Why won’t you let any refugees in? Please, help me. I want to understand. I want to think better of you than what I see.
I sit in front of the television, crying. “This is Europe’s defining moment,” I hear a television announcer say. I shake my head. “Why?” I say. “Why is it just Europe’s?”
I am a middle-aged white woman near the geographic center of the North American continent who can muster only a handful of words in Arabic. My husband doesn’t have a job because corruption forced us out of Saudi Arabia. I can’t go to where the refugees are, I can’t give much, I can’t step in and help. I can’t pass out water bottles and sandwiches or offer rides to families walking through Hungary. There’s very little I can do. But I have this desk, and this blog, and because I am safely far from your anger in the middle of America, I have the freedom to write. So I will ask you again, why won’t you help? These are your brothers and sisters, Arabs, Muslims, who live only a few hundred miles away, who share your food and your history, your faith, your stories, your language. Why do they travel only north, to live among people who share none of those things? Why don’t you help them, as well?
Oh, I have helped, you say, through sycophants commenting on Facebook. I’ve suspended all immigration laws for Syrians, so that those who are here for whatever reason can stay until the war is over. Syrian children who are here have access to Saudi education and healthcare. Syrian adults who are here can work without fear of breaking labor laws. Saudi Arabia has funded refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. All the critics are only spreading evil propaganda!
But, Saudi Arabia, visitors with visas aren’t refugees. The people streaming out of their ruined homes and destroyed towns, with their children in their arms, can’t get visas. It’s maddening enough to get a visa to enter Saudi Arabia when all the organs of one’s own government are working properly. No, no more than a fortunate, incidental handful of Syrians are currently in Saudi Arabia. And as for funding camps on others’ soil, it only says that you would rather write a check than wipe a brow. As is so often the case, you pay someone else to do work you would rather not. And your checks are far from sufficient to meet the need.
According to Maya Angelou (and I adamantly agree), “When people show you who they are, believe them.” I know it can be hard to see yourself as others do. I have seen you become angry when people judge your actions unfavorably, claiming they don’t understand. But in the great web of human interaction it doesn’t matter what you mean. It only matters what you do. Would it help you see yourself more clearly if I explain what I see you do, and what your actions say?
I see a King closing an entire beach in France for his private vacation as refugees press north through the Balkans seeking help in Europe. I see your own sons, their powers of reason shaped by the education you gave them, going to Syria against your stated wishes to kill and to destroy the homes of people you then refuse to shelter. I see you indignant that the United States refused to engage in fighting in which you never considered participating yourself, and whose victims you point to as evidence of others’ failures. I see you borrowing money as the price of oil falls, yet I see Saudi riyals still flowing to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia to pay foreign workers to clean Saudi floors and Saudi streets and build Saudi buildings and cook Saudi food and care for Saudi children. Meanwhile, Syrian families live on dirt floors, and have no streets or buildings and barely enough food, and fear for their children’s lives.
And here’s what your actions tell me: You are motivated more by love of comfort and fear of losing it than by love for your brothers. You are afraid that people who rose up against unjust government might upset your own population, which you have trained to be docile. You are afraid that if you admit refugees, you must open the door to aid workers, to UNICEF, to the Red Crescent, to Doctors Without Boarders, to the UN High Commission for Refugees, and you fear these people will destabilize the order you’ve built, as well. You would rather maintain your walls than open the door without knowing what might come in.
Am I wrong? Do I misunderstand? Please. Help me know what I have missed. Tell me you are better than this.
Your brothers and sisters are suffering, hardly a stone’s throw away. They’re not fleeing north because they see an opportunity to take a European vacation they haven’t had before. They aren’t reckless and greedy for European wealth, jumping into leaky boats because they’re too ignorant to recognize the danger.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.*
But the Syrians don’t have to put their children in boats. Hundreds of thousands have already walked to Jordan–a poor country, which opened its arms anyway. Why can they not keep traveling to Saudi Arabia?
You have room. This city is empty.
So is this one.
And this one.
They’re in terrible repair, but only because no one has maintained them since the last families moved out fifty years ago. Homeowners can’t be bothered to maintain the buildings now, but they can be repaired again. They provided shade and privacy and cool breezes and protection for generations of Arabian families. And those cities are certainly better than this one.
Or this one:
And in your villages, it’s quiet at night. There are no bombs, no gunfire. Perhaps, instead of useless silence, these walls could once again echo the sounds of children laughing, or the grunt of an old man stubbing his toe as he stumbles out of bed to use the toilet. The voices of women talking. The call to prayer.
Yes, this is a defining moment for Europe. It is a defining moment for humanity. And it is most certainly a defining moment for Arabia. You are being defined by what you do, not by what you say or feel or wish. Don’t fail. Or perhaps more accurately, stop failing.
*The lines of poetry are excerpted from the poem “Home,” by Warsan Shire. The complete poem is brilliant and heartbreaking. Read the text here or here (the text is slightly different on the different sites), or hear her read it here.