Monday February 18, 2019
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Apathy of refugees: An unending dilemma!

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by Henry Stillwell

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door

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The poem ‘New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus, which is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, bears these words. Images of countless refugees in survival desperation have shocked the world of late.

However, the ‘Land of the Free’ has not pledged any amount of refugee resettlement in the face of the greatest refugee crisis since WWII.

Many things have to happen before the world can expect the refugee crisis to end. First and foremost, civil wars in Syria, Eritrea, and Libya have created situations where families are faced with two choices; flee to the West, or die in your homeland. The West needs to do its part in arranging peace talks, and attempting to bring an end to these crippling wars. Instead of picking sides and supplying weapons, we need to send diplomatic negotiators with peace as the only objective. Secondly, situations of extreme poverty must be alleviated. Another major reason for the current refugee crisis is extreme poverty, lack of access to food and clean water. Billions of people in Africa, Asia, and in the Middle East live on less than two dollars a day. When people who have no money, they face a paucity of clean water; attempt to travel to wealthier nations is often the only option. The West needs to do a better job of leveling the playing field for human species. No human deserves to live without clean water. These should be the long-term goals of wealthy nations, namely, United States in the face of such atrocities.

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In terms of the immediate response, the West must begin to admit more refugees. The United Kingdom pledged to take in 10,000, a drop in the bucket of an estimated 2,000,000 people who have been displaced in Syria, Eritrea and Libya. Clearly, nobody in the European Union has been willing to step up and make commitments based on helping the most refugees possible, as opposed to commitments that make sense financially and politically. However, I feel the country that can and should do the most is the United States. Where would the United States be if we had not taken in swathes of immigrants during the Irish potato famine? The United States is historically a nation of immigrants, a melting pot. The United States is supposed to be the nation where people can seek refuge, and be afforded some basic civil rights. How can the United States be so hypocritical when these are values that every American claims to uphold? These values are enshrined and engraved in our most sacred institutions. They are believed to be the most revered symbols.

Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

Here they are!

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There should be some steps taken to protect these refugees. These people are refugees in their own country, how saddening is that!

Next Story

Hope in Mexican Border Towns, Migrants Wait In Hope Of Rescue

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route.

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Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Guatemala wait at bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas for immigration officials to allow them to turn themselves in and ask for asylum in U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

Migrants have arrived in Tijuana and other border cities in caravans of thousands, while others come in small groups of a dozen or so. They have often walked for days through Central America, then ridden buses or gotten rides on trucks through the vast expanses of Mexico. In border cities like Tijuana, they find help in shelters run by charities.

Asylum seeker Angela Escalante is here with her husband and 7-year-old son.

“The situation is very bad, there are no jobs,” she said of her country of Nicaragua, blaming political violence there on President Daniel Ortega. “There’s no security so you can’t safely walk the streets,” she added.

Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019.
Central American migrants settle in a shelter at the Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, in Mexico City, Jan. 28, 2019. VOA

Post-traumatic stress

New arrivals say they also face violence from cartels and local drug gangs.

“It was around 14 years ago they killed the brother of my grandfather and a son of my grandfather, and because of this, they are still pursuing us,” said Jorge Alejandro Valencia, 19, from Michoacan state on Mexico’s western coast. He said the criminals later killed his grandfather, and they now are threatening his sister.

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Survey of Migrants From Mexico. VOA

Many migrants have been exposed to violence, said Gordon Finkbeiner of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, from “organized crime groups that are along the route. What we see and what we attend to is mostly situations of high levels of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

A 23-year-old Honduran, newly arrived in a shelter, said a gang demanded he sell drugs, and he could see no escape except to leave his country. He asked not be identified, saying that the gangs monitor Facebook and if his identity is revealed, the gang would target his family.

US citizens wait, too

Africans and Haitians, who relocated from their countries to Venezuela, and Central Americans from Central America’s northern triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, all wait in the city’s shelters. Every case is different, and many are complicated.

A woman from Honduras has a 12-year-old son with U.S. citizenship and displays his passport. The boy, named Jimmy, was born in the United States but returned to Honduras with his mother when she was deported.

A middle-aged man named Efren Galindo was born in Mexico and grew up in Texas. Two years ago, he was deported and nearly killed by Mexican drug cartels, he explained as he displayed scars on his back and shoulder.

“I’ve been 46 years, [nearly] my whole life over there,” Galindo said, pointing northward to the United States. “I’m married to an American citizen. I have four American sons, an American daughter and 16 grand babies,” he added.

Credible fear, big backlog

To be granted asylum, petitioners must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution or torture, and show that they are not only fleeing poverty. Those who have been deported from the United States face added restrictions. Many having been barred from returning for five, 10, 20 years or more.

The U.S. immigration system, meanwhile, is overwhelmed, with a backlog worsened by the recent 35 day partial shutdown of the U.S. government in a dispute between Democrats in Congress and U.S. President Donald Trump over a border wall. U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services said in a statement Jan. 21 that it faced “a crisis-level backlog of 311,000” asylum cases that had yet to be interviewed for credible fear.

The backlog of all immigration court cases was more than 800,000 in November, according researchers at Syracuse University.

Many detention facilities that house illegal entrants are temporary, according to Border Patrol Agent Tekae Michael on the border south of San Diego.

“I know ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is completely overrun,” she said. “We don’t have enough immigration judges to be able to process efficiently and effectively and swiftly.”

Mexico is granting temporary papers to Central Americans, and volunteers from U.S.-based groups like San Diego’s Border Angels bring supplies to the shelters. Mexican businesses are making donations.

Also Read: Mexico to Relocate 120 Central American Migrants

Carlos Yee of the Catholic shelter Casa del Migrante says aid workers like him feel frustrated.

“We don’t have the power to work through this enormous bureaucracy. We only can say to them, be patient,” he said.

The city of San Diego is visible through a border fence, just 30 kilometers north of here, but these migrants in Tijuana face many more hurdles on their journey. Yet, they are still hopeful. (VOA)