There’s a reason — beyond all the obvious ones — that we should be more focused on refugees. Sadly enough, as journalist, novelist, and Columbia University Professor Helen Benedict makes clear in her first TomDispatch piece, such reasons are already anything but lacking. In fact, from the start, refugees in flight proved to be pure gold for Donald Trump and what became the Trumpublican Party. From the moment he first rode down Trump Tower’s golden escalator to declare to a crowd, many of whom his campaign had hired, that he was running for president, he was already smearing desperate refugees at our borders. (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”) And he would never stop smearing people in wrenching flight from their homes as “animals” and their existence here as “American carnage.”
Sadly enough, this may be Donald Trump’s world, since, in the years to come, as this planet broils, ever more of humanity will be all too literally driven from their homes, like Pakistanis last July when one-third of their country was flooded. Brutal storms, staggering heat, you name it and it’s going to turn ever more of us into refugees. In fact, millions of people globally are already being displaced and, by 2050, it’s estimated that 1.2 billion human beings — yes, you read that right! — could become climate refugees.
As it happens, so many of us in this country are only here because our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents fled nightmares in other countries. My own grandfather arrived here in the 1890s at age 16, alone, in the steerage of a ship, with the equivalent of 50 cents in his pocket. With that in mind, this seems like an all-too-reasonable moment to ignore the Trumpublicans and try to give a little thought to just how badly refugees are being treated globally — if, that is, they aren’t Ukrainians.
So, my suggestion: join Benedict, who’s been covering the global refugee crisis for years, including those fleeing from our all-American wars of this century. Most recently, she’s been reporting from Greece, where she met Syrian writer and refugee Eyad Awwadawnan. The two of them wrote the just-published book, Map of Hope and Sorrow: Stories of Refugees Trapped in Greece, about how refugees are being abused not only there, but all over the West. Today, she considers how differently Europe and the United States have been treating white, Christian Ukrainian refugees than those from anywhere else. If, to steal a phrase from President Joe Biden, how we deal with refugees reflects “who we are and who we want to be,” then, as Benedict makes clear, we need to do a whole lot better and — given the planet we’re on — soon. Tom
The West’s Approach to Refugees
Almost anyone would agree that war is horrifying and peaceful countries should do their best to help its victims. The widespread eagerness to welcome fleeing Ukrainians after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded their country last February is a heartening example of such aid. But behind that altruism lies an ugly truth: most of the countries embracing Ukrainians are simultaneously persecuting equally desperate refugees from elsewhere.
Such unequal mercy would be no surprise from nations like Ukraine's neighbors Hungary and Poland, controlled by nationalist parties that have rarely welcomed anyone not white and Christian. However, the same thing is happening in Western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and here in the United States, the very democracies sworn to protect those fleeing war and persecution and that, in the case of America, sometimes turned those people into refugees in the first place. Our Global War on Terror alone has displaced an estimated 37 million people since we invaded Afghanistan in 2001.Read More