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  • How should the community of nations and our own communities react to the tens of millions of people who have fled their homelands with only what they can carry to seek safety, asylum, and basic necessities? They drift in boats, camp under bridges, beg for food, and crowd into tents as they await our response, hoping to hear from us before winter sets in.

    This week, 70 bodies were discovered in a refrigerated truck with Hungarian license plates just over the border in Austria. The truck was transporting refugees but for unknown reasons was abandoned. The occupants, including a dozen women and children, suffocated to death in the locked compartment. Most are assumed to have come from Syria. Over 2000 migrants a day are intercepted trying to cross into Hungary from Serbia. At least as many must be getting through. Such an influx would double the population of my quiet suburban town in about 10 days.

    Also this week, hundreds more migrants lost their lives when several boats bound from North African to European shores capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. Their numbers included Syrians, Afghanis and people fleeing from war and famine in central Africa. They were hardly the first to not make this crossing, but this year alone more than 340,000 refugees and migrants did. Of the 140,000 who have reached Greece from Turkey this year, 80% are from Syria and 14% come from Afghanistan. According to the International Rescue Committee, "Currently there are nearly 60 million men, women and children escaping war, persecution and political turbulence." Those who managed to enter Europe are streaming into various cities as EU politicians ineffectually puzzle over how to stop the flood. At some point, a few might start to think hmm, what would Hitler do?

    A good number of international refugees are stateless persons. For various reasons, they lack citizenship in their birthplaces and so are not eligible for asylum no matter where they go. Others are forced to flee across borders without papers. Imagine being in their worn-out shoes.

    While a lot of refugees do find marginally better lives in Europe, the real winners are criminals—human traffickers, extortionists, and thieves who prey upon them throughout their harrowing journeys, in refugee camps, and even in places where they try to put down roots. Thus the 70+ corpses at the Austro-Hungarian border, but every refugee lucky enough to have survived his or her trek must have a tale of victimization to tell.
  • In America and Europe, some people and politicians can't resist scapegoating refugees and immigrants for not playing by the rules, if not simply for who they are. What do they know of war, persecution and famine? Had they managed to survive having their neighborhood bombed to rubble by their own government or been run out of town by paramilitary forces, would they feel the same way?

    Donald Trump, echoed by other GOP presidential pretenders, wants to eliminate "birthright citizenship" in the US (which could require rewriting the 14th amendment of the Constitution, but the current Supreme Court stands ready to help). If that were to happen, children of the roughly 5000 stateless people now in the US could be kicked out with nowhere to go, "anchor babies" cast into the sea.

    Think that couldn't happen here? In a consummately racist act, this summer the Dominican Republic retroactively stripped citizenship from more than 200,000 inhabitants of Haitian descent. As many Haitian public records were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, those people might not be welcome across the border either. America has a good share of nativists too.

    Our leaders have long been willing to let foreigners pay the price for our thirst for natural resources and attendant military adventures. I can't help but wonder how many of the world's footloose millions have had to flee due to actions and inactions of Western governments over many decades, including wars that they instigated, inflamed, ignored, or bungled. When Western powers redrew the map of the Middle East after WWI, they sowed the seeds of interminable conflicts to come. Only Turkey fought back and kept its territory, and that caused mass migrations between it and Greece. During the war, millions of Armenians, who Russia encouraged to rebel against the Ottomans, were slaughtered or displaced.

    The refusal of America and European nations to accept persecuted Jews and Romany people from central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s was as much a crime against humanity as the ovens of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau that disposed of them. During WWII, the Roosevelt government forced Japanese-Americans—most of them US citizens—into prison camps, another triumph of xenophobia. Well, at least we didn't gas them.

    To this day, the suffering begat by US support of friendly brutal dictators in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia still generates asylum seekers, as has America's costly fiascos in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, so many of us say that displaced people are not our problem; they should go back where they came from and fix those systems. Truth be told, many of those systems are already fixed—in the favor of foreign interests. Like ours.

    I think our would-be leaders should can the xenophobic rhetoric and propose some solutions to the humanitarian crises that projecting our power has loosed on the world. Projecting some humility and humanity would be a good start.

    Here's a short list of some organizations that assist refugees or defend their rights:



    @image 1: An Aerial View of the Za'atri Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan, opened in 2012, now home to more than 83,000 people. Possibly one in eight inhabitants of Jordan is a refugee. Photo by U.S. Department of State, licensed under Public Domain.
    @image 2: Where 2.5M Afghani refugees ended up in 2012. Screen shot of interactive world map of annual flows of refugees, 1975-2012 with demographic statistics by The Refugee project, explained here.
    @image 3: Where 262K refugees entering the United States came from in 2012, another view taken from The Refugee project.
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