To my fellow Americans you may not have noticed… Angela Merkel swung open the doors to refugees in Europe with her invitation to Syrians that reminds of what the Statue of Liberty has meant to most of us: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It seems like a lifetime ago, but was only 2 years. Her speech, now captured for posterity on YouTube gave millions of hopeless refugees hope. Men, women and children took dangerous routes to Europe, many drowning and dying on their journey, kept going by the thought that they would eventually be welcomed in a safe place. Little did we know that the generosity of one leader and one country would be the end of the world that we once knew, the almost inevitable end of the European Union, that gave fuel to growing populism all over Europe. In the last year those of us working to help refugees find peace and safety in Europe have felt helpless and hopeless as we watched country after country closing their borders to migrants.
And then, what a few weeks ago seemed unthinkable actually happened. On Friday, Donald Trump banned more than 200 million people from seven countries, his #MuslimBan, from entering (or returning to) the United States. This, in spite of the fact that there are more people killed in the US by toddlers than by terrorists. His actions, remind us of Hitler’s as he singles out entire populations of people on the basis of their religion. This in the country that was built on freedom of religion.
There are 65 million displaced people in the world, 21 million refugees, and 10 million stateless people. 53% of the world’s refugees come from three countries: 4.9 million from Syria, 2.7 million from Afghanistan, and 1.1 million from Somalia.
Until this weekend you might not have known any Syrian refugees personally as there has only been a trickle since the vetting process is so strict. You probably know economic migrants from Mexico or even refugees from other Latin American countries. And you will certainly know immigrants, because a huge percentage of Americans are immigrants. But now you may start to notice a new category of refugee, particularly if you are working near or in a university, or in places like Silicon Valley. Now in addition to those fleeing war and famine, we can add the large numbers of people who come from one of those seven banned countries just created by Trump’s executive order – those who were living and working in the US but had the misfortune of leaving, thinking that they were protected by their visas or green cards, but weren’t when they tried to come “home.” Or those who are now stuck in the US because if they leave they will not be allowed to re-enter.
The new Trump Refugees could easily be any of us. They/we are us.
We originally created the Refuge Aid App (RefAid) to help those coming to Europe escape something so horrible that the risk of death by drowning, freezing or starvation was worth it if it would give them a chance of peace and safety. My fellow Americans, you may not have noticed when European countries started closing their borders so that refugees could not cross them on their way to Germany. But you will no doubt notice when our civil liberties were lost, when the press was silenced, when our borders closed. You will notice because now it is not them, but us. We are all the new Trump Refugees.
We created Refugee Aid App (RefAid) initially to help migrants and refugees in Europe find the services they need closest to where they are, and to help aid organizations make their services known to them. We started with two countries (the UK and Italy) and have grown to eight countries, adding Belgium, France, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Greece. We will soon be adding other countries in Europe, the US, some countries in Latin America and Jordan. Now that it is painfully clear that our definition of refugee and migrant is ever changing, we will continue to add services that will help people wherever they are in their journey, those who never thought they would find themselves in this category of human experience. No one would ever choose to be a refugee, to leave home and to never return. We are looking for help in recruiting more organizations and to spreading the word to those who need to know where help is. Get in touch if you can help us help us all.