Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Germany finding housing the refugees overwhelming; Obama, Putin stalemate over Syria

Various states in Germany have lowered their standards for housing refugees, according to this story in the UK Globe and Mail, link here.

So far, refugees are being housed in barracks in remote locations, not affecting ordinary German citizens.  But as the crisis continues, the “spare bedroom” idea is bound to come up, it seems.
In some areas, there are attempts to separate Christian and Muslim refugees.

Note the terms "migrant" and "refugee" are different'; the former term includes more people. 
In the meantime, President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin still agree to disagree on what to do about Syria.  The short term practical reality is that Russian presence could stabilize some areas.  The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.

Update: Sept 30

Donald Trump said today that if he wins the 2016 election, he'll send the Syrian refugees home, and his own choir audience cheered. Here's the Reuters story.  But earlier he had said the US should take in some Syrian refugees. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Petition circulated over planned execution in Saudi Arabia

I don’t know how effective this is, but there is a group called Avaaz that sponsors petitions.  There is a protest against the planned public execution in Saudi Arabia for a man under 18 for participating in public demonstrations, link here

What would be interesting is to know how much influence the US has on authoritarian (Muslim) countries with which it has reasonable relations.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Personal involvement with refugees will be like foster parenting, but the need for it (for Syrians) is not as immediate as the hype says

The hype about moral duty and the refugee crisis continues.
The International Rescue Committee has a good page on what actual volunteering would entail, here
The Guardian has a good perspective on the “spare room” controversy as it is now in Britain, where it is more immediately pressing than in the US, here.  The newly arrived refugees will be housed in large centers supervised by the British government and various organizations, as in most other major countries.  But the Guardian points out that refugees who have been in Britain (or any western country) for a time and been denied asylum or run out of assistance are often in dire straits.  Then the “spare room” idea applies – and comes with a lot of risk.  But few people could take in the country’s own homeless. 
Still, another Guardian article shows that people offering “spare rooms” seems to be a tool to try to influence politicians to relax their security policies for economic or security reasons, here
The scale of the "housing offer" issue is bigger, relatively speaking, in Iceland.
Glenn Beck offered a similar argument in “The Blaze” here.  
MoveOn has a petition here.  Contrary to rumors, signing the petition is not an offer of housing or other personal assistance.  However, the site encourages people to post their photos as a show of emotional solidarity.

My immediate take on this is, well, reticence and caution.  You can’t apply to “house” a “new” refugee;  the refugee has to be vetted overseas and brought here legally.  The State Department will probably encourage charities (secular and faith-based) to form more new organizations to supervise individuals involved in assistance – as is happening in Canada – but that will take time.  This is more complicated in the US than most other countries (as I have explained in other posts).  So, no, I won’t put my name or face on a petition just right now. 

What appears to be shaping up in the volunteer area, besides giving money through established charities, is the idea that “volunteers” will need to be very dedicated to this kind of effort if they get involved at all.  It will involve time, interpersonal skill and caring, attention, risk-taking, and going out of the box, and questioning previous assumptions of appropriate involvement in the lives of others.  Becoming a foster parent might be an appropriate comparison.  And it is just too early to tell what the volume of hands-on-need will be.  But these situations tend to grow very quickly.  The Syrian question will raise new questions about longstanding immigration policy for Mexico and Central America (very divisive politically) and about other domestic issues of homelessness and poverty. It will even feed into the “inequality” debate.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

At an informal Sunday School, discussion of the US response to refugee crisis

Today, without a teacher, we had a discussion of the European and Syrian refugee crisis in Sunday School.

The general tone of the conversation was to reflect the uncertainty already covered here.
Resettlement of a larger number of refugees than 10000 in the US is likely to be a hard sell politically, given existing immigration issues on the Mexican border, by way of comparison with Canada.

Much of the rhetoric critical of the US has been laced with emotion.  Refugees are not allowed in the US without some sort of vetting and background check (starting overseas).  It will be difficult to do this with large numbers of refugees in the tens of thousands. In Europe, it is not possible at all.

The US state department has a link explaining the process, here

   As in Canada, all refugees are placed with the help of a non-profit resettlement agency (when no relatives are available).  Some of these have church-affiliations.  It is likely that the number of these agencies will increase and more will form, and develop a presence on social media to find volunteers and hosts.  However, individual volunteers would also have to be vetted.  In Canada, there is supposedly a minimum of 5 volunteers before an organization can be active.  Similar requirements will probably develop in the US.

There was a sentiment that some volunteers who offer themselves or homes do so out of faith, and may not be as insistent as the government is on security vetting.  However, this could pressure other volunteers and cause tensions.

