Is Our Guest Room Ready?

I don’t blog about politics, but I often touch on social issues in posts, from human trafficking, to violence and crime. All great makings for flashy television news ratings. I’ve been watching the coverage on the Syrian refugee coverage for months. Nearly 5 million refugees have fled the country, and another 6 million displaced within Syrian borders. The numbers are staggering and kind of difficult to wrap your head around.

The news feeds show crowds of people storming over European borders, crashing through police barricades and leaving a trail of waste and destruction. Unruly mobs accost German women, and demand European citizens adhere to Islamic cultural beliefs. Then, there is the specter of radicalized jihadists hidden among the midst of the refugees, waiting for a signal to launch their attack.

image from UNCHR via flickr creative commons

image from UNCHR via flickr creative commons

When the United States Government stepped forward to offer asylum for 10,000 Syrian refugees, the number seemed mind boggling. Thousands into our borders? With what screening process? Are we exposing our citizens to unprecedented terrorist threat, in the wake of Paris and San Bernadino attacks?

I didn’t give it much thought until this week, when I boarded a late night flight in Los Angeles. Sacramento bound flights are usually a mixed bag of business people, government and contract workers and vacationers returning home. This flight was markedly different. Boarding was delayed because a group of non-English speaking people could not find their assigned seats. At least thirty Syrian Refugees were on the flight from Los Angeles. Some bore bags and tags marked with international relief organizations, marking these people as straight from the war torn region.

They had no escort, or assistance, to tell them were to sit, and they could not decipher the English seat assignments on their paper boarding passes. After ten minutes of sorting out, bodies went into unoccupied seats and the flight went on. A helpless feeling, when you think about it.

Where were they before Los Angeles? Some of their bags bore empty Emirates Airlines tags, but no name information. They weren’t used to flying, as they hopped from seat to seat during the flight, and the flight attendants were unable to effectively communicate that seat belt signs meant stay in your seats.

image by prim schecingiest via flickr creative commons

image by prim schecingiest via flickr creative commons

Now for the stereotyping…

I expected to see a certain image based on the television news, people bedraggled, worn and dirty from the trek through the Syrian devastation. But, they weren’t. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sheer number of them on this flight, I wouldn’t have even noticed. The clothing was European in design, but clean and unremarkable. The women in the group all wore a head covering, hajib and conservative dress. Nothing about their appearance matched the preconceived notion, or my stereotype of a Syrian refugee.

Their faces held the weight of loss and uncertainty. I tried to imagine what these people had seen and experienced. Even with my dark imagination, I couldn’t come close to the horrors these men and women survived. Towns, cities and families destroyed, witnesses to unspeakable violence, these people were caught between a corrupt government, sectarian zealots and terrorists. The only options were to stay and die like the 200,000 already claimed in the Syrian conflict, or flee. A difficult decision, fraught with its own peril. They clearly felt uncomfortable in the midst of the rest of us on the flight, as if their freedom was about to be pulled away at any moment.

They didn’t appear to relax until aide workers from an international migration organization met them after they arrived in Sacramento. Slight smiles and greetings were exchanged in hushed tones.

image by OIM via flickr creative commons

image by OIM via flickr creative commons

There is certainly a moral argument for providing assistance to refugees. I get that. I have no idea how this group was selected, or screened, but liberal and conservative pundits will be watching their every move. The future is an uncertain prospect.

I have issue with using this group, any group, as a political football. There is plenty of pain and suffering in the world, you shouldn’t get to pick and choose. If we extend this kind of aid and support to Syrians, where is that same commitment to our disabled veterans, our homeless, and our untreated mentally ill?

disabled vet image by chris lott via flickr creative commons

disabled vet image by chris lott via flickr creative commons

Makes one question the priorities, doesn’t it?

Where do you fall on the question? Do you support opening our borders to anyone in need, or do you think we have some work to do at home, before the “guest room” is ready?

Thanks for listening. I will slide the soap box back out of the way.





  1. Politics is such a no win situation. Someone is always going to be unhappy. Add bravery in taking on this subject to your list of charms, right next to eloquence. 😉

    As far as helping others, I don’t view it as an either/or thing. We’re supposed to be the world’s greatest country. If so, can’t we help TWO groups who need us? One group we sent to war on our behalf, the other group fleeing for their lives. We screen refugees now far more than we do students. Not that the screening process needs relaxing, just be sensible about it. There’s no middle ground anymore.

    But this is all chatter. The same group that cries “What about our veterans?” is the same group who votes against funds for them, time after time.

    1. I agree Laura, it shouldn’t be an either/or question. We’ve let our safety net fray to the point where only the special interest groups direct assistance.

  2. It must be frightening to be those refugees – I hope they find loving communities to live in. Refusing to take them in only plays to the jihadist’s propaganda but try telling that to an idiot like Trump or his new best buddy Sarah!

    1. Some folks love to fuel fears… I can’t imagine what it would be like to be forced from my home to a foreign land.

  3. Thanks for putting a human face on the issue, James. We can become jaded with all the media hoopla, but this is really about individuals. I can’t even imagine the pain of having to leave your home country.

    1. Thanks, Colleen. I can’t imagine what I would do, faced with a similar decision. Fleeing your home with no support network has to be a scary thing.

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