Columnist Carl Kline: Refugees crises a global problem


A recent article in the journal The Christian Century was titled “A Refuge in Calais.” It was about a home in Calais, France; a place where refugees could find a welcome, food and lodging, as they waited to cross the English Channel on their way to the United Kingdom. As is true in this country in Texas, the government was not happy with the presence of the refugees, nor the volunteers who endeavored to help them. The mayor of Calais ordered encampments destroyed by the police and even tried to stop food and clothing distribution. She is not happy with the “refuge,” but has not yet found the means to close it.

Refugees seeking to cross the channel from France are at the mercy of smugglers, who put them in small boats for the 20-mile crossing, usually with only enough gas to get them into English waters; where they are picked up by the British Coast Guard. Some nights the Coast Guard will apprehend as many as 50 boats. Other nights, depending on weather and rough waters, none at all. The boats may have as many as 60 persons. The article reported one night, three boats and 155 people were seized. Smugglers take the refugee’s money but no responsibility, as they stay on shore and appoint one younger person as captain with control of the motor.

One of the residents of the house of refuge was a mother from Eritrea with her children. As she waited in the dark to enter a boat to Great Britain, the smugglers saw the police approaching and pushed the boat out with her children, leaving her on shore. It was too much to bear. She had been separated from her oldest son in the Sahara desert in an earlier time and she broke down on the beach in despair. In a hospital and the home of refuge she gradually recovered.

Her experience made me think of all those parents, separated from their children at our southern border, as a result of a deliberate policy of the Trump administration. More than a thousand of those families are still separated, with no easy way of getting them together again. Certainly the human being can come up with a better solution to the refugee problem than this evil and criminal policy.

In the last 10 years the number of displaced people on the planet has more than doubled, to more than 100 million. As of mid-2023, the number of refugees was more than 30 million. The refugee crisis is enormous and international in scope. Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country in Europe, over 3 million. Greece has 50,000. Since the 1980 Refugee Act, the U.S. has admitted 3.2 million refugees.

The point is, for all those so concerned about the southern border of the U.S., we are not alone. We are facing part of a global problem that needs international cooperation and intervention. It doesn’t need more walls and razor wire. It doesn’t help traumatizing parents and children. It doesn’t relieve the problem by decimating camps and criminalizing the homeless. It certainly doesn’t help when a U.S. presidential candidate scuttles a bi-partisan border package in Congress, meant to address immigration concerns, so he can use “securing the border” as a campaign issue.

And, the last thing the U.S. needs is a “God’s Army,” traveling south to add their witness to keeping out the intruders that are “poisoning the blood of our country.” According to the God-sent leader (in absentia) of this army, those assaulting our border are all “rapists and drug runners,” some of the “vermin” that needs to be extinguished.

Instead, what we need more of are the Catholic Workers and Mennonite volunteers who provide care for those seeking refuge.

God doesn’t work through an army. God works by parting waters so exploited and violated people can reach the promised land. God doesn’t work through proud and powerful people. God works through humble servants, offering themselves, like Jesus, in healing and loving ways.

As the climate worsens, the refugee crisis will escalate. Consider how we have our own wildfire, tornado, hurricane and flood refugees in the U.S. We need better international cooperation to provide agreed upon refugee corridors and the financial support to maintain them. We need to invest in climate restoration, relieving the refugee exodus from drought stricken and flooded lands. Forget more money for war in Ukraine and Palestine adding to the displaced and to the refugees. Half the world is stricken with violence and unstable governments. Let’s teach and model nonviolence and put our money in peacemaking. Let’s walk the talk; razor wire and armies of God be damned.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddles masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”