They come to the West and we give them everything. In return they become terrorists, rapists, and murderers. Why are they so ungrateful? We have done so much for them!
Sorry for the inflammatory and bigoted intro. I wanted to capture what so many people think about immigration and accepting refugees. I see people ask questions such as why do we let ourselves be invaded? Why do we accept people who cannot be employed and will live the rest of their lives on welfare?
Many fellow Westerners have sadly forgotten why we take in refugees in the first place. Are refugees holding guns to our heads? Is a small elite of liberal politicians on a virtue signaling spree?
No, to many this may be hard to accept, but right among you there are fellow citizens with empathy for strangers. Empathy for people looking different, talking different. People living halfway around on the other side of the world who face persecution, violence and war. These are the people who vote in the politicians who decide to open our borders for people fleeing violence and terror. No, they haven’t been duped by the liberal elite or guilted into voting for them. No, it doesn’t mean you are oblivious to the challenges and problems that comes with accepting refugees. Having empathy doesn’t make you a sucker.
You don’t help people because it is a benefit to yourself. When somebody is bleeding out on the street and you drag them into your car to rush them to hospital, what benefit do you get out of it? The seat of your car gets covered in blood. You may miss the meeting you were on your way to. Helping is not for your benefit. Helping is for the benefit of the person helped.
Note: My example is not arbitrary. Years ago, here in Norway a newspaper tested this exact same scenario. A guy covered himself in fake blood to test if people would stop and help? Sadly a lot of people did not want to inconvenience themselves and get blood on their seats.
Yes, refugees can be a drag on the budgets. Yes, they can increase crime and social problems. But let us not forget that the vast majority become upstanding citizens. Should they be defined by the actions of what a few of them do?
What if we judged children the same way? Should we stop having children entirely because a minority of them end up as criminals and social welfare recipients draining our social budgets? Should every group of people always be defined by what the worst among them do?
Imagine applying the same logic to having children as to accepting refugees. Why have children if all they do is keep you up at night? They don’t bring income. Just huge expenses. They need food and clothes. You need to buy a bigger, more expensive house to fit them. They scream and throw things around. They never just comply and stay grateful for everything you do. Yes, I know pointing this out sounds stupid. It is in human nature to be flawed. None of us are perfect, helpful, or compliant all the time. We cause trouble for each other constantly. But we cannot define each other exclusively by the difficulties that we impose on each other.
Children also bring us a lot of joy and purpose. But we cannot treat them as a trade or agreement. You cannot keep score over how many hugs you received relative to the number of toys you have bought. Likewise you cannot keep score on how much refugees have given you in return for your tax dollars or volunteer actions. Helping has to give a sense of purpose and joy unto itself.
No, it doesn’t always work out. But what did you expect? Did you expect that people fleeing war, terror and abuse would slide right into an alien society and become model citizens?
I remember an American friend taking Norwegian classes complaining about the Somalis in the back paying no attention and not working hard on their Norwegian lessons like her. Maybe they were indeed lazy? Who knows, I wasn’t there. Maybe she exaggerated. But keep this in mind before judging. They are not well-fed, well-educated Westerners who had a happy start in life. A college-educated Westerner moving another Western country learning the language is not the same as an illiterate refugee from a poor country with minimal schooling and opportunity. It is hard to study if you barely know how to read.
As Robin Williams said:
Years ago I almost lost a child. You cannot see that on the outside of a person. Below the surface of a person whom you may deem to be not trying hard enough, or who is lazy, entitled or whatever you may think, there could be a person whose life is in complete chaos. The calm facade may only be just that.
Something as simple as picking up a phone can be difficult because you fear there is a terrible message at the other end. It is bizarre how capable we humans are at pretending everything is normal at the surface. Perhaps because we fear almost nothing more than appearing to not be in control. To look weak.
I reflected on this many times when I served in the military over two decades ago. I was not cut out for it at all. I remember many people who took desperate measures to get themselves exempted from service. Most shockingly, I remember that it was always the really tough guys who could not hack it anymore. There was one guy who was really calm. A tough martial arts practitioner in peak physical condition. He looked like he was on top of everything. Halfway through the service, he could not take it anymore. He had to get out. He declared himself a pacifist, although he really wasn’t. It meant he had to do civilian service, which lasted much longer.
