What is the greatest crisis facing the world today? How will history label this period in our lives? Will it be the effects of climate change? The growth of terrorist violence? The divisiveness of me-first politics? The effects of a Donald Trump presidency? The systematic dismantling of public education? All are worthy candidates for the honor. But I believe history above all will take note of, and for decades to come the world will continue to deal with, the plight of refugees.
The resettlement of millions who flee their homes desperate for better lives dominates this decade and overwhelms the resources of western nations who struggle to cope. The numbers are staggering. In a well-researched Pew Research Center study published in October, Phillip Connor and Jens Manuel Krogstad reported some startling facts. Here are some worth pondering:
Nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are now forcibly displaced from their homes, more than ever before. More than one in 20 people living in the Middle East are displaced. About one in 60 people living in continental Africa are displaced.
An estimated 12.5 million Syrians have been displaced in the past five years, about 60 percent of that nation’s people, an increase over 1 million in 2011. The surge results from protests against the al-Assad government that began more than five years ago.
European Union countries, plus Switzerland and Norway, received a record 1.3 million refugees. More than 1 million migrants applied for asylum in Europe last year. What about the United States? The Pew study reports that the immigrant share of the U.S. population increased only by 1 percentage point over a full decade, rising from 13 percent in 2005 to about 14 percent in 2015.
Nearly half of refugees entering our country are Muslims. Historically, Americans have opposed accepting large numbers of refugees within our borders. Public opinion shows that Americans have consistently opposed admitting large numbers of foreigners fleeing war and oppression.
As soon as he took office, President Donald Trump banned all immigrants from seven Muslim countries and ordered his administration to develop extreme vetting measures for immigrants from those countries to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States. A president has the power to shut down the refugee program completely without approval from Congress. USAToday reported in January that no refugees from any of those countries have recently committed terrorist acts in the United States.
Since taking office, Trump continues to campaign for building a wall between the United States and Mexico and includes huge sums for it in his proposed budget.
We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. Our ancestors all came to these shores from somewhere else. In 1883, Emma Lazarus labeled the Statue of Liberty “Mother of Exiles” and put into words her view of what the statue represents to America. Today, her words speak louder to me than ever.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”