By Patricia Lee Sharpe
The Greek island of Kos can’t accommodate all the refugees who land on its shores. Nor can Greece alone deal with all those who turn up on its sea-washed territories.
Though incessantly berated for hard-heartedness, Europe, collectively, can’t absorb all the desperate, destitute refugees from the Middle East and Africa who wash ashore as regularly as the tides rise and fall.
Even the U.S. hasn’t enough money or space to rehabilitate all who flee impossibly dire, humanly intolerable situations.
Emotional pleas and sermons on the virtues of charity are soul-wrenching, but they can’t alter the fact that there are upper limits to the absorptive ability of the comparatively wealthy, industrial countries of the world, none of which have completely recovered from the recent great recession. When balloons are filled with too much air, they burst. Countries ditto, when it comes to an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Why People Flee
What’s propelling people to leave well-loved homes in waves that represent a human catastrophe? Wars, for one thing, including those waged through terrorism as well as by conventional means. Civil war. Sectarian war. Inter-religious war. Ethnic war. To say nothing of naked power ploys and land grabs, many leading to brutal ethnic-cleansing, as in Myanmar.
And don’t forget political and economic injustice. Police state persecutions. Pervasive, kleptocratic corruption. Concentrations of economic power resting on mass impoverishment. Under these conditions, too, people eventually vote with their feet.
Meanwhile, on TV or via snail mail, we the more fortunate are confronted with heart-wrenching appeals for contributions to alleviate the suffering of millions of refugees from war and injustice. So many innocents are hungry, homeless, suffering. Give. Give. Give. Give more.
But the giving is never sufficient. Give more.
It is tragic. Who but Bill Gates and George Soros and the rest of the 5% can give more than a mite compared to the massive need? And how are we to triage among those in need of that mite when so many hands are reaching out to us? The complexity is all but paralyzing.
Other People in Trouble
But wait. Don’t donate yet. There are many more claimants to our largesse, so to speak. Planet earth is a capricious mother with no concern for the welfare of her human children. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Floods and drought. Tornados and typhoons. Wildfires. Houses are blown down or washed out to sea. Farmlands are ruined. Villages are buried. Thousands of acres of forest and grassland are burnt, along with towns and homes. And so the appeals begin. Give. Give. Give.
But there’s never enough to give. Especially since there are other claims on our supposed “surplus.” Cultural institutions need money. Parks need upkeep. Hurt animals need rescue. Dreadful diseases need cures. Give. Give. Give. And so it goes, although the income of 80% of the U.S. population has been stagnant or declining for a couple of decades, and the American Dream is all but dead and buried.
Oh, I almost forgot the cost of “democracy” in the U.S. If middle class citizens can’t scrape up enough in campaign contributions to back candidates who, if elected, will represent them, the 1% will buy elections, own politicians and produce policy for their benefit alone. And then what? When the American 99% are thoroughly impoverished, helpless and hopeless, where will we go, in a world already overwhelmed with refugees?
That may read like a joke, but it is no laughing matter.
Buckets and Bandaids Won’t Do
For now, the richer countries can easily alleviate smallish pockets of misery. They can absorb a good number of refugees, the exact number depending on the size of the receiving country, the state of its economy and the fragility of its political culture. But the only practical and durable solution to the current refugee crisis does not lie with Europe or with the U.S. It requires thoroughgoing political and economic reform in Africa (supported by equally hard-headed aid vehicle overhaul) as well as a resolution to the internal wars of religion and culture that are ravaging the Muslim world. When these septic sores are healed, humanity will easily be able to respond to the urgencies created by natural disasters, including climate change, and the normal duties of responsible and charitable citizenship.
For now, in order to meet at least some of the costs incurred by the current refugee crisis, how about calling upon the billions (or trillions) stashed away in tax havens by corrupt rulers, bureaucrats and their business cronies? Isn’t it time to delegitimate, totally and forever, the practice of offering secret bank accounts, even if some suave Swiss bank officials (and their colleagues in the Caymans, on the Channel Islands, on remote Pacific atolls and elsewhere, all of whom will scream “unfair!” will have to find a more honest, more constructive line of work? Meanwhile, the greedy kleptocrats and conscience-free tyrants of the world must be laughing 24/7 at the rest of us, so easily guilt-mongered into giving, giving, giving, to support powerless, desperate people whom their erstwhile leaders would prefer to get rid of. No, I don’t want people to go hungry and die of exposure, but it’s time to make it impossible for corrupt leaders to enrich themselves through the immiseration of others. No loopholes. No exceptions. No secrecy. Ever. (And confiscate their London mansions, their NYC condos and their villas on the Riviera, too.)
And as for the religious war mongers, no pious exceptions for them either. Murder is murder. Rape is rape. Guys with guns who slaughter and enslave in the name of any god are criminals, not prophets. It’s time for tolerant majorities of all creeds to reach across borders to one another, leaving no room anywhere for murderous machos profaning any religion. Christians believe that God is mercy and Muslims affirm their faith in Allah the Merciful. Let them so act. Together. Lest we all end up in the merciless hands of self-annointed religious dictators.
Up to a point, it’s easy to toss a few dollars into this bucket, a few dollars into that one, much easier than demanding and embarking on major systemic reform. Goodness knows, the buckets are everywhere. But charity, individual and/or institutional, is clearly unable to cope with a convergence of disasters on the scale of what’s happening today. Band aids are fine for paper cuts: they won’t do when major surgery is required.