Empathy, perspective and ethics: refugees and Rutland
Today I am going to leave my usual topics and briefly dive into a topic that is in the news here locally: Syrian refugees coming to Rutland.
I was surprised and pleased when Mayor Louras announced that Rutland would be hosting 100 Syrian refugees. I was proud, and thought it was a great example of how a city should act.
But I was stunned by the immediate birther backlash, and have been very surprised by the reactions of our people (all descended from immigrants, myself included). One person (I’m not calling him out, I like him, he is a good businessman and a reasonable guy) said in response to the situation (paraphrasing): “They are going to bring in these people and give them jobs, we don’t have jobs, no one can start a life with a thousand dollars,” etc. This guy happens to be married to a woman who came here as a legal immigrant laborer, and he is completely blind to the irony of his reaction. This is endemic.
I thought that I would look at the facts of the situation:
The Syrian refugee situation is a direct result of the destabilization of the Middle East caused by the Iraq war, a war fought based on lies, a war that we, through fear, jingoistic nationalism, or apathy allowed to occur;
The Syrian situation is one of the most dire human horror shows since Rwanda, the Balkans, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and WWII;
The Syrian situation has resulted in the largest migration of humans since WWII;
Syrians are fleeing an environment where they are ducking bombs and bullets from at least four major factions, where beheadings are viewed as sporting opportunities for publicity, and enduring years of literal starvation.
I have a friend who, when he was a teenager, had to hide in the closet with his little brother while his mother was brutally raped, beaten, and then shot in the head by his father, who then killed himself.
This is one of the most horrible things I have ever heard of anyone enduring. Now imagine enduring that type of horror and violence every day for years, and escaping it to live fenced into a tent city with tens of thousands of other refugees who are kept there because no one wants to help them.
As an example of how little people want to help, the U.K. just left the E.U. primarily because of a desire to stem immigration.
Rutland County has a population of just over 60,000. Vermont has an unemployment rate of about 3.6 percent. One hundred people accounts for 0.15 percent of the Rutland County population. You got that . . . one sixth of one percent of the population.
The cities in the U.S. that had refugee relocations services have proven to be the best, most economically sound cities in the U.S. (Burlington, Boulder, Minneapolis, Austin, for example). Refugees increase diversity and entrepreneurship, and, quite frankly, they take jobs that no one else wants.
Offer me a job for $8/hour at McDonald’s right now and watch what I do. I will laugh in your face, and go look for a job that utilizes my master’s degree. Put me in a war zone ducking bullets and bombs for two years where I don’t have enough for myself or my family to eat, then put me in a refugee camp like a dairy cow (but treated worse) for two years, and then see my response to a job at McDonald’s and a bed in a crappy but safe apartment. I will cry with joy and work 20 hours a week of overtime.
I worked at a Brazilian churrascaria a few years ago, and I met a very interesting Argentinian fellow there. He was both a doctor and a lawyer in Argentina. He became those things after he ruined his knee playing football for Argentina’s best team (more wins than Manchester United), where he took over for Diego Maradona when he retired (this means that my friend was one of the best football players to ever play the game).
My friend the extraordinary achiever was there as a cook, making minimum wage (I myself made about $25/hour). He was there, slaving away over a wood fire, barbecuing meat because he could make more here doing that than he could at home as a doctor or lawyer.
As economically oppressed as we are here in the United States (and we are literally being harvested for corporate profits), most of us have very little idea of the nature of hardship that exists in the outside world.
The only thing I know is that I am disgusted with the reactions of my fellow Rutland County residents. We are all people, and I very much want to be able to say that we did our part to help. I want to lead by example. I’m glad there are many others who feel the same, too.