Nobody could have guessed this was how he felt. Imagine all the refugees you see on the street. They may act totally normal and composed, but do you really know what they have been through? Do you know what is on their mind? I remember a friend from the Middle East with whom I studied at university. He seemed like any other middle class twenty-something. Yet when I began talking and sharing experiences, I realized quickly his life was simply nothing like my own.
His childhood meant listening to the radio every morning before going to school to make sure there was a ceasefire and that snipers would not pick him off while he walked to school trying to live a normal life. It meant spending a large portion of his life in the bathroom sheltering from bombs. It meant always getting into fights because he lived in a society where people were always on the edge due to the stress that the whole situation brought upon them. It meant sometimes his dad had to sleep at the office because sniper fire in the streets meant it was too dangerous to travel home that evening.
But you don’t know those stories when you first meet. Instead you smile, laugh and tell jokes. My friend is one of the lucky ones who made it. Who could keep it all together.
We can get so preoccupied with protecting ourselves against those who cannot keep it together that we abandon the majority who are upstanding citizens. It is one of the reasons why so many Jews could not be saved from Nazi Germany. Paranoid about the possibility that there were Nazi spies among the refugees, countless ships with refugees from Nazi Germany got turned around. People ended up in the gas chambers. Better that a thousand die in the gas chamber than that we risk one of them is a Nazi spy?
We can never create perfect safety. Ironically, many of those who would argue against accepting refugees because of some possible bad apples are the same ones who strongly opposed measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. We should accept the risk, they said. Sure, there are limits to how safe you can make society, but are we to make no sacrifices for the common good?
Funny that tolerating that some die is fine when the policies start to inconvenience our lives. Ultimately, it is about being selfish. There is no cost to rejecting refugees because we must not carry the cost of the rejection. The refugees must carry the full cost.
So, Open Borders, Then?
This is the common strawman retort: if you are against shutting the borders completely, it must mean you want them wide open.
No! Anyone who has read me knows that I am no advocate of open borders: Open Border Delusions By the Left. We must always find a balance. If we accept so many refugees that we cannot even integrate them properly, and we only cause a spiral of anger and hatred, then we have simply made matters worse. Trying to understand the limits of refugees in your own country does not mean you should forget the limits of your own countrymen.
Yes, their lives may be easier than that of a refugee, but all of us measure our lives in relative terms. In terms of what we have and what we are getting. If people feel their lives are going downhill, it doesn’t matter how good the starting-point was. They will be miserable. And they are going to start voting for populists whom you would rather not see in power. Thus while one should have compassion, one should not be so naive as to completely ignore political reality.
I do consider myself a leftist and I won’t deny that my side often sugarcoats reality. Why? It isn’t a conspiracy. When we talk about all the good things about minorities or refugees, it isn’t because we are entirely blind to the problems. But we know all too well that highlighting the negative can quickly spiral out of control.
Balanced news coverage would have been possible in a calm, nuanced society where we all sit back and carefully ponder every issue. But we don’t live in such a society. We live in a society fueled by sensationalism, anger, emotions, and a desire to blame somebody. If you choose to not talk about all the negatives, you will be portrayed as trying to cover it up. People like Donald Trump then get the image of a truthteller. Somebody who says “what we all know to be true.”
The reality is that the cynical view isn’t any more real than the sugarcoated one. I live in an area of Oslo, Norway, with an immigrant majority. Yes, on occasion cars get burned. Gangs fight. Drugs get sold. The media covers this, but while these stories are technically true, they give the impression that this is the only thing that happens here. Most days are entirely normal. I have lived here for over 10 years and have not personally experienced or seen any of these things. It is just stuff I read about just like anybody else.
TV and newspaper don’t write about when I and other parents get together with the children at preschool or school and have a BBQ. Where immigrants and native-born Norwegians are just normal people hanging out eating hotdogs. Some eat halal hotdogs or vegetarian hotdogs but other than that we are not all that different, right there and then.