We are likely to hear a lot more about this in the coming weeks.

At church this morning (First Baptist of the City of Washington DC) there was a dedication of a child from a large extended family from Nigeria. There was an interesting sermon from Dan Hastey where he mentioned a remark from the former President Carter that many pastors should be concerned about the “tone” of their sermons and ministry, especially overseas.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More talk on US, Canada accepting more refugees, with the question of how to house and support them -- need churches, volunteers, and ultimately personal sponsors (with "spare bedrooms")?

Late Tuesday, Vox posted the posted a link on Facebook, “The shameful US response to the Syrian refugee crisis, by the numbers, by Joe Posner, Joss Fong, and Estelle Caswell, here. 

I posted the following comment:

“For VOX -- one question -- why don't the "rich Gulf states" do more? Second -- how will Syrian refugees not having relatives in the US be supported? Huffington-Canada suggests an answer and churches will do so, which is what the Pope has asked for in Europe of parishes. But in the US, we don't "take care" of our own homeless. Difference -- most immigrants want to work -- is it that easy to employ the,? Also, screening them - ISIS or the like could try to exploit this hiding terrorists, don't know how likely. How do you manage this? Big issue. Not as clear cut as Vox makes it look.”

There is one Facebook “like” so far.

I think we need to ponder what issues we can face if the US (and Canada) do decide to admit a large number of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the region without known relatives already prepared to take them in. 

John Troy has urged Toronto citizens to offer shelter to up to 1000 refugees – apparently in their own homes.

Australia has reportedly offered to shelter 12000 refugees in Australia.  Does hosting refugees mean they have political asylum (in the legal sense)?
You’d have to get past the “Muslim” issue and the possibility (however remote statistically) that terrorists could hide in the stream, which Peter King (R-NY) has talked about.
Most likely, non-profits would be encouraged to register as sponsors.  By and large, these would be congregations (Catholic parishes and mainstream protestant churches).  These congregations could raise money through normal “love offerings”, but they would probably have to promote sponsorship among individual members.  Some might have the resources to rent townhomes or apartments and supervise them.  Churches would tend to present the “personal risk” (like security) as a “matter or faith” and sacrifice (maybe comparable in some way to national service or joining the military). But there would also be the risk for religious abuse (expecting Muslims to convert to Christianity) with some groups, as already reported in Germany.

The example of the fall 1980 Cuban refugee crisis sets and example.  In Dallas, as I have written, there was a large call among the local Metropolitan Community Church (well before the founding of the Cathedral of Hope) for individual people to “take them in” with “spare bedrooms”.  No one at the time pondered the security implications.   I talked to someone about this, and found out that a sponsor would need to learn Spanish (take it at a local community college) and essentially give up his or her job to spend days with the refugee – hardly practical.  This was seen as a big problem in the LGBT community since about 25% of the refugees were thought to have fled Castro for anti-gay reasons.  

So, as I have written on the LGBT blog, there is the potential for a comparable issue today with refugees from Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, etc.  Organizations in New York City, Chicago, LA, and Washington (DC Center) have worked quietly on the issue for the past two years with little public attention so far.  That could change.

Few people stepped up to this (I did not) in 1980. Catholic Charities (on Lemmon Ave. in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas at the time) also tried to work on the issue, with little effect (but would not accept gay volunteers).

So all of this can come down to a personal level eventually, the way any war can.  One can ask – why don’t the "rich" Islamic Gulf States do more – and that’s something the Obama administration and members of Congress (both parties) should pursue, vigorously. (Obama just hosted Saudi Arabia.) But eventually, conflict can put even well-off citizens back home in a moral bind, and challenge them to step up.  That is what so much more conflict in our culture is eventually all about. 

CNN just reported that John Kerry has just said (Wednesday) that the US will take in "more refugees" but wouldn't specify how many. Tom Andrews (United to End Genocide) spoke on CNN today about volunteers in the US with "spare bedrooms" just now?  

How does US (citizen) responsibility compare to the refugees from violence in Central America, already an issue?  

