Thursday, October 29, 2015

Refugee Crisis

Mike and I are constantly getting asked about the refugee crisis in Europe because we live in Turkey, which is the bridge for most refugees leaving the Middle East trying to get to Europe.  I think one news source labeled Izmir as the Life Jacket Capital of the World because they are selling so many life jackets to refugees.  There are news stories, such as this one and this one that have gone viral about refugees trying to cross the Agean into Greece.

I have thought a lot about this crisis and have really struggled to figure out what to say.  We have had a taste of it here and there and it has been heartbreaking each time, but it wasn't until we went to Chios last weekend and saw the refugee camps firsthand that I really saw what these people were enduring in order to escape the dangers of the Middle East and achieve their dream of a safe and prosperous life.

I don't know a lot about the politics behind the refugee crisis, but what I do know is that these refugees are people, just like you and me.

They are the mom and dad who have three kids and have the look of shame on their face as they sit on the street in Istanbul begging us to give them money so they can feed their children.

They are the little girl who watched us play cards at the bar and counted the cards in Arabic instead of asking us for money.

They are the families who cried in Chios as the rain flooded their tents right before they went to bed as we were walking off the ferry to our hotel.

They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and brothers and sisters, just like you and me.  As we walked along the road in Chios last weekend in the rain, I couldn't help but cry as people tried to drain their tents of rainwater so they could sleep.  
The refugee tent next to the ferry port in Chios.  Many of the refugees are able to sleep here, but we also saw tons who had their own tents along the road as we walked to our hotel.  When we arrived the first night, there were children playing in the rain with a deflated basketball.  It looked like they were playing a version of foursquare, which immediately brought flashbacks to the hours of foursquare I played both as a kid and as a Corps Member in Boston.

As I said before, I don't claim to be that knowledgeable about the politics behind the refugee crisis. It is complicated and there are so many factors to be considered when looking at this issue at a macro level. I do, however, think that we need to remember to look at this issue on a micro level, as well.  We need to think of these people as people and not just a group of refugees.  I am constantly reminded of the Golden Rule in situations like this, which calls on us to treat other people as we would like to be treated.  I am lucky enough to have never experienced anything remotely close to something like what these people are experiencing, but if I did, I would want to be treated with respect.  I would want people to remember that I am a person, just like them, who wants nothing but the best for their family. 

There are TONS of great non-profits out there, both big and small that are trying to help these people migrate to safety.  One of the non-profits that has made a huge impact, despite it's small size is Carry the Future.  They are asking for used or new baby carriers to hand out to these people as they walk across Europe. I can't imagine walking across Europe, much less having to do it carry a small child.  Even if you cannot give a baby carrier, like their page on Facebook to hear all of their inspiring stories.  Reading their stories is my favorite way to start a morning.

I don't know what the answer to this crisis is.  I understand the issues of letting tons and tons of people into Europe, but I also understand the issue with letting them stay where they are. I may not be able to solve the political issues surrounding this crisis, but I can try to help the people who have been affected and, most importantly remember that, despite their circumstances, they are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters and brothers, just like you and me.

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.  They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all, for being more. 
-Pope Francis