“Give me your tired, your poor
your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
the wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus (1883)
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
There is a refugee crisis in Europe – There is a refugee crisis in Europe – There is a refugee crisis in Europe
Do you believe me there is a refugee crisis in Europe? There is, and it has been thee story on this side of the pond. The refugees, specifically the refugees from Syria, are in crisis. And their desperation and subsequent determination to find shelter in Europe is prompting a crisis of politics and conscious in Europe.
A conservative and high-ranking member of parliament wrote an opinion in the Aftenposten (newspaper of record) last Thursday. The title was, “Fra dugnads retorikk til realiterer.” It was meant to make people think about the bold and generous pronouncements they make in the social, help-thy-neighbor, gatherings and the reality if all that generous talk has to be backed up with action. The Norwegians have a rich history of charity towards refugees around the world. Their magnanimity is now being put to the test.
According to TheLocal.no (9 Nov. 2015) almost 2,500 asylum seekers came to Norway last week. The pace of people seeking refuge in Norway is about 30,000. In a nation of about 5 million that is a significant number. America would have to take in almost 2 million refugees to match that proportion of its population. I can imagine that if 2 million people were coming to America for refuge from crises in their homeland then there would be a powerful political backlash. I don’t have to imagine that backlash happening in Europe in general or Norway in particular.
Conservative movements do well campaigning against immigration. In America the rhetoric is unvarnished and caustic. The words in Norway have been more measured and calculating but unmistakable: there are too many immigrants as it is – no more. The liberals made inroads on the conservatives in the elections earlier this fall, will this foreign crisis be the thing that scuttles their domestic political gains?
Last week I was in Horten. Newspapers around Norway, there are a lot of local newspapers in Norway (a topic for another day) talk about this issue because refugees are settled all over the country. In the local paper, the Gjengangeren, I read that a group of refugees was expected in town, in the same hotel in which I was staying. I stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights, they were coming on Friday. My room for two nights, theirs for…who knows?
I taught three classes today about minorities groups and movement. The first part of the lesson concerns the Chinese who came to America in the middle of the 19th Century. We start by trying to learn those famous lines from Emma Lazarus by heart and then measure the experiences of those Chinese men against it.
The rhetoric did not match the experience. In fact the Americans became so unnerved about the influx and presence of Chinese in America they passed a law against them. In 1882 The Chinese Exclusion Act banned immigration for 10 years.
How long did the law actually last: 2 years, 10 years, or more?
How much more?
84 years! The American government banned Chinese immigration until 1965, along with most immigration from all ethnic groups since 1923. Now there is a big difference between immigrants seeking better economic opportunities and those fleeing a war zone. But there seems to be a similarity in the reactions such cultural shifts those movements of people provoke.
In Norway I will get a front-row seat to this all-to-real human drama. My countrymen in the States might watch it on TV. I wonder how this will play out in Europe? I wonder if America will really do anything about it?