Imagine not being able to have a birth certificate, or official registration that you were actually born, or even have any legitimate proof you exist. You would be hampered throughout life, each time you needed to show your identity, for school, health care, any number of services and activities. It’s one thing to follow through on John Lennon’s words, “Imagine there’s no country”, but it’s another not to belong to one in today’s world. In Nepal and Thailand thousands are believed to be stateless and not recognized by the state. Worldwide, some 10 million people are stateless, and the number is swelling in refugees camps like those of Syria, where thousands of births are not being registered. In the past 10 years some 4 million people were granted citizenship, and in 2008 Bangladesh formally recognized thousands of Urdu-speaking Biharis. Despite occasional efforts such as those, in human terms the consequences of statelessness are devastating. On a larger level experts say the overall numbers could be destabilizing, meaning that as those who are undocumented and stateless keep increasing, their number, some believe, could lead to a refugee crisis. The UNHCR (The UN refugee agency) held a forum in The Hague recently to draw attention to the issue and to help find solutions and will soon launch a global campaign to end statelessness—A welcomed effort underlining there’s a long way to go.
When Carol Clark had cancer and ran out of paid leave, her husband Dave put a little note on a bulletin board asking if anyone wanted to donate sick time to her. They are both teachers in Cudahy, a small city near Los Angeles. Teachers receive 10 sick days a year and Carol had accumulated sick time, still after rounds of chemo, she ran out. Dave Clark had done research and had found out that this was possible. Through the Catastrophic Illness Donation Program teachers from other districts can donate sick time to another. The teachers can only use this little known program once and must prove that their illness will keep them from their duties in the classroom. The response amazed Carol and Dave, even a teacher who was not particularly friendly with Carol donated time. Within a few weeks teachers from across the Los Angeles school districts gave Carol 154 sick days. In fact last year 23 of Los Angeles’ 30,000 teachers benefited from this program.
People respond to need more often than we usually remember or give them credit for. What is relevant in this story is that a policy made it possible—actually a policy that is often controversial in contract negotiations. If we are to build a more compassionate society, then we ought to call for more policies to address people’s need to give.
Nestle, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, has pledged new standards for animal welfare, standards which are to be observed by its thousands of suppliers worldwide. The policy can be traced to a hidden camera operated by Mercy For Animals filming some dairy cows in Wisconsin being abused by one of Nestle’s suppliers. As a result four employees were charged with animal cruelty and the episode eventually led to Nestle’s announcement. The new standards will force the army of suppliers to provide more space for farm animals, phase out practices such as dehorning cattle or castrating animals without pain killers and keeping egg-laying hens in cramped cages. Nestle says its move stems from its awareness that its consumers care about animal welfare and has no plans for an increase in retail prices. In fact, it said, it plans to absorb the initial costs of the policy and has retained an organization to make spot audits.
Animal welfare groups hope that given that Nestle is the world’s largest food and beverage company, the policy will reverberate throughout the food industry and force smaller firms to follow the same standards. Regardless, it seems a coming of age for animal rights.
Oyster Creek, Tex, Lawrenceville, Va and Murietta, Calif, are among the many localities that have strongly objected to having a shelter for the Central American children who need to be taken care of until their immigration status is clarified or they are deported. As past and future demonstrations remind us, possible locations in Connecticut, Iowa, North Carolina, New York along with several other states also have objected, some with extreme measures such as a demonstration complete with rifles. According to several reports including one by Sonia Nazario who has long studied the effects of illegal immigration on children, they are fleeing violence—usually from gangs—and most would be in harm’s way if they went back. I can’t help think that the more we take politics and ideology out of how we perceive this problem, the more we are able to see it as a humanitarian crisis, of minors trying to escape despair, poverty as well as violence. Maybe that’s why as I was reading about these shunned children, I remembered Holocaust survivors telling me about the instances of boats full of Jewish refugees who kept being denied access to port after port, until in at least one instance they went back to Germany where many of the passengers ended in concentration camps. I wasn’t surprised therefore when I read that Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, had the same idea when while speaking to the Boston Herald he made a comparison linking the children and the Holocaust. Yet, when asked by the White House if he could help with a location in his state, he did not say yes, but said he would be thinking through a practical solution. I was told by those same survivors that the Jewish refugees’ plight and fate eventually played a role in the establishment of the state of Israel, for many in the United States understood but too late that something had to be done. If Deval Patrick and I are correct and there is a link with what happened to Jewish refugees, then we need to ask ourselves, are we making the same mistake again? Will some of the children have to go back to harm and be killed in order for us to grasp our human responsibility?