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Kindness and Complacency towards Syrian Refugees

September 18, 2015


It feels almost inappropriate to write about the Syrian Civil War  and the horrors it birthed in a blog with the word "happy" in its title.  The war is a travesty of epic proportions that so far has killed more than 200,000 civilians and displaced 11 million more: 7 million refugees remain within Syria's borders, homeless and exposed to the ravages of war, while another 4 million refugees have fled.  The recent accelerating number of desperate arrivals to Europe and death toll of those making the perilous Mediterranean crossing to get there garnered increased international attention to the plight of these refugees. The photo of a drowned three-year-old boy that washed up on a Turkish resort beach created shock waves that evoked pity and concern amongst the global community that photos of small mangled bloody bodies from Syria could not.


No, none of this is remotely happy or inspiring feel-good news.  Actually, it's so tragic that if you really pause to think about it, functioning in society becomes difficult.  How can we go about our mundane routines of work and errands and housework, occasionally punctured with the delights of consumerist indulgences, if we're acutely aware of the violence occurring?  We can't.  So we tune it out and dim it down to a muted muffle and keep up the small talk and shopping and smiling.  Pretend that it's all so far away that it doesn't affect us enough to really care.  Maybe enough to shake our heads and feel momentarily uncomfortable but then forget about it.  However, now that millions of Syrian refugees are pouring into Europe, held in camps in Hungary and clambering onto trains to reach the promises of Northern Europe, the West can no longer close its eyes.   Americans also have to face the hard truth that so far, the United States, despite its noble Statue of Liberty offer to "give me your tired, your poor, your wretched masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore", has only taken in 1,500 Syrian refugees - .03% of the total.  


And yet, in all this darkness there are rays of light.  If you look closely at the cracks on this barren graveyard ground, you can see seeds of hope.   Why?  Because people, ordinary civilians in countries with governments often fearful and suspicious of refugees from a land where ISIS and a brutal dictatorship reign with terror, have shown courageous, generous and unyielding support.  The Icelandic government  said it could only afford to take in 50 refugees, but 10,000 individual citizens offered up their homes.   Syrians refugees were greeted with food and water from volunteers upon landing ashore in Greece and in Hungarian and Austrian train stations.   An Egyptian billionaire offered to buy an island off Greece to house refugees.  Uruguayan President José "Pepe" Mujica's offered to take in 100 Syrian children into his own summer home.   Families came with signs of support welcoming refugees to Germany, where the government has offered to take in 800,00 refugees, the most generous of any nation.   Grassroots organizations and individuals in the U.S lobbied and signed petitions, and President Obama then pledged to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees this year.

This is the good news: people are starting to wake up and listen and care enough to take action, even in small ways you too could do now.  No, it's not enough to solve the civil war, and the rest of the world should've been more proactive sooner.  The Syrian Civil War has been raging since 2011, lest we forget.  European and Americans should not be cast as saviors of Syrian refugees, for Syrian civilians are the true heroes who daily face death and fight it to save themselves and those they love. Also, most refugees still are hosted by Lebanon and other neighboring countries, not European nations.    Yet, this outpouring of generosity and support from everyday people whose lives have been safely insulated from the conflict, who choose compassion over fear of the outsider, should give us hope for humanity, and yes, even make us happy.  

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