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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/7/15

Resolving the Great Twenty-First Century Refugee Exodus!

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"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-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

"by poet Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty

Three of my own grandparents first saw these words when they arrived in New York Harbor from Europe in the 1890s -- my maternal grandparents from Poland, my paternal grandfather from Austria (his wife, whom he met after emigrating, was from Baltimore.) Today, in the 21st Century, Europe has turned from being the primary exporter of immigrants to now their recipient. And while my own grandparents emigrated to find economic opportunity and new lives, the refugees of today, primarily from Syria, are largely emigrating to save their lives and their families. Yet, there are proven solutions to this refugee exodus, which are available from the 20th century.

The most relevant fact about the refugees of today is that they should fall under the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. An additional 1967 UN Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention. Yet, there is little evidence of effective application of this Convention to the present worldwide refugee crisis -- indeed, other than some sanctimonious blather, there is little evidence of UN action!

According to definitive figures gathered by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Michael Ignatieff there are over four million refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Of those, the United States has taken about 1500, Australia has taken fewer than 2200, Brazil has taken about 2000, and our neighbor-to-the-north, the under-populated nation of Canada, has taken about a thousand. As to the latter, one is reminded of the infamous statement made by a Canadian foreign ministry official during World War II, when asked how many Jewish refugees would be taken by Canada, he replied that None Is Too Many! But there is more than enough blame to go around as to the refugee crisis today. In particular, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia -- with all of their oil wealth -- appear to have taken none of their fellow Arab refugees at all! That is shameful!

Speaking of Canada in a more-positive light, Professor Ignatieff states the following in his excellent September 5 New York Times article: Canada, sent a government minister to Vienna in late 1956 to support a processing center that took in hundreds of Hungarians and airlifted them to Canada after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian uprising. The Hungarians themselves seem to forget that they, too, were once refugees. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States received hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people. There were voices, on both occasions, that warned, this will trigger a flood. It did -- and what excellent citizens these Vietnamese and Hungarians have been.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, then, the leading developed nations of the world -- not only the European Union States and other European nations -- should be sending appropriate representatives to Hungary in particular, and also to Greece and Italy, to screen, register, and speedily relocate refugee families to those developed nations in a fair and humane manner. What was done in the 1950s for those fleeing Communism, and in the 1960s and 1970s for those fleeing Vietnam, must be done today, urgently, under United Nations auspices.

In addition, the wealthy Middle Eastern nations, such as Saudi Arabia in particular, must take substantial responsibility for the resettlement of their fellow Arabs, from Syria and elsewhere. The lip service of the past was insufficient then, and is totally inadequate now. A further benefit of this just and humane approach to the present refugee crisis will be the undercutting of militant extremist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, which claim that the world does not care about their people. We must care, as a moral imperative -- and must show that indeed we do.

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)

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