There is SO much wrong in what she wrote here. If there was ANY foreign policy with regard to fighting wars and hostilities to swift victory, none of this would come to be. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power is delivering history, guilt and culpability of failure. Furthermore, she is demanding more money and wait for it…..Obama has his moment scheduled at the UN….this is not going to end well and will be yet another hit to our sovereignty.
This is an outrage, what say you?
Related reading: John Kerry Sells a Borderless World in a Graduation Address
What is especially interesting is as noted by Ambassador Power, these people want to go home.
Ambassador Samantha PowerU.S. Permanent Representative to the United NationsU.S. Mission to the United NationsWashington, DCJune 29, 2016****
Thank you, Nancy, for that generous introduction, and more importantly, for your leadership on this and other critical issues, both when you were inside the government and now in this incredibly important role you’re in at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Let me begin with a fact with which you are all familiar: We are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Just like the people at the heart of it, this crisis crosses borders, oceans, and continents. And because it is global in scale, anything less than a global response will fall short of addressing it. Yet rather than spur a united front, a united effort, the challenge of mass displacement has divided the international community – and even individual nations – leaving the lion’s share of the response to a small number of countries, stretching our humanitarian system to its breaking point, and putting millions of people in dire situations at even greater risk.
Today I will make the case for why we must do better. I will first describe the gap between the unprecedented scale of the crisis and the growing shortfalls in the international response. I will then take on some of the most common concerns one hears when it comes to admitting refugees, showing that, while there are, of course, genuine risks, these are often distorted; the actual threats can be mitigated. Our current approach of leaving a small number of nations to bear most of the costs, by contrast, carries hidden dangers, risking the lives of countless refugees, while also weakening our partners and strengthening violent extremists and organized crime. A global response is urgently needed, and the United States must help lead it.
At the end of 2015, more than 65 million people were displaced worldwide, over half of them children. That is the highest number on record since the UN’s Refugee Agency started collecting statistics. To help put that number in perspective, that’s the equivalent of one in every five Americans being displaced. Some 34,000 people will be displaced today alone. Think about that. Thirty-four thousand.
Many rightly point to the role that the turmoil in Syria has played in this crisis. Roughly half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million has been uprooted since the conflict began in 2011 – some six-and-half million within Syria’s borders, and five million to other countries. But the conflict in Syria is far from the only driver of this problem. The wars forcing people from their homes are multiplying – with at least 15 conflicts erupting or reigniting since 2010. And conflicts are lasting longer, meaning people have to wait longer before it is safe to return home. Roughly one in three refugees today is caught in what is called a “protracted refugee situation.” In 1993, the typical protracted refugee situation lasted nine years; today, the median duration is 26 years and counting.
People do not become refugees by choice, obviously; they flee because their lives are at risk – just as we would do if we found ourselves in such a situation. And most want to go home. So we recognize that the most effective way to curb the mass displacement of people is by addressing the conflicts, violence, and repression that they have fled in the first place, and that continues to make it unsafe for them to return home. Consider a survey of Syrian refugees carried out early this year in Gaziantep, along Turkey’s southern border. It found that 95 percent of the Syrians polled said that they would return home if the fighting stopped. In May, a study of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon – most of whom had fled Boko Haram – found that more than three in four wanted to return home. I met with refugees in both of these places, and when I posed the question of who wanted to go home to groups of refugees, all hands shot up in the air. Many of you have had similar experiences.
Even as we recognize the need to work toward the solutions that will reduce the drivers of mass displacement, we also have to meet the vital needs of refugees in real time. And on that front we in the international community are coming up far short. For one, we are seeing record shortfalls in providing essential humanitarian assistance. In 2015, the UN requested approximately $20 billion to provide life-saving aid, only $11 billion of which was funded. This year, the $21 billion that the UN is seeking is less than one-quarter funded.
