The Most Significant Event of the 21st Century (So Far)The world has always been divided into the "haves" and "have not's." Recognizing that there are disputes a many, I believe it is safe to say that North Americans, Western Europeans, citizens of selected Asian countries, and Australians all enjoy privileged lives compared to the vast majority of those who inhabit our world. I still remember my first trip to China in 2000 and learning of the personal revolution that cellphones were causing among the Chinese. They would spend a month's salary for a good cellphone because it meant access to their families, to their communities, and to the world. In many cases relatively unfiltered access. I read one Chinese article which summarized that cellphones meant "freedom."
|Selfies have transcended all borders! Dionne with a young refugee at the Kutina Croatia refugee center.|
I am reminded of the scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Selina Kyle tells Bruce Wayne "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave little for the rest of us." I am sure that most people view this quote in the context of income inequality. I view it, however, in the context of the estimated 3 billion people who live in true poverty. What happens when these two worlds truly begins to intermingle with each other? When we realize that Christians only make up 20% of the population? That Muslims will soon become the largest religious classification in the world and that there are many more devout Muslims than Christians. Do we really understand what the 1.4 and 1.3 billion respective populations of China and India mean? And that their cultures are investing in education with a focus on STEM? As Catwoman says, why do we feel that we were born entitled to "live so large and leave (so) little for the rest of (the world)?"
|Sister Melonakos has spent some time with us at the centers. There are no language barriers when you are talking baby gibberish.|
Dionne and I have had a front row seat to the 21st century's first forced intermingling of cultures; a grand social experiment for our times. The aforementioned Arab Spring led to civil war in places like Libya and Syria. Another consequence was a power vacuum in Syria and Northern Iraq which provided the opportunity for the ISIS nation to form. These wars have been horrific and have led to the current refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East. What Dionne and I are witnessing is the unexpected and unplanned mixture of European with Middle Eastern Arab cultures. This is the first of what I suspect will be many such events this century. In fact, I believe that the question of how to truly integrate and accommodate billions of third world humans into the "Western World" will be the largest social issue of the 21st Century.
|Hyperbole? Of course. But I believe he is on to something here. But it is not limited in any way to Syria.|
The European Union (EU) has agreed to accept a significant number of refugees from the Middle East. As the governing body, the EU has established some rules for dealing with refugees. When a refugee arrives in an EU member state, they are required to register in that country. They are not supposed to advance further into Europe until a determination is made as to their status. If they advance before this determination has been made, they are often sent back to their original country of entry.
The Refugee Situation in Croatia
|Common refugees routes from Syria. Notice that Croatia is on the route but Bosnia is effectively bypassed. Millions of Syrian refugees are now stuck in Turkey and Greece.|
By agreement with the EU, there are rules that govern asylum seeking. It takes about a year for a refugee's asylum application to be ruled on. During this year they are not allowed to work. Kids can go to school. They can travel around the country if they want. Their basics needs are supplied at two refugee centers (Porin in Zagreb and Kutina). They are given a bed, food, clothes, basic medical care (but not OTC drugs or Class 2 pharmaceuticals), and Wifi. . They are also given a small amount of spending money each month (the equivalent of about $20). NGOs are embedded in these two centers to help them with medical, legal, social, counseling, language, and other needs. The biggest NGOs in these centers, the Red Cross, Medicin du Monde, and Jesuit Refugees Services (JRS) are our partners at the two centers.
|The "Porin" facility in Zagreb is an old converted hotel. There are two wings, one that houses the men and the other that houses children, women and families. This is one of the rooms that is shared by four asylum seeking men.|
|Refugees in Kutina with nothing better to do than use their cellphones all day.|
|The camera crew was watching him work on his homemade table saw. All of us cringed as he taught this young man how to make a cut on THE MOST UNSAFE SAW I HAVE EVER SEEN! One week of working in this shop and I would have lost at least two fingers.|
|Although they are not supposed to, many of the refugees (especially the women) do the wash by hand in their bathrooms and then hang the clothes to dry on their balconies.|
A Few Refugee StoriesSince Dionne and I do not work at the refugee centers, we have not gotten to know many refugees personally. Rather, we have great relationships with the NGO staff that work there everyday. This gives us unfiltered access to some of the shop talk. At Porin, for example, there was a time when the Red Cross decided it was unsafe to allow their staff into one wing of the facility. An incident occurred where a Red Cross staff member was struck by a female refugee. The Red Cross decided to boycott that wing in order to get the government run facility to beef up security there. These are the kind of stories that we hear.
