A witness to Europe’s migrant crisis says U.S. needs to be cautious

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Migrants waiting to board ship to mainland Greece from Lesbos in October, 2015/Photo by Donna McCalla

Imagine the entire population of Hebron, Connecticut, where I lived for 24 years, coming to your shores, all in the space of 24 hours or less, day after endless day. That is what’s happening here in Greece, primarily in the area known as Dodecanese, consisting of such small islands as Lesbos, Kos and Samos, but also Rhodes, where I now reside. We can easily understand how more than 9,000 people a day are now entering Greece (and therefore Europe) by boat.

Since April, more than 540,000 people – equivalent to almost 20% of Connecticut’s population – have arrived on our islands. Compare that to the population of Lesbos (86,000), Kos (31,000), and Rhodes (115,000). Early warning signals were clearly evident last year, yet the issue was ignored, the can kicked down the road. Now, with Russia’s actions in Syria, the situation is exacerbated.

I’ve just returned from Lesbos where one can view, firsthand, the effects of the largest European mass migration since WWII. Public sentiment throughout Europe, initially positive, is quickly changing, primarily because of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unexpected and unilateral suspension of European border laws in September. Frankly, Germany’s announcement was an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the international publication of a drowned Syrian child. Within weeks, Merkel’s “Refugees Welcome” speech had a devastating ripple-down effect on the European Union countries on the geographical path to Germany and Sweden, the destinations with the generous social welfare benefits.

While it is true that over 70% of the immigrants are still young men, it’s also true that Merkel’s message has been widely publicized throughout the world. People of all nationalities and ages are now coming. Among the few Syrian families with small children currently in Lesbos, you primarily still see men from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Burma, Kosovo and Albania, all claiming to be Syrian.

It is also true that many are burning their documents and refusing to identify their country of origin. Upon arrival in Greece, they burn smuggler pamphlets and literature from European anarchist groups that provide maps to countries where they are most likely to have refugee status quickly granted. As I discovered, these burn piles are easy to find because they are everywhere.  But it’s also an understandable situation for many who are coming:  the promise of living in the Land of Milk and Honey… if you are “Syrian.”

What does all of this mean to Nutmeggers who cannot see what I see? Do you rely on media reports, fraught with highly emotional language not always reflective of the true situation? Do you listen to the “right-wingers” who inaccurately assume that all migrants are connected to ISIS or other terrorist groups? Do you listen to Connecticut’s own senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, who are among the most vocal members of Congress calling for an exponentially large immigration increases targeted for Syrians? (That, by the way, is discrimination if you ask me. There are people in need of protection all over the world, not in just Syria.)

Does this mean I am one of those making alarmist calls to suspend Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S.? Far from it.

America has a legal, and lengthy, process for asylum and refugee processing (including detailed background checks) that has worked relatively well over the years. The key to refugee resettlement has nothing to do with an applicant’s nationality or religion. It hinges on two critical things: a true need for protection and a true desire for successful integration into our country and its culture. We cannot and should not ignore the fact that legal immigration has had a positive impact in America for over a century.

Merkel’s words and actions have affected all 28 members of the European Union. Public reaction is being felt in a matter of weeks. Far-right groups are on the rise, winning sizeable majorities in recent elections (Switzerland and Poland). These groups have always existed but they are now attracting typical middle-class people who have heretofore been afraid to speak for fear of being labeled “racist.” These groups are expected to win even more seats in upcoming elections. I feel this is another knee-jerk response to Europe’s migration crisis. It’s threatening the cohesion of the entire European Union.

And that is my biggest fear: that America will follow the EU’s path in resolving immigration policies and suffer the same or similar consequences. This is a complicated situation involving social, cultural, financial and political factors, each interwoven with the other until, at the end of the day, chaos and extreme reactions have become the norm in Europe.

There is nothing wrong with accepting legal refugees; it brings enormous advantages and can be a positive and rewarding experience for everyone. But as in Europe, the immigration issue has been on America’s table far too long. America’s politicians need to stop their never-ending bickering and agree on a manageable, reasonable, unemotional solution based on the rule of law.  Please relay that message to Connecticut’s political leaders today, not tomorrow.

If not, I suggest you to come to Greece and get a bird’s-eye view of your future.

Donna McCalla is a retired systems engineer from Connecticut who now lives in Rhodes.

 

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