Often we find ourselves using bureaucratese – the language of “shortfalls,” and “masses” of refugee “caseloads” – sterile language that makes it easy to lose sight of the human consequences of our collective action challenge. So we must constantly remind ourselves that these gaps mean more people are left without a roof or tarp to sleep under; more families are unable to afford gas to keep warm in sub-zero temperatures; more kids are forced to drink water that makes them sick – poor parents have to watch that happen. Last year, the World Food Program had to cut back significantly rations to some 1.6 million Syrian refugees, and half a million refugees from Somalia and South Sudan in Kenya. In Jordan, in July 2015, approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees received news – often on their phone – that the UN aid they were receiving would be halved to the equivalent of 50 cents’ worth of aid a day. In Iraq, the shortfall forced the World Health Organization to shutter 184 health clinics in areas with high levels of displacement, resulting in three million people losing access to basic health care. The WHO’s director for emergency assistance described the impact as follows: “There will be no access for trauma like shrapnel wounds, no access for children’s health or reproductive health…A generation of children will be unvaccinated,” he said. Imagine, for just one minute, being the official forced to decide whose rudimentary health care to cut off. Imagine being the patient or the parent who receives the news that the aid you’ve been receiving – which is already insufficient to feed your kids or to deal with health ailments – will be cut in half.
Not only are countries giving far too little support to meet refugees’ critical needs, few countries – and in particular, few wealthy countries – are stepping up to resettle more refugees. As a result, a hugely disproportionate share of refugees are being housed by a small group of developing countries. At the end of 2015, 10 countries – with an average GDP per capita of around $3,700 – were hosting some 45 percent of the world’s refugees. The United States’ GDP per capita, by comparison, is approximately $54,600. Add in the dramatic cuts in humanitarian assistance, and you start to get a sense of the direness of the situation.
To be fair, it can take time for governments to lay the groundwork for admitting more refugees. We are dealing with this challenge right now in the United States, as we make the adjustments necessary to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, out of a total of 85,000 refugees, a goal we, of course, intend to meet. Yet even as a country with experience admitting and resettling more than three million refugees in the last four decades, it has not been easy.
But the work required to scale up admissions is not what is preventing many countries from taking in more refugees. Instead, even as the crisis continues to grow, many countries are making no effort at all to do their fair share. Worse, some countries are actually cutting back on the number of admitted refugees, or they’ve said that they won’t take any refugees at all. Other governments have taken measures that cut against the core principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, such as offering financial rewards for asylum seekers who withdraw their applications and return home, or confiscating the cash and valuables of those seeking refuge to offset the costs of hosting them. Meanwhile, with multiple countries – including our own – certain states, cities, and even towns have said that they don’t want to take refugees admitted by their respective national governments.
Now, why are so many countries resisting taking in more refugees? Let me speak to the two concerns that we hear the most often.
The first is, of course, security. Now, it is reasonable to have concern that violent extremist groups might take advantage of the massive movement of migrants and refugees to try to sneak terrorists into countries that they want to attack. In Germany, for example, suspected terrorists have been arrested in recent months who entered the country traveling amidst groups of refugees. We must constantly evaluate whether the procedures that we and our partners have put in place can effectively identify terrorists posing as refugees, as our nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies are doing.
At the same time, as with any threat, it is important that our policy response be commensurate with the risk. The comprehensive, rigorous review process implemented by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program both protects our security and lives up to our long-standing commitment to give sanctuary to people whose lives are at risk. The program screens refugee applicants against multiple U.S. government databases – including the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security – which incorporate information provided by partners all around the world. Refugees are interviewed, often several times, before ever being allowed to travel to the United States; and refugees from Syria are subjected to a thorough, additional layer of review. We do not rush; in all, the process usually takes more than a year. If your aim is to attack the United States, it is hard to imagine a more difficult way of trying to get here than by posing as a refugee.
While no system is foolproof, our record to date speaks to the system’s efficacy. Of the approximately 800,000 refugees who have been admitted to the United States since September 11, not one has carried out an act of domestic terrorism. Zero. But that has not made us complacent; we are constantly assessing new threats, and we spare no effort to make the program stronger.