|Gilles Francois (LDS Charities) chatting with some of the refugees at their room doors. Gilles knows enough Arabic to be dangerous and he enjoyed talking to some of the refugees.|
|This family was willing to share their story with the LDS Charities camera crew.|
|Turns out this young man is only 17. I would of thought he was much older when I was playing against him in the Krešimir. I was so excited to see him walking around in our T-shirt!|
|The Red Cross is using this picture as their screen saver!|
Accepting Their Humanity
The last time we visited Porin, I was surprised to see police van parked outside. After they were there a second day, I asked one of our friends at JRS what was going on. This is the story he told me.
|Regional leaders of JRS meeting with President and Sister Melonakos and Sharon Eubank.|
With two events in a month's time, the media got a hold of this story. Stories soon began to run about two sexual assaults committed by Porin refugees and how Croatians should fear these refugees. Right or wrong, it is nearly impossible to overcome negative press like this. And so public opinion about the Porin refugees has been permanently damaged by these press articles. It is going to make integration all that more difficult.
|This stack of mattresses sits outside of the refugee center. Not sure what the plan is but they are certainly a fire hazard. And I would think bed bugs would be problematic as well.|
|Women sitting on the benches outside of Porin.|
The Power of the MediaThe war in Bosnia effectively ended with one major event; Srebrenica. Until then the world was content to watch Bosnia slowly tear itself apart. But the massacre at Srebrenica was a galvanizing moment, an atrocity so great that it could not be ignored. The media had video of the killings, America soon became involved, and the war ended 9 months later.
The refugee cause had a similar moment. And it was the publication of this image that changed everything.
|This picture was taken in 2015.|
|Look at the daily papers in the U.K. the next day.|
|One of numerous memorials to 3-year old Aylan Kurdi.|
"He Is Whoever You Want Him To Be For You"The masterminds behind musical Les Miserables (Schonberg and Boublil) also created the lesser known Martin Guerre. We happened to see it on it's brief U.S. tour. During a pivotal scene, a simpleton character is on the witness stand and being asked who Martin Guerre truly is. Frustrated about what they want from him, he finally responds to the question "who is this man" with the answer..."he is whoever you want him to be for you." As I have pondered the fate of the refugees I have gotten to know, I have realized that many in the States and Western Europe treat the refugees the same way. For some reason (politics, religion, ego, who knows?), they treat the real-life refugees as proverbial straw men; useful if someone needs to demonstrate their mental agility when arguing with another. But they are never real flesh and blood humans with real problems, weaknesses, and lives.
|Meeting with real refugees and learning about their lives. Note Sisters Dahl and McColn making an appearance at the end of the table.|
|Fear mongering is a common tactic.|
|True...but it likely has much to do with another wave of refugees invited to France after WWII. The truth is much more complex than these simplistic arguments.|
|More fear mongering.|
|It is easier to raise money if your victims are children.|
Posters and pundits are doing these people a disservice when they intentionally sanctify or vilify them. It is obvious what is going on. Refugees are being used to make an argument. To fight the Democrat-Republican war. To reengage the Crusades and renew the Christian-Muslim debate. Fighting for the America that you grew up in. Or fighting for the America that you want your children to grow up in. That is fine. Just do not use these people for your selfish needs. If you really care, get involved. If not, leave them alone.
So What Is Going On? And What Is the Solution?I started this post by suggesting that there is a brewing conflict coming between the "haves" and the have not's." But there is also something else going on. I am going out on a limb here because I do not see this discussed often in the press. And hopefully I am not misreading the tea leaves.
I believe that there is an unidentified and unnamed war that is currently being waged. Most Westerners are ignorant of this war because we are egoistic, self-centered, and generally care about what effects our little world. I believe there is a civil war underway for control of Islam. With 1.6 billion adherents, the Muslim world does not have a unifying authority. The cellphone revolution is also taking its toll on Islam and its traditional powers (e.g., the Arab Spring). And so the chief question is: Who is going to lead Islam into the modern world?
|Just taking terrorist attacks as a barometer, you can see that the real battle is being waged in Muslim countries and the vast majority of victims are Muslims. Attacks in the U.S., U.K., and France make news. But nobody seems to care about the other more successful attacks. Like the suicide bomber who attacked a Kurdish wedding in Turkey and killed 50. Bet you didn't even know about that one.|
|Mario playing with some of the children at Kutina.|
|President Melonakos and I got into an impromptu football match with this young man. He was much better than either one of us!|
|The missionary team that helped get these two young girls ready for their first day of Croatian school. As much as we are trying to help, we also understand the social quagmire that these young refugees are walking into. They are outsiders who do not understand the language...so it will be uphill for them. Hopefully there will be other Croatians that embrace and love these little girls along the way. Such love, while it cannot guarantee success, can enable it.|