As I write, and more than likely as you read, boats of migrants from Myanmar are trying to reach shore somewhere, but no country wants to accept them, for once they reach shore, it’s harder to send them back and some no doubt have and will die at sea. They are Rohingyas and some Bangladeshis, a Muslim minority in Buddhist Myanmar fleeing persecution. An L.A. Times headline said it well “Migrants Stuck in Web of Rejection”. In the recent past we’ve witnessed tragedies of migrants from Somalia and Libya trying to reach Europe through
nearby Sicily. Scores died, many have been stranded. Something similar happened in 2013 near Lampedusa Island in Italy when a blanket caught fire on a migrant ship, people jumped off into the water, the ship capsized and close to 400 were drowned. In the U.S. we must remember when thousands of unaccompanied children poured in seeking refuge from the dire conditions in Latin and Central American countries. The European Union has been discussing how to handle all these people. Laws making migration more safe and legal have been proposed, quotas are being discussed, so are new regulations for asylum, rules against the smugglers without whom these refugees would not be able to travel. Germany which has many migrants and where many Germans are growing unhappy with their growing numbers, is one country where new solutions are being tried. Some migrants have sought refuge—and been granted– in Catholic and Protestant churches, thus setting up a conflict with the government who would rather they not be there. Also a group of young Germans have begun an organization called Refugees Welcome, where ordinary citizens offer a spare room to a refugee. In turn the refugee can pay nominal rent while the organization helps the host find funding sources for that rent.
What to do about refugees is now a world-wide problem, one requiring both long and short terms solutions. A NYT editorial suggested answers based on compassion and common sense. Let’s hope that will be a beginning, but answers will continue to be elusive unless we change our attitudes, beliefs, mindsets, preconceived notions and prejudices about national boundaries, economic opportunity and people who are different from us.