Being able to measure accurately the relative gravity of threats and where they come from is critical to making smart policy and is critical to keeping the American people safe. That is why the efforts to halt our refugee program in the aftermath of the horrific attacks in Paris, and more recently in Orlando, were so misguided.
It is appropriate, and indeed, essential, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks to ask whether and how our policies should be changed to keep our citizens safe. What is not appropriate – what is, in fact, counterproductive – is using inaccurate characterizations of threats to justify shifts in policy, such as failing to see the difference between a homegrown terrorist and a refugee; or drawing misguided and discriminatory conclusions about entire groups of people based on the countries from which their families immigrated or the faith that they observe. Ignorance and prejudice make for bad advisors.
Yet that is what is driving the ill-informed and biased reactions we have seen to these and other attacks from some in our country. After the Paris attack, 31 U.S. governors and their states did not want to host any Syrian refugees, and several officials filed lawsuits aimed at blocking the federal government from resettling Syrians in their states. In the aftermath of Orlando, House Republicans announced that they will put forward legislation to ban all refugees from our country. That is not all. As you know, some are calling for even broader bans, such as banning immigrants based on their religion, or suspending immigration from parts of the world with a history of terrorism.
Now, I take this personally. I’m an immigrant to this country. My mother brought me and my brother to the United States from Dublin in 1979. It was a time when Ireland was still being roiled by violence related to The Troubles. And that violence included attacks that killed civilians – some of which were carried out in the city where I lived. So it’s not lost on me that were such a prejudiced and indiscriminate policy to have been applied when I was growing up – a policy that judges people collectively on the circumstances of their birth, rather than individually on the quality of their character – my family and millions of other Irish immigrants would never have been allowed to come to this country. That I, an Irish immigrant, now get to sit every day in front of a placard that says the United States of America, and to serve in the President’s Cabinet, is just a reflection of what makes this country so exceptional. And it sends the world a powerful message about the inclusive society that we believe in. Why on Earth would we want to give that up?
If the first concern one hears around admitting refugees is the security risk, the second is economic. People fear that refugees will place an additional burden on states at a time of shrinking budgets and a contracting global economy. The concerns tend to coalesce around two arguments in some tension with one another: either refugees will deplete government resources through a costly resettlement process, and through requiring public support for years; or they will find work quickly, taking jobs away from native-born citizens and driving down wages.
It is true that resettling refugees requires a substantial investment up front. Sufficient resources must be dedicated to ensuring that asylum seekers are properly vetted. And people who are admitted need support as they settle into a new, unfamiliar country and become self-sufficient – from finding places to live and work, to learning a new language. If we want to keep our citizens safe and give the refugees we take in a shot at becoming self-reliant, these up-front costs are unavoidable.
You might be surprised, though, to learn how little refugees actually receive from the U.S. government. Resettlement agencies are given a one-time amount to cover initial housing, food, and other essential expenses of $2,025 for each refugee. And while refugees can apply for additional federal assistance, such as funding for job training or special medical assistance – no supplementary support is guaranteed – and most lasts a maximum of eight months. Now imagine trying to survive on that amount in a new and unfamiliar place, with no job, no support system, and often without the ability to speak English. Refugees are also responsible for repaying the cost of their plane tickets to the U.S. within three and a half years.
Even in the short term, much of the assistance that goes toward supporting refugees ends up going back into our local economies, from the supermarkets where they buy groceries, to the apartments they rent. And a number of studies have found that refugees’ short-term impact on their host countries’ labor markets tends to be small, and is often positive, raising the wages of people in communities where they settle. And it is important to see these initial costs of taking in refugees for what they are: an investment in our shared future. You hear often about individual refugees who have made profound contributions to our nation – people like George Soros, Sergei Brin, and one of my predecessors as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, the great Madeleine Albright. There is no question that America would be a lesser country today without these individuals. Yet it is not only extraordinary individuals like these, but entire refugee communities who have made a lasting contribution to American prosperity.
