation like this, there is no clean, safe plan.  No order.  There will be casualties of the chaos.  Many have died, many more will die, and many will face the next phase of their life at the hand of human traffickers as slaves and sex slaves.  Amazingly, though, the refugees still choose to come, knowing the dangers.  I've read that they consider themselves dead if they stay.  See the resolve in the words of men fleeing by boat.  They know they may drown, but they have to try, because for them, there is no other option.

I am conveniently far away from Syria, Europe and the horrors on the roads between them.  Watching this video of townspeople in Eisenstadt, the town where the truck of refugees was found, I feel a small connection with those at the vigil.  They don't know necessarily how to fix the problem, just that there is a problem, and that it needs to be fixed.  They have grace and understanding.  As one woman said, "These people have nothing to lose; their choice is between taking the chance and coming to Europe or dying at home."  From another, "I am not saying that they should all stay here, but as long as they are here, we should treat them with dignity."  If there is help to be given, it must be given.

From my Christian worldview, I know that we are to mourn with those who mourn, to meet the needs of those who have nothing.  To welcome the stranger with warmth and love.  I don't know where the limits should be, and I've heard plenty talk of how the refugees pouring into Europe will decimate the economy, but is not right to turn the huddled masses away.

Thankfully, I'm reminded of this wisdom from Helen Keller: "Although the world is full of suffering it is full of the overcoming of it."  Thankfully, there are stories of homecomings, families reuniting, asylum being granted, and hope being restored.  My favorite stories are the ones like the residents of Oer Erkenschwick cheering and waving welcome banners for refugees arriving from Syria.  A man caught it on video, which you can see here.  Though I've never been anywhere near this kind of situation, I imagine that somewhere among the refugee fears of bombs, war, death, capture, robbery, and finally just being turned away from the country you've traveled so far to reach, I bet there is also worry about ostracization, zenophobia, prejudice, and hatred.  How beautiful, just how wonderfully beautiful it is that these people on the video have found the complete opposite reaction?  That they have found a place that is safe and friendly, where people want them to feel comfortable and at home.

Others have been working to help in different ways, as well.  IT folks in Dresden have built an app to help refugees settle in and find the resources they need when first arriving in town.  Some young folks are organizing temporary homes through an Airbnb-like communityThis article calling Christians to action (and providing avenues to act) has been making the rounds on my Facebook page, and I highly recommend reading through it and choosing to make your own difference.  (Anyone near Atlanta can bring donations to the International Rescue Committee by Northlake Mall during business hours for local refugees.)
Oer Erkenschwick
Oer Erkenschwick,

Vice News has been covering a lot of the immigration crisis on their blog, from a look into a temporary refugee camp in Hungary to following this group of kids on their way to reuniting with their family and even the reasons why they originally fled home.  I'm glad there are ways to hear and read the stories of refugees, even if I do feel helpless in light of them; my feelings are absolutely eclipsed by those in the stories, anyway.  It's important to be aware, no matter what you decide to do afterward.  Understanding and awareness are the first steps to actually doing something that will make a difference.  After spending years in a bubble away from most current events and not caring much for getting involved, I want to take part in the things changing the world.  We all have the opportunity, and we all have the means.  Even if it's just a little that we can give, we have the responsibility to help the helpless, and as Christians especially, to give generously with compassion for the wounds inflicted by evil and chaos.


  1. One aspect that is sadly absent from many of the discussion is how America's foreign policy has exacerbated this problem to the breaking point. Without our money and munitions going to destroy al-Assad's regime, which provided the means needed for ISIS to grow to what it is today, these Syrians would have never had to leave. We've been funding the civil war that has created this crisis.

    1. It'd be great to see this topic enter conversation so that we could work on learning from history and mistakes, but don't you think that the conversation would then also lean toward America's responsibility for the people her actions have displaced?


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