Monday, March 28, 2016

Refugees and Compassion

Last week my friend Ariadne from Greece wrote a blog post entitled Our Syrian Friends. Her family opened their home and invited a family of refugees from Syria to stay for a few days. I was touched by the compassion Ariadne and her family showed, and proud to have a friend with such generosity.

Unfortunately, the refugee crisis in Europe does not always lead to empathy and compassion. Ariadne wrote that some people disagreed with her actions, and we hear about demonstrations against accepting refugees in several countries. There are also those who have decided to consider all refugees as potential terrorists or criminals, or to think that they want to take jobs or welfare that only long-time tax-paying citizens deserve. I want to explain why I believe the refugees should be treated with compassion.

Are people obligated to stay in the country where they were born, no matter what wars or disasters are destroying it? Would you stay and await long-term suffering and possible death?

Think of what people in Syria have been going through. The war has lasted over five years now, and has killed, injured, and displaced millions of people. Those who choose to leave have probably experienced one or several of the following: friends and family members being killed, injured, or raped; destruction or damage to their home or town; losing their jobs and routines; food shortages and starvation; living without electricity or running water; constant fear of danger; and above all, no real hope that the situation will return to normal any time soon.

Then, when they decide to leave the country, they have to somehow find the money to pay the smugglers. They leave behind everything they had and travel into the unknown. Some of them drown on the way. Families can get split up and lose touch with loved ones. On their journey and upon arrival they live in bad conditions and in camps, with no certainty that their lives will improve.

And finally, in Europe they are treated with suspicion and hostility, and accused of being the same as the very people they are fleeing! This is a typical victim-blaming stance adopted by people who want to simplify everything and pass the responsibility away from themselves.

Those who keep saying that some of the refugees are terrorists or criminals are letting the terrorists win. The main aim of a terrorist organization, as the word implies, is to make the population terrified. Naturally the terrorists claim that they are smuggling operatives into Europe among the refugees, and there may well be some truth in that. However, many of the terrorist attacks in Europe have been carried out by long-term residents or citizens.

Every group contains good and bad people, and no group should be judged collectively by its worst members. Terrorism has to be dealt with, but not at the expense of vilifying thousands of innocent people. Criminal behaviour among the refugees needs to be addressed, but while taking into account that many of them probably suffer from PTSD. Just as many child abusers were victims of abuse themselves, so survivors of war and trauma need therapy and support to prevent them from trying to regain a sense of control through socially undesirable behaviours.

Another problem raised is that the large number of refugees is straining Europe's economy. This is particularly true in Greece, which has been suffering an extended economic crisis. However, the economy, particularly of a whole continent that has economic union, could become flexible if the will were there. If the public decided to devote some of the continent's collective resources to adjusting to a larger population, something positive could be done. Europe has a low birth rate and ageing population, and it would be interesting to see how the immigrants could change this trend.

Of course, there are problems. Religious and cultural differences would have to be overcome, and the immigrants would have to adopt the general universal values of their new countries, as well as learning the local languages and acquiring relevant work skills.

I'm not going to be naive and ignore the challenge faced by the clash between extreme Islamism and western culture. Those fighting to impose Islam on the world are a serious threat, and they are fighting ruthlessly, free of the inhibitions and scruples the west tends to have about human rights and international law. But I also know that not all moslems support this type of Islam, and most want to live peaceful lives and practice their religion in private, while accepting other people's choices.

The extreme attitude and behaviour of the Islamist terrorists and regimes leads to an unfortunate extremist response, with some leaders and individuals viewing the world in simplistic "us and them" terms. The idea of banning moslems from entering certain countries can only create more hatred. You cannot fight hatred with hatred.

Here in Israel, there is not much we can do to help the Syrian refugees. All factions within Syria seek to destroy Israel, and Israelis have more reason than Europeans to fear the spread of the war. However, when Syrians, both civilians and fighters for any of the factions, show up injured at the border in the Golan, they are taken to Israeli hospitals and given medical treatment. This humanitarian gesture is not widely reported.

It seems obvious to me that the key to creating a peaceful world is through education. Sadly, it is much easier to destroy than to build, and it is much easier to think in simplistic terms than to try to understand the complexity of human life. Education takes time, patience, empathy, and a vision of the universal values we would like the world to adopt. To be a good person means having empathy and finding what is common with others, instead of labelling individuals on the basis of their group belonging.

I would like to see a world where victims of war were treated with compassion and helped to achieve productive, happy lives. This is important not only for the people receiving the help but for the givers of help, and for society as a whole. In times of struggle we should all strive to be the best people we can and to counter hatred with love.

1 comment:

Ariadne said...

Thank you for writing this blogpost!Thank you for understanding my feelings!Your support is
as important as the support in words or actions of people near me!Thank you!AriadnefromGreece!