Take the example of Vietnamese-Americans. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, America resettled more than 175,000 Vietnamese refugees in just two years. In 1979, a second wave of hundreds of thousands more Vietnamese refugees began arriving. Initially, politicians from both parties warned of the dire economic impact that the Vietnamese refugees would have on the communities where they were settled, and they asked that they be sent elsewhere. The Democratic governor of California at the time proposed adding a provision to legislation on assisting refugees that would guarantee jobs for Americans first, saying, “We can’t be looking 5,000 miles away and at the same time neglecting people who live here.” Seattle’s city council voted seven to one against a resolution welcoming them. Small towns where Vietnamese refugees were to be resettled, such as Niceville, Florida – [laughter] yes, Niceville – circulated petitions demanding they be sent elsewhere. A barber in Niceville told a reporter, “I don’t see why I ought to work and pay taxes for those folks who wouldn’t work over there.” The fears and reservations expressed in Niceville were hardly isolated; a 1979 poll found that 57 percent of Americans opposed taking in Vietnamese refugees.
And yet look at the 1.9 million Vietnamese-Americans living in our country today, many of whom either came to this country as refugees, or whose parents were refugees. They have a higher median household income than the national average, higher participation in the labor force, and lower unemployment. More, on average, attend college. Now this is not a success that has come at the expense of other Americans in a zero-sum economy; rather, the growth spurred by their success has benefitted both native born citizens and refugees, and repaid the costs of resettlement many, many times over.
Oftentimes, domestic debates about whether to do more for refugees are focused entirely on the question of what we risk by taking more people in. Is it safe? Will it help or hurt economically? These are important concerns to address, and I have tried to do so.
But there’s another question – often overlooked – which is particularly relevant today: What do we risk by not doing more to help refugees? That’s the question I would like to turn to now. And the answer is that, in the current crisis, not doing more puts global stability and our nation’s security at heightened risk. While we often overstate the security threats and economic costs of resettling more refugees, we routinely understate the likely consequences of failing to muster the global response that is needed.
For one, failing to mobilize a more robust and equitable global response will increase the pressure on the small group of countries already shouldering a disproportionate share of the crisis’ costs, possibly leading to greater instability. The influx of refugees to these countries has overwhelmed public services and institutions that were often stretched to begin with. Look at Lebanon, which has taken in a million Syrian refugees, and where one in five people is now a Syrian refugee. To give you a sense of scale, that would be the equivalent, in our country – which of course is much wealthier and has a much more developed infrastructure – of taking in 64 million refugees. There are more Syrian refugee children of school age in Lebanon – approximately 360,000 in all – than there are Lebanese children in public school. Roughly half of the Syrian refugee kids in Lebanon are out of school.
In the face of such demands, and absent greater help from the international community, it is not hard to see how the mounting pressure on these frontline countries could stoke sectarian tensions, fuel popular resentment of refugees, and even lead to the collapse of governments. It’s also not hard to imagine how, in such circumstances, some of these countries might decide they cannot take in any more refugees and seal off their borders altogether.
Failing to mount a more effective international response will also strengthen the hand of organized crime and terrorist groups that pose a threat to our security and prosperity. If people fleeing wars, mass atrocities, and repression cannot find a safe, legal, and orderly way to get to places where they and their loved ones will be safe, and where they can fulfill their basic needs, they will seek another way to get to places of refuge. We’ve seen it. They will always find smugglers who promise to take them – for a price. INTERPOL estimates that, in 2015, organized crime networks made between five and six billion dollars smuggling people to the European Union alone. These criminal networks have little concern for the lives of the people they transport – as they have demonstrated by abandoning their boats at sea, sometimes with hundreds of passengers locked in holds that they cannot escape – and whose members routinely rape, beat, and sell into slavery the people that they are paid to transport.
Of course, it is not only refugees who are threatened by these criminal networks. The same routes and transports used to smuggle people across oceans and borders are also used to move illicit arms, drugs, and victims of human trafficking. And the corruption that these groups fuel harms governments and citizens worldwide. The more refugees that are driven into the hands of these criminal networks, the stronger we make them.
