Monthly Archives: August 2013

How desperate do you have to be? A meditation on compassion

More refugees will be coming. They are coming.

I wish I knew the names of even a few of them.   I wish I knew some characteristics. Their names.  The names of their parents.   I wish I did not have to lump them all into that unfortunate term “refugees”, but there you have it.   With the continuing unrest in North Africa and the increasingly unstable and violent situation in Syria (with possible impending US air strikes) the desperation of so many in the contact zone rises exponentially.


Why do they leave?  How do they get where they are going? What do they bring?  Who do they leave behind?  Will they ever be able to return? What what the price they had to pay to leave?
But most importantly, will they survive the journey?
Witness this:  Just a few days ago in Siracusa , Sicily two boats with  carrying over 300 people between them were rescued.  Amongst all of those nameless, faceless people, on one of those small boats, on that most dangerous of voyages a new life came into the world.  A four-day-old baby girl, born at sea,  was found , miraculously doing very well—with part of her umbilical cord still attached.
For those who oppose immigration, make rash judgements about the lives’ of people who are just like us but who have found themselves in untenable situations, or who verbally bash and politically oppose their existence. think for a moment what kind of situation would make a heavily pregnant woman, step into a dinghy  to sail night and day , exposed to the heat of the sun by day, and the dark unknown at night?  These trips come with many promises, but, predictably with no guarantees.   Desire , hope, fear and desperation are prime motivators.  Those who oppose them their right to a life in relative safety lack what seems to be a rare commodity these days: compassion or at least the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I have always found the belief in something, in theory at least, to be easy.   We can be anti this or pro that, but until something touches us personally, until we become the victim, the bullied,  the afflicted, the denied, the scorned, the hated and despised we don’t really know, do we?
So here is a personal appeal to those of you who think that Italy has too many immigrants, too many refugees, to those of you who have marched against them, denied them jobs, refused them service, beat them in the streets, or smiled benevolently to them within the confines of your social service agency but then pretended you didn’t know them when you passed them on the street: STOP. Just STOP.  Dig deep and find your compassion.  It could be you or me someday. And with the way the world is going, it probably will be.
Just imagine that baby girl being born at sea.  How fearful her mother must have been. The potential for disaster.  Then imagine: What kind of life will she have?   Now ask yourself:  how desperate do you have to be?
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What it Often Looks Like: 83 Somali’s Saved by the Coast Guard in Sicily

We hear about the boats.  We have seen pictures. They come in all shapes and sizes.

This video is both mundane and remarkable at the same time.  For the coast guard it is business as usual. For those coming off the boat, it will be a difficult, to say the least, way of life.  I am struck by the woman wearing a yellow headscarf, who throws her bundle of belongings out of the boat before she makes the climb on land.  She probably has no idea what life will be like from that moment on.  Or maybe she does.   This occurred on Saturday, May 11, 2013. This scenario is repeated many , many times in Sicily often in more dire circumstances. For those of us whose arrival in another country is by airplane,  imagine this human cargo.


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Say Hello to the New Apartheid: The Segregation of Refugees in Bremgarten

So of all of the crazy and inhumane plans put into place regarding refugees, the latest one  come from a town in Switzerland, of all places.    In the land of the impartial , the town of Bremgarten will ban refugees and asylum seekers from libraries, swimming pools, playing fields and most shocking of all—churches.


  Given the treatment of refugees in nearly every place in which they find themselves, this, on the surface , should not surprise anyone—and yet, it does.  It shocks. It infuriates.


The mayor of the town, Raymond Tellenbach claims that these measures have been made on the grounds of concern about “security”.  Every time someone’s rights are denied or curtailed, it is done in the name of “security.”  I don’t even know what this really means anymore. `

To say that the issue of refugees is a “hot button” issue is putting it in its mildest terms.   It is worse than a scandal.   Racism and restrictions on refugees goes hand in hand and is inextricable from one another, though those who speak out against refugees , condemn their very existence and have an appalling lack of concern for their welfare, is couched in terms that elicits the most heightened human reaction: fear.  And we know what the color of fear usually is.  The rhetoric surrounding the rights of refugees in particular and immigrants in general is usually aimed right where it will garner support:  your jobs, your land , your life.  Is it going to be THEM or you and your family.

No matter where you stand on the religious divide, whether you are a believer or not, Pope Francis,  a humanitarian, spoke out against the treatment of refugees, which he called a “global indifference.”  But I would take exception with Pope Francis on only one issue:  the so-called “indifference”.  Indifference seems to imply a turn of the head, a closed eye, a “not my problem” kind of an attitude. But no. This is worse. What the world is seeing now, is the rhetoric of hate, aimed to hit its target. Aimed to intimidate an already vulnerable population of people, who , for the most part, had no choice in leaving their homes.   It seems that the world has forgotten what a refugee really is.  They have no choice. They leave everything.  Change is difficult . For the refugee that change comes at the highest human price they will ever have to pay.

But instead of Mayor Tellenbach realizing what a difference he could make in his small town and how these refugees could, no doubt , contribute to community life, in time, with the support of those around them, he chose to, in essence quarantine his own people against what he perceives as the enemy. This is stupidity on such a grand scale, I don’t have a name for it , but give me time and I will come up with something.


To make matters worse,  the head of  Switzerland’s immigration office and a host of other politicians, most of them local, support Tellenbach’s decisions.

Right now, Switzerland, formerly very welcoming to refugees, has more asylum seekers currently  than any other country in Europe.   While this has caused worry and resentment, politicians would do better to educate their citizens and put measures in place to help acclimate refugees so that they can live productive lives.

If the citizens of Bremgarten are afraid, can you only imagine the fear of the poor refugees who find themselves there?

Historically, poorer countries take in more refugees than anyone else.  For a town like Bremgarten in a country like Switzerland who has resources but nothing but ill will , there is no excuse.

Unfortunately , with measures like this, racism, segregation, and hatred will not only become the norm, but will become an accepted response in other places around the globe, in the future.

wave hello

Say hello to the new Apartheid!


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