“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49
How fickle and mutable is the public opinion concerning refugees and those in need. Just a few short months ago, the world stood witness to the body of a little boy, given up by the sea as his family attempted to flee a horrible situation. The sentiment towards helping refugees grew and the Western world seemed willing to spring into action. Faced with one of the greatest crises since WWII and with an enemy just as evil as the Third Reich, the Western world looked ready to unite and help those looking for a life away from constant danger.
And then Paris happened.
Suddenly, nations closed their borders, people abruptly lost their compassion, and the United States – historically a beacon for the sick, the tired, the poor – had 27 governors overstep their authority and say they wouldn’t allow refugees into their states. Never mind that of all the known attackers, every single one (with exception to one) was a French national, not a refugee. Of the one where little is known, he used a fake Syrian passport, meaning we don’t know his status, but most likely wasn’t a refugee.
But fear never lets facts get in the way.
Prudence requires an increase in screenings, in doing all we can to weed out potential terrorists as well as help refugees acclimate to the United States (so as to prevent disruption, resentment, and a reason to join a terrorist group). Justice requires us to seek a way to permanently fix this situation so the refugees can return home without worry of losing their lives. But mercy requires us to bring them away from danger and to a land of relative peace and safety.
Taking in refugees certainly is a complicated matter. After all, the average refugee will undergo some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (especially for those who came from areas of heavy fighting), has lost family members, and is coming to a part of the world with an entirely different culture, climate, language, and majority religion. Such a scenario will naturally breed a tense situation that, if not handled properly, could cause problems. If we add to it that representatives of local governments (such as governors) are openly hostile to refugees, we have a volatile situation.
As with most things in life, love can overcome hate. It’s amazing how far a smile, simple directions, or just learning how to say “hello” in someone’s language will go. It’s the government’s job to vet the refugees and find places for them to live, but it’s up to us to make them feel welcome. People who feel welcome, who feel like guests or, even better, feel like neighbors are less likely to radicalize or listen to fundamentalists. Imagine the refugee who comes to the US or who is even turned away from the US, with the words of ISIS coming to mind; “They will reject you, they will mistreat you, only under an Islamic Caliphate can you find true happiness and freedom.” Such words begin to ring true when we actually do mistreat and reject refugees. If, however, we welcome them, treat them as neighbors, and do what we can to love them, then the words of ISIS ring hollow and false.
The future of these refugees really does fall on how we, as a community, treat them. If we are open and welcoming then chances are we will gain great citizens and neighbors. If we instead make the mistake of so many before us and reject them, then we will have nothing but trouble in our future.