Violent extremist groups like ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and Boko Haram also stand to benefit if we fail to respond adequately to the refugee crisis. A central part of the narrative of these groups is that the West is at war with Islam. So when we turn away the very people who are fleeing the atrocities and repression of these groups; and when we cast all displaced Muslims – regardless of whether they were uprooted by violent extremists, repressive governments, or natural disasters – as suspected terrorists; we play into that narrative. To violent extremists, simply belonging to a group is proof of guilt, and can be punishable by death – whether that group is defined by religion or ethnicity, by profession or sexual orientation. When we blame all Muslims, all Syrians, or all members of any other group because of the actions of individuals, when we fall into the trap of asserting collective guilt, we empower the narrow-minded ideology that we are trying to defeat.
On the contrary, when we and the parts of the Muslim world where people are suffering or have sought refuge, when we open our communities and our hearts to the people displaced by the atrocities committed by groups like ISIL, and repressive regimes like Assad’s, we puncture the myth that the extremists paint of us. We show that our conflict is not with Islam, but with those who kill and enslave people simply for what they believe, where they are born, or who they love.
Now, I have spoken to how many of the concerns that people have about admitting more refugees are overblown, driven more by fear than by fact. And I’ve highlighted the risk we run if countries continue to shirk doing their fair share in addressing this crisis. So what can we do to try to fix this problem? For starters, countries must dramatically increase their humanitarian aid to close the growing gap between what governments and agencies are providing and what refugees need to survive. And we need countries to increase the number of refugees they are resettling so that the burden does not fall so heavily on a small number of frontline states.
Now, some have argued that, because it’s more cost effective for wealthy countries like ours to provide humanitarian support for refugees in countries of first asylum, we should channel all the resources we allocate to this crisis into helping frontline states. Why take an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S., some argue, when the resources that we would spend vetting and resettling these individuals could support 10 or even a hundred times as many refugees in places like Lebanon or Kenya?
Of course, we cannot resettle all 21 million refugees in the world, or even a majority of them. Nor do we need to. Many refugees are able to find sufficient opportunities to live with independence and dignity in the countries where they are given first refuge. And most prefer to stay close to the places to which they hope to return.
But there are some individuals and families who cannot stay in the countries where they have arrived first – because they are not safe there, because they have special vulnerabilities, or because their basic needs just are not being met. The UN estimates that around 1.2 million people fall into this category worldwide, and need to be resettled to other countries. The problem is the international community only resettled around 107,000 individuals last year – less than one-tenth of those who UNHCR judges need to be moved to a new host country. We need to bridge that gap.
By providing more opportunities for resettlement, we give experts the chance to review applicants through orderly, deliberate processes, rather than the large-scale, irregular flows that Europe faced last year, which brought more than a million people to Germany alone. These unstructured marches make it more difficult for countries to subject those who arrive to thorough and rigorous screening. And by practicing what we preach through resettling refugees, we stand a better chance of persuading others to do the same. How can we ask governments and citizens in other countries to take in refugees if we are not prepared to do the same in our own communities? How can we convince others that fear can be overcome and risk can be mitigated if we ourselves are ruled by fear?
In recognition of the urgent need for all countries to do more, President Obama is convening a refugee summit in September at the UN General Assembly. The purpose of this summit is to rally countries around three major lines of effort. First, we’re asking governments to make a deeper commitment to funding UN and humanitarian organizations and appeals, increasing overall contributions by at least 30 percent. Second, we’re asking governments to commit to welcoming more refugees into their countries, with the goal of doubling the number of refugee admission slots worldwide. Third, we are asking frontline countries – who already are hosting considerable numbers of refugees with awe-inspiring generosity – to do even more, allowing the refugees they host greater opportunities to become more self-reliant. Our aim is to put at least a million more refugee children in school, and grant a million more refugees access to legal work.
We recognize that the United States can and must do more as well. We are the leading donor of humanitarian aid, contributing more than $5.1 billion for the Syrian conflict alone, and we will continue to provide robust support. And not only are we scaling up our resettlement efforts to admit 15,000 additional refugees this year, but we will scale up by 15,000 more next year, to admit 100,000 refugees overall. That’s a 40 percent increase in just two years – while maintaining our extremely rigorous security standards.
