Six Months a refugee and what it taught me about the ban and refugees
I lived for over Six months in Mae La refugee camp on the border of Burma and Thailand. The refugees were largely of the Karen ethnic minority from Burma who were systematically removed under the reign of Ne Win. There were large Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian groups in the camp, and I was the only white person in a sea of over 140,000 refugees.
It was a crazy experience where I saw a lot and learned a lot. Most of those lessons are for another time as today the focus is immigration. I loved and worked with hundreds of refugees and as such you may assume that I would be on the front lines of people against the ban and I would be protesting at the airport, but I am not.
Before I defend my position, let me say that the refugees I have lived with, worked with, and played soccer with were all, almost every single one without exception, some of the most upstanding and good people I have met. They were humble, and honest and hardworking. I have zero worries than any of the refugees I was working with would be a security risk if they came to the United States or elsewhere, but that does not mean that coming is the best option.
We all want to say, “let refugees in!” Who would deny these war torn people a place to live? The media portrays anyone who is for the ban as evil. We would all like to say welcome, because it sounds great and makes us feel great, but the reality is more complicated.
Should we help refugees? Of course. We can donate to charities send aid and more. If you are bold enough, put your own skin in the game, fly to one of the many places in the world with refugees, and go see what it is like for yourself. That is how you help refugees. If you say you care about refugees with Facebook posts and Twitter rants, but are unwilling to lift a finger to meet actual refugees, or at the very least to throw some money down for it, then your opinion is worthless.
How could a refugee ban possibly, in any world, not be evil and make those supporting it not monsters? Let us start with the refugees themselves. What really is best for them? It is impossible to say, of course they are each individuals and what is best for each could be completely different, but there are probably some things you have not considered.
Is it best to put them in a country completely different from their own where they will not be able to speak the language well, where they will be part of a permanent underclass, and will be isolated culturally? I argue that no, it is not necessarily the best way forward. Many refugees get to America and feel completely disoriented. If they come when they are older, adapting is difficult, if not impossible. Kids will adapt and in many cases be successful, but not all.
In general there will be a percentage that will be super successful. And that is great, however many won’t, just as many of us would not be super successful if we were dropped in the middle of Saudi Arabia and had to survive.
What is more, the people are coming from societies that have been destroyed. The reason each society was destroyed varies from situation to situation, but one thing is clear: They will need the best and brightest to solve their society’s issues. This was a huge problem in the refugee camp where I lived. There was a “brain drain” of the best and brightest going to America. The people who were best suited to lead, those who had been teaching, and setting up schools were instead washing dishes in Texas. This was a travesty for the refugee camps and the people. The medics, the teachers, the doctors, were all leaving and many had already left.
The U.S. lets in more refugees than all other countries in the world, combined. People will praise Canada, Europe and others, but they have not done even a quarter of what the U.S. Has done in terms of letting in refugees historically. Here is the data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) for 2014.
It is not as though the U.S. Is some evil entity trying to stop refugees, even with the ban, the U.S. Could still lead the world in refugee resettlement this year.
The U.S. Also has a huge amount of immigration from the all over the world, so much so that since the 1960s the demographics of the country have completely changed.
In politics and in a nation in general the most important factor is demographics. Demographics is everything. Demographics has more affect on the outcome of elections and the future of a country than all the Vice and Huffpo articles that you will ever read combined. He who populates, rules. The demographics of a country are not a trivial and unimportant matter. Most countries in the world understand this to their very core. Japan has let in a total of six Syrian refugees. Yes, you read that right, six. The number you can count on one hand if you happen to have an extra finger. Japan attacked and occupied Burma, the U.S. Did not. Burma is closer culturally, geographically, and religiously to Japan than to the U.S., yet the U.S. Lets in more refugees from Burma than Japan has in its entire history. Why is this? Because Japan understands demographics and they don’t want theirs changed. They feel no “Japanese guilt” and they see no reason to fundamentally change the nature of their country because another place has problems. Yes Japan sends aid. Japan helped to fund a large Buddhist school in the refugee camp where I lived. They are one of the highest in donating money towards the Syrian crisis, but they will not allow their demographics to change.
Look at South America, Argentina was at one point entirely native, then there came a ton of Spanish, Italians, and British. This was largely, though not entirely, immigration. tons of Western Europeans immigrated to the country. It forever changed Argentina. Argentina is now a European state because it was populated by Europeans. Demographics are everything.
Do we think for a second that if you replaced half of the Japanese people in Japan with Germans that Japan would resemble in any way what we currently think of Japan? Of course not. It would be a Japanese-German state. If you removed the other half of the people and replaced them with Irish it would be a German-Irish state that would bear almost zero resemblance to what we now think of as Japan. Japan doesn’t allow foreigners to migrate into their country because they want to keep their culture and civilization for their children and grandchildren, and we do not blame them for that. We do not fault Japan for wanting to keep their country Japanese.
The U.S. Is in some ways a unique case as it is a country supposedly based on ideals, and not on ethnicity. But even then, it is understandable that people would want to preserve their country as it is for their children. If we are giving this same sort of license to Japanese, and to Thais, and to Koreans, and to most every non-white country around the world, we can give that license to our brothers and sisters in our own countries. Even if we don’t fully agree with people that want to maintain certain aspects of a country, we have to recognize that a huge portion of the country does want that, and they are not evil for wanting it. Or if you are going to call them evil, be consistent and call most all the Japanese, the Thais, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Mexicans, and everyone from most every non-western country evil as well.
There are a myriad of problems beyond that, but in general it is clear that any refugee situation is horrible and everything possible should be done to avoid having such situations appear. But once they are here, simply saying “let them in” though it may sound nice and make us feel charitable is not necessarily the best solution, neither for us, nor for the refugees themselves in the long run.
If we want long term solutions to these problems, we need to remember that demographics are everything and that we need to make sure the best and brightest are available where they are needed; people that understand the language and culture and can have a meaningful impact on changing those societies for the better. True it is harsh and crappy situation, and we ought to send aid, and help where we can, but there just might be better places for the refugees with similar language and culture. Their country is destroyed, which is sad, but once the war stops, who will rebuild it, if not them? Who can save Syria? Who can save Iraq? Who can save Burma? Only the Syrians, only the Iraqis, only the Burmese. Americans cannot fly in with their ships and make everything better. They tried that in Iraq and elsewhere, and it only made things a lot worse.
We need to help the countries have the resources so they can help themselves, bringing hundreds and thousands here will not do that. Donate to the a refugee organization, go teach in a refugee camp, do what you will to assuage your desire to help, but don’t pretend that because you went to a protest at the airport that you are a good person, or that you have all the answers about refugees, because no one, not me nor Mr. Trump, does.