Robin Wallace: An important reminder on refugees
These days, have you noticed lately how difficult it is to stay on the subject?
Several weeks ago it was all about the refugees from countries in Central America seeking asylum at our southern border. Most American citizens were outraged at learning about children being separated from their parents, and confined in large metal cages. Protest rallies were held all over our country, to such an extent that President Trump was forced to change his punitive policy (part of “Zero Tolerance”) and issue an order that the families must stay together.
By now, because of the court-ordered July 26 reunification date, the majority of the 2,500 children have been reunited with their parents. About 700 children have not, since their parents were deported and their whereabouts are unknown.
They are possibly back in their countries Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — known as the Northern Triangle — where gang violence and drug cartels are pervasive. Drug cartels from South America use gangs to organize transshipment points for illegal drugs headed to the United States and Europe. Gang members recruit young people, put pressure on them to join by threatening them and their families, especially women and girls. These people live in constant fear of violence and decide that seeking asylum in our country is their only option.
According to the United Nations, a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. An immigrant is anyone who moves from one country to another for any reason. Refugees are the only ones entitled to apply for asylum.
It is worth noting that worldwide, there have never been so many refugees as there are now — 65 million, according to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees.) People in huge numbers flee their homes with only what they can carry, leaving everything behind to run for their lives. That 65 million refugees number is equal to the entire population of England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland combined, or twice the population of Canada.
As many as 12 countries in Africa, several in the Middle East, (Syria, Iraq, Yemen) Afghanistan, Western Pakistan are “nations of disorder,” as Thomas Friedman describes in his book: “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.” Added to this list of “nations of disorder” are countries in our own backyard, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Friedman writes that people from all these areas are fleeing to “nations of order,” such as the United States, England, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Canada and Australia.
The refugees at our southern border have fled for their lives and the lives of their families, hoping their children might eventually live in safety and without fear. The “Zero Tolerance” punitive separation policy has brought about great suffering, and for the children, traumatic psychological injury.
We, as citizens of the United States, need to remember that our country has signed and ratified Human Rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed in 1977, ratified in 1992) and others, which obligate us — and all countries that have signed them, to protect people’s right to life, their right to freedom from torture, ill treatment, arbitrary detention, etc. With these treaties, we have promised to the world, in writing, to protect refugees and asylum seekers. And if these rights sound familiar, it is because they are defined in our own Constitution.
It was us, the United States of America, who showed the world what people’s rights are, according to our Constitution, and it was the United States that led the countries of the world, through the United Nations, to sign these rights into international law. Let’s not backtrack on our promises now or on our moral leadership.
Robin Wallace lives in Nevada City. She is a member of the United Nations Association, Golden Empire Chapter.
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