David Miliband's article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books starts with a reference to Albert Einstein who, in 1941, wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt expressing his concern over the State Department's paranoid policies in relation to refugees. Einstein, himself a recent arrival to the USA, warned that the State emphasis on 'subversive, dangerous elements' would impede victims of Fascism from securing proper sanctuary.
Fast-forward seventy years and Miliband suggests that we face a similar situation, setting Einstein's wise words against Trump's Trojan Horse gaffe. He asks why we should be paranoid when in fact it is low-middle income neighbouring countries who take the vast majority of the world's refugees, with insufficient international aid to provide education and employment initiatives so vital to integration.
I'm reading NYR during a study visit to San Francisco, and in some ways, Miliband's article highlights all that is bleak about the refugee crisis on both sides of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, beneath the political shenanigans, there are good things going here which don't get reported. One refugee organisation I visited cited a vast increase in numbers of volunteers from the general public who, far from feeling paranoid, wanted to be able to home-visit refugees, support them and learn more about their culture and values. Another organisation uses community organising to engage refugees and undocumented migrants in active citizenship from the get-go, using a range of information and support services to support, empower and integrate. A specialist state high school for recent arrivals offers an EAL-based curriculum and achieves excellent results. No-one mentioned fear, terrorism or national security. Everyone was surprised by the reported rise in xenophobia and hate crime within the UK.
This got me thinking, not only about Americans, but also about what we might not always see in UK and Europe. Whilst I applaud David Miliband's thoughtful article (and recommendations around international aid), perhaps we richer countries would also do well to look beneath the scaremongering and media hype at what is actually going on within our communities. Perhaps we might want to share some of this across states, countries and continents. And perhaps, if we did this convincingly, we might persuade our governments to stand alongside countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan in granting significant numbers of refugees the long-term sanctuary they desperately need.
We are again seeing a double assault against some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Their character and intentions are often impugned and they are denied dignified refuge. A day after American-born Omar Mateen’s June 12 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, warned of “a better, bigger version of the legendary Trojan horse,” declaring: “We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States—we don’t know who they are, they have no documentation, and we don’t know what they’re planning.”