Americans must open arms to Syrian refugees
Who among us was not moved by images of the German people greeting refugees with hot tea and toys following a grinding journey from the killing fields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to the safety of the European Union? Or by Hungarians lining the highway to offer water and fresh fruit for those refugees desperate enough to start walking from Budapest to Vienna — more than 150 miles — some pushing wheelchairs or baby strollers, some on crutches, many with children atop their shoulders?
So much for "Fortress Europe" and the stereotypes of aloof and xenophobic Europeans. The people have spoken and their arms are open even if their governments largely lag behind.
Contrast this with the reception of desperate Central American mothers, teens and children received last summer on our southern border. Or the endlessly manipulative talk of the need for "the fence" among rich, white political candidates to keep our Mexican compadres out.
Surely we are a better people than this.
Since the civil war began in spring 2011, some 4 million Syrians — the population of the state of Oregon — have been displaced from their homes. That figure is expected to rise to more then 6 million before long.
In fiscal year 2013, the last for which hard statistics are available from the Department of Homeland Security, a mere 36 — thirty-six — were given asylum in the United States — this in a year when 1 million Syrians fled their homes.
This is like the entirety of metro Tucson desperately fleeing for our lives to the nearest border and Mexico giving allowing 36 of us in.
Conditions are much worse today than they were in 2013. Those today walking across Europe and dying on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea include large numbers of Iraqis and Afghans; people, like the Syrians who are fleeing the forces unleashed by the US reaction to 9/11 more than a decade ago. While the governments of these countries bear the bulk of responsibility, let's be honest, we had a role in creating this violence and ensuing exodus from the region.
We have a responsibility to contribute what we can.
Yes, since 2011, the U.S. government has offered $4 billion for Syrians displaced by war. And we have sunk billions more tax dollars into in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we need to open our arms.
How often do we Americans repeat that ours is the greatest country on the planet? We pride ourselves on being the richest, most powerful nation ever. Surely the greatest country on earth can offer more than Facebook postings and tax dollars to those fleeing brutal conflicts that bear our imprint.
We are a country born of refugees fleeing European political and religious persecution. We pride ourselves on the success of the melting pot of "huddled masses" who have built this mighty nation.
It's time to stop the rhetoric about freedom, might and right and open our arms. And it's time to realize that the people fleeing are not terrorists – they are, in fact, fleeing the very same "terrorists" that we fear and would surely run from.
Do we have pressing needs here that would also benefit from our largess? Absolutely. But from these refugees come new energy, new ideas, innovation and creativity. From these refugees come the Albert Einsteins and Steve Jobs; the governors like Raul Castro, the entertainers like Gloria Estefan, and the inspirational game changers like Cesar Chavez. They start great little businesses in our community like Babylon and Sunrise Cafe, Zemam's, Café Desta, Zayna's, Jasmine's and Sinbad's.
We are rich. We are powerful. We can provide for all if there is a will. It is time for the people to lead. It is time to stop the fear mongering with fact. It is time to demand more of our governments.
We need to support the U.S. senators who are encouraging our nation to take in 67,000 Syrian refugees next year. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees wants to resettle 130,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. We need to support that effort. There are petitions doing just that.
Volunteer with the local International Rescue Committee, Refugee Focus or Iskashitaa Refugee Network. Donate goods to furnish apartments. Better yet, offer your casita or part of your home. More then 10,000 Icelandic citizens offered to open their homes to refugees. Volunteer to mentor a family or help with job searches, skill building or resume writing. Work with a New Roots community garden.
Through this work we can come to know the refugees in our community. We will learn that they are human beings, no more no less. They are not to be feared. They want safety and security. They want education for their kids, food for the table, a job for self-respect, a functioning car, and an occasional movie. They want what we all want.
And perhaps, when thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans make it through the byzantine UN and U.S. medical and security processes and are resettled in our Tucson, we will be ready to welcome then in.
Maggy Zanger is a professor of practice at the University of Arizona School of Journalism and an affiliated faculty member of the UA Center for Middle Eastern Studies. She lived in Iraq for two years reporting, researching and training Iraqi journalists. She also lived in Egypt and traveled extensively in the Middle East.