I’m what I like to call a “round two” college student.
I have a degree, but I’m only 23 and I’m back at it again.
I go to a state school, which means my classmates are generally all 18 to 19 years old. I strongly believe this is the biggest four- or five-year age gap in the human life cycle. I feel like these students may as well be my children.
Naturally, I get the hell out as fast as I can when class is through. I don’t know exactly what stopped me today, but I paused. I looked at a bulletin board I had never thought twice about. As I stood there, aimlessly looking, my eyes fell upon a three part seminar titled “Islam and Women.”
I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to attend, as many of these things require registration or are offered to a certain major only and here I am a biology major. I had already missed the first two parts of the seminar, but the final one: “International Refugee Crisis” was beginning in five minutes in the building next door.
I took as a sign from the universe that for some reason I needed to go and ran over.
After an hour of lecture on refugee rights, the crisis in Syria, and the complete desperation and destruction, I was in tears.
Initially, I was angry. We talked about the terrorist attacks in Beirut, that happened the day before the terrorist attacks in Paris. To be completely honest, I had no idea where Beirut was. I didn’t know about what happened there until a day or two after the Paris attacks.
While I’m ashamed of myself for not knowing that, I’m not going to pretend like I did. I felt such sadness for both the lives that were lost, those in mourning and for the lack of empathy from the world towards these people. I felt ashamed of the Western world, and sad to be a part of that stereotypical ethnocentric culture.
Even with that feeling fresh in my mind, when I was told Beriut was in Lebanon, my empathy and sadness grew deeper. I know people from Lebanon. I know people with homes in Lebanon and with families still living in Lebanon. While these people are Americans, the thought that their family could be facing these terrorists eye to eye made my stomach turn.
And there it was again: the shame. I was ashamed that it took this connection to reach a deeply meaningful level of empathy and compassion. Innocent people fear for their lives everyday, get blown to pieces on their way to work, and here I am: on Facebook, complaining about homework, only truly caring when it might directly affect someone I know.
“It wasn’t ‘just’ a bomb this time—it’s never just a bomb.”
We brush these attacks off when they happen in the Middle East because they’re so common…they’re used to it. A community never gets used to these attacks: they’re always new, always horrible, and always taking new lives and new cities.
Moving along to the current refugee crisis, I felt myself getting angry all over again. I have a lot of friends who have been promoting the idea of closing the borders of the US to foreign refugees. While I, in part, understand and recognize their fear, I cannot get past the inhumanity and immorality of this plan. Initially, I was against shutting out refugees on the basis that America was built upon the value of an open door, welcoming anyone who wanted a better life.
After all, that’s why I’m an American. I was picturing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, I was thinking of those fleeing during WWII, and even of domestic refugees fleeing from natural disaster.
While these are all lovely ideas, I was displeased with the lack of hard evidence I had to support this.
My blood began to boil again when I began thinking about the way people defend the constitution. The constitution is wonderful: I agree whole heartedly! We uphold our constitution and stand by words written over 200 years ago. Those people that want to close our borders? You better believe they live by the constitution…word for word…emphasis on the second amendment.
So what upsets me about this?
We stand by laws created over two hundred years ago, and yet until today, I had never even heard of an extremely important and pertinent document signed just sixty-four years ago: The 1951 Refugee Convention and the amendment in 1967 Protocol. This document created and upheld by the UN, signed under President Truman, clearly defines the rights of refugees within the applicable countries. The document defines refugees as someone who is forced to leave their nation to escape persecution, war or destruction: for the protection of their life.
These refugees have very specific rights. Rights that we agreed to uphold and protect. A refugee cannot be expelled. They cannot be punished for illegal entry. Refugees have the right to work, the right to an education and the access to courts. Refugees have the freedom of religion, the freedom to move within the nation, and the right to public assistance.
A right to fight to stay alive.
I keep hearing people say: why don’t the neighbouring countries take them?
While there are some Middle Eastern nations that both could and should take in more refugees, other countries are literally overflowing with them. They are far past their capacity and they just keep coming. Turkey and Lebanon harbour two million Syrian refugees combined. Jordan’s entire population is now made up of 20 percent Syrian refugees.
These refugees are not leading glamorous lives, moving to a new country and starting a new life. They are in tents, in tent cities. Living without running water, flooded out of their tents every time it rains, children are not being educated, health care is poor at best, food is scarce and jobs are non-existant.
But to reach one of these sacred refugee camps?
Now that’s something to be grateful for. These people are so desperate, in such unimaginably atrocious situations, they spend every penny, sell everything they own just to buy a spot on a smuggler boat out. They’d rather risk their lives, their children’s lives, on these god-awful makeshift boats that are more than just overcrowded, literally jam packed, just for a chance at getting out.
Boats that don’t make it on a regular basis. Boats that no one is calling the coast guard for. Boats filled with innocent men, women and children who don’t know how to swim.
Boats with children like Aylan and Ghaleb, who drowned with their mother trying to get out of their hellish world.
Washed up on the shore in Turkey, the image of Aylan’s body serves as a reality check.
If the real reason you want to close the borders is because of terrorism: then fine. Let’s just take the thousands upon thousands of orphans, babies, disabled, or elderly.
Maybe we can’t take them all—but to be upset about 10,000, which is .00003 percent of our population?
While Lebanon takes in 1.4 million?
Lebanon’s GDP is approximately $44 billion, America’s is about $16 trillion.
Do the math.
Have a heart.
Compassion is what sets us apart.
Author: Michelle Presler
Editor: Renée Picard