Letters to the Editor: Compassion for Immigrants

Our newfound compassion for the plight of immigrants:

The recent public outpouring of support for immigrants is truly heartwarming. Yet I can’t help but ask myself: why now? Where was this compassion two months ago? Four months ago? One year ago? Four years ago? Or since the outbreak of the turmoil that now plagues North Africa and the Middle East?

While millions of people sought to flee war and destruction in their home countries, the U.S. offered to take in 20,000. Turkey alone is coping with numbers of immigrants in the millions; Jordan, Lebanon, and Northern Iraq, in the hundreds of thousands, at least. There wasn’t much of an outcry then, but when they desperately started making their way to Europe, that’s when it became a “refugee crisis.”

Enter Trump.

As we witness growing nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia in Europe and the U.S.; we, once again, choose to address the symptoms (which often entails vilifying the victims) while turning a blind eye to the cause. Could it be because we may have something to do with “the cause”? Even if our interventions were noble and well-intentioned, we cannot deny our role in producing the chaos that now embroils the Middle East. Was it all our fault? Of course not. The bulk of the blame belongs to the people and leaders of the region and they are paying the price. Nevertheless, our policies haven’t helped.

The Solution

We may not be able to solve the problems of the world. But when it becomes clear that our policies are not helping, we are morally obligated to change course. This brings us to the root cause of the “refugee crisis.”

The current crisis spiraled out of control with the West’s war on the Syrian regime. Remember then President Obama’s declaration that “Assad has lost all legitimacy” and in essence, must go? Clearly, that policy didn’t work. Thanks in no small part to Russia (although Russia’s stance was/is not entirely unjustified). Nevertheless, a change in course is long overdue, just as our compassion for the plight of immigrants was also long overdue.

To end the “refugee crisis,” for starters, we need to work with the Syrian regime rather than against it. The same way we have and continue to work with other “tyrants” around the world. At this point, he may be the only one who can help stem the flow of immigrants from and through Syria. This will require political savvy and diplomatic skill on the part of our leaders. Because if we get it right, who knows, some refugees may even choose to go back.

Perhaps aid to Syria for rebuilding much of its damaged and destroyed infrastructure could be tied to a reduction in the number of those seeking to leave and/or the number of refugees who choose to return. This would compel the Assad regime to provide them with a “safe haven.”

We need to conduct an about face with regards to our policies vis-à-vis the Assad regime. Otherwise, we can continue to expect the likes of Trump, Marine Le Pen (of France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) to exploit the plight of immigrants and tap into people’s irrational fears and prejudices (conscious or otherwise) for the purposes of promoting their own self-interests and self-righteous agendas.

Tarek Eljarrari
Psychology Faculty