How does it compare to taking care of our own homeless?
I still don’t think the media has put together all the pieces of this crisis together. One other thing, in our discussion, distinguish "migrant" from "refugee". 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Refugees "converting" to Christianity from Islam in Germany in order to strengthen asylum claims

Reputable news services report that hundreds of refugees are converting to Christianity in order to increase their chances of winning asylum in Germany or other European countries.
Many such stories have appeared on Facebook in the past few minutes, for example, UK Daily mail, here
That is, they say they have “converted” when asked by ministers. Sincerity would be impossible to judge (as it is in protestant churches when they have “reaffirmation of faith”).
To convert in Afghanistan or Syria or any other Muslim country before coming would probably mean death.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pope Francis expects Catholic parishes to step up to refugee crisis; Finland prime minister offers his summer home, as door-knocks get more personal

Lauren Lee-Johnson has a column on CNN, on how “you” can help with the migrant crisis, especially from North America.  The article lists some charities.  My own favorite is Save the Children  which is on my regular donation list with a bank handling my trust.  I prefer well-known, secular charities. There are many church-associated charities, of course; but a few have allegedly been involved, however indirectly, on the wrong side of some political issues (like anti-gay behavior in Uganda). 
But European sources (and now CNN) report that Pope Francis has called upon all European Catholic parishes (which would cover all of continental Europe, especially the Mediterranean, Catholic countries) to sponsor one migrant family each, link here.   This is one family per parish (or "sanctuary"), not household, but would raise a question about parish members taking in families personally within any parish (or sponsoring specific migrant families with targeted financial contributions, which could also be expected in North America).   European civilians have been generous with donations at the train stations.
And Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipila has offered his home in Lapland to refugees, according to an NBC report. 

In the U.S., Houston TX is said (on CNN) to have helped place more Syrian refugees than any other area (although Michigan, around Detroit, also has been involved heavily). But how does this play out against a similar crisis in the US from violent Central America? What will Donald Trump say about this? Furthermore, many people (as in Facebook comments) ask, what about our own homeless? 
At the same time, legitimate questions are asked as to why rich Gulf states (like UAE, or even Saudi Arabia) don’t do a lot more to take in refugees.  This will be a problem with many people in Europe since most are apparently Muslim themselves, usually Sunni.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Egyptian billionaire offers to buy island to house refugees from Syria and other war zones

An Egyptian, Naguib Sawris, is offereing to buy an island for European refugees, off the coast of Italy or Greece, and says he will hire them to build themselves new housing and infrastructure.

The CNN Money  story  is here
Neither Greece nor Italy has responded yet, although Greece could use the money.  Arguably, both countries could fear a “Muslim” island  (however moderate) at their doorsteps.  The billionaire could be imagining he could eventually build another Dubai on one of these islands (with migrant labor), but that could be a good thing economically for a country like Greece.
But the offer would seem to relieve the rest of the West (and its people) of any moral accountability to respond to this problem. 
(There is a related post on the Issues blog today.)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Migrants on tracks, and strikes disrupt travelers on Eurostar through Chunnel, as well as other traffic

Migrants have gotten onto tracks of the Eurostar trains near the Chunnel (English Channel Tunnel) at Calaism France and created great disruptions for “well-off” passengers, according to news reports like this in the BBC, here.

But strikes by port workers had created similar disruptions in June, according to Standard News here and the Seattle Times here.  Migrants had tried to stowaway on vehicles, especially commercial trucks, caught in the jams.

One of the devices of the extreme “Left” is to make “middle class” or “upper class” people walk in the shoes of the less fortunate, even by force if necessary.  But the migrant behavior sounds like pure desperation.
The Chunnel appears in the 1997 "Mission: Impossible" film.

Later today, radio reports talked about the problem that Canada had denied some people asylum despite having relatives in Canada who would take them in.  It's possible that churches could become very proactive with this issue, pushing the idea of personal sponsorship, which is much riskier for people one doesn't know.  Politicians don't like to talk about this. 
Wikipedia attribution link for Eurostar photo by Xtrememachineuk, under Creative Commons 2.5 Generic License

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Egypt still jails journalists for "amateurism"; Canada appeals for a pardon for one its own

Egypt will jail journalists for not “registering” and “reporting false news”.  All of that is covered in a new story on CBS News about the appeal by the Canadian government for a pardon and deportation of Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy, as in this link. Fahmy’s attorney Amal Clooney reported on the appeal according to the story. Two other journalists were also sentences to three years in prison.

All of this makes me wonder if “amateur” bloggers or journalists, visiting Egypt for personal tourism, to visit the Pyramids, could be detained for what they have published worldwide on the Internet before arriving.  The same concern could exist particularly with Russia and gay issues.  I expect to look into this further.

Wikipedia attribution link for aerial photo of Pyramids by Robster, under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain dedication. Note that the city of Cairo comes up to the edge of the Giza monument grounds.

Update: Sept. 24, 2015

Two journalists have been freed, before Muslim holy days, right at the same time there is a horrible tragedy at the hajj in Saudi Arabia, story