For those who have been diligently following the narrative, you know the story of the refugee crisis at least as far back as a few months, if not longer.
Even those who have only been following since it made world-news headlines have a background of at least a week.
The refugee crisis happening to Europe now highlights a massive problem that no one has had the ability or the courage to deal with: the dichotomy between morality and policy. I have tried to reconcile the claims that the policy itself is immoral, but I feel the need to beg to differ (bar a few cases where there isn’t really an argument).
Policy itself must represent a country, a select group of people that have sometimes elected to be represented as One but very often have been organized by others to be represented as One. In either case, policy demands that their interests be protected, almost always at the expense of an other, an other that the process of enacting policy requires also the process of constructing a narrative of Other for the identified “not us.”
(In Mean Girl’s terms, “they don’t even go here!”)
But the protection of those you represent a) in and of itself is not immoral, and b) is not only respectable but expected. When we created the god of Borders we also (perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not) created the god of Sovereignty, too, and the god of Sovereignty must Always Be Respected.
So when millions of refugees are spilling over from their countries with their millions of common tales of woe, threatening leaders who have been elected to represent their group’s interests with significant and unpredictable changes to job security, financial strain, economic uncertainty, potential security threats, and a whole slew of diplomacy implications, policy demands the cruel reality of, at some point, shutting the door and politely apologizing as the final act of Dante’s Inferno is not completed and the woebegone are returned to Lucifer.
But that, surely, is immoral. Allowing hundreds of thousands to die in gas attacks and genocide in Syria is immoral (though policy was pragmatic and did not risk long-term war by interfering). Allowing thousands to die trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Greece is immoral.
It is immoral to allow them to fight their way through Greece to Macedonia, through Serbia to Hungary, only to reach a literal and physical wall trying to get to Germany. It is immoral to camp them without food, water, lodging, or healthcare in train stations, to beat them and tell them to get off the trains for “processing” and “nearby camps,” where they are numbered. It is immoral to see pictures of babies, little children who did not choose this life, dead on the beaches and for us to stand by and do nothing but bless their hearts.
That is immoral.
Parents don’t put their babies on boats across seas unless the boats and the sea are safer than the land they left.
I’ve often found myself using the argument that these countries took in refugees in WWII, Jews smuggled out of Nazi territory looking for new lives and fleeing death. Even the sinking of the Struma, where over 500 refugees died, mirrors today’s crisis (though that spurred action). The argument continued, in my claim, that if these places took the Jews in, shouldn’t the places the Jews originated from return the favor?
But even that argument is weak because it demands the logic that morality is conditional, a Babbit-esque concept of “I’ll be moral if you’ll be moral,” an “I’ll be as moral as you” favor system of checks and balances, a credit system where the very basis of conditional morality is immoral.
People themselves, however, have been quite beautiful (most, anyway). Some countries’ citizens want to take in thousands more than their governments say they can take. An AirBnb for refugees has been created. Germany greeted marching refugees from Hungary as heroes, distributing candy and toys to children. The number of people saying, “Let them come!” is greater than the number of people saying, “Don’t let them in!” (A nicer way of saying “Let them die!”), though the verbiage of countries is not quite the same.
But unfortunately, our world is such that there is no State of Humanity, and so no representative of human rights as the sovereign collective exists. The United Nations exists, purportedly to serve that purpose, but it is funded by states meant to represent a designated collective and so is fundamentally flawed. I train delegates to represent their people, at the expense of others, and fault them when they even accidentally represent all people- though the irony that I both do that and write about its immorality is not lost.
I myself have reduced delegates who were humanitarians at heart to tears- but unfortunately, the Security Council of the United Nations is the very last place for Humanitarians At Heart.