The summit is by no means a panacea; even if we hit every target, our response will still not match the scale of the crisis. But it would represent a step – an important step toward broadening the pool of countries that are part of the solution. We also recognize that governments cannot solve this problem alone. We need businesses, big and small, to do much more too; which is why tomorrow, the White House is launching a private sector call to action, which will rally companies to do their part, from providing jobs to donating services to refugees. We need a humanitarian system that is more efficient and better at anticipating and preventing the crises that force people from their homes – which many countries committed to build at the recent World Humanitarian Summit. We need more civic institutions to help empower refugees, such as the growing number of American universities that are providing scholarships to refugees who were forced to abandon their studies – a cause that I urge the college students and faculty in the audience to take up. We need faith-based and civic institutions to adopt this cause as their own, as Pope Francis has done by constantly showing people the human face of this crisis, even welcoming refugees into his own home; and as the Southern Baptist Leadership Convention recently did, by adopting a resolution urging its members to “welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes.” Only when all these efforts come together will we have a chance of rising to the challenge that we face.
Let me conclude. In a letter dated May 16, 1939, a British citizen named Nicholas Winton wrote to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Esteemed Sir,” the letter began, “Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being and has been done for refugee children in Czechoslovakia.” Winton went on to describe how a small organization that he had started had identified more than 5,000 refugee children in Czechoslovakia, most of them Jews who had fled Nazi Germany who desperately needed to be evacuated. He wrote, “There are thousands of children, some homeless and starving, mostly without nationality, but they all have one thing in common: there is no future if they are forced to remain where they are. Their parents are forbidden to work and the children are forbidden schooling, and part from the physical discomforts, the moral degradation is immeasurable.” Winton closed his letter with a direct request: “Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem in America? It is hard to state our case forcibly in a letter, but we trust to your imagination to realize how desperately urgent the situation is.”
Winton’s letter reached the White House, which promptly referred the matter to the State Department. And the State Department, in turn, sent the letter to the U.S. Ambassador in London, with instructions to inform Winton that “the United States government is unable, in the absence of specific legislation, to permit immigration in excess of that provided by existing immigration laws.”
Now Winton was undaunted, because he was undauntable. In the coming months, he bribed officials, forged documents, arranged secret transport through hostile territory, and persuaded families in the United Kingdom to take in foster children – anything to get those children out. Ultimately, he helped 669 children escape in less than a year. Almost all 669 kids were orphaned by the end of the war, their parents killed in the concentration camps.
“Perhaps people in America do not realize how little is being and has been done for refugee children.” That was how Winton had opened his letter. Yet the unfortunate reality is that even those who were aware of the refugees’ plight were reluctant to take them in. In January 1939, a few months after Kristallnacht, “the night of the broken glass,” unleashed a savage wave of violence targeting Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses, a Gallup poll asked Americans whether 10,000 Jewish refugee children from Germany should be taken into the United States. Sixty-one percent of Americans said no.
And this isn’t an isolated case. Unfortunately, it was not only refugees fleeing the Nazis and Vietnam who the majority of Americans opposed admitting. In 1958, as Hungarians faced a vicious crackdown from the Soviet Union, Americans were asked whether they supported a plan to admit 65,000 refugees. Fifty-five percent said no. In 1980, as tens of thousands of Cubans – Cuban refugees – took to boats to flee repression, 71 percent of Americans opposed admitting them. The list goes on. In nearly every instance, the majority of Americans have opposed taking in large numbers of refugees when asked in the abstract.
Listening to the rhetoric that is out there today, it can feel at times as though the same is true today. But look around the country – look deeply – and you will find so many people who not only support admitting more refugees, but who themselves are making tremendous efforts to welcome them. People like the owners of Wankel’s Hardware Store in New York, where I live, which for decades has been employing recently resettled refugees, including 15 of their 20 current employees. Wankel’s keeps a map on the wall of the store with pins marking the 36 countries from which their refugee employees have come. Many Americans are doing their part and wish to find a way to do more. When visiting the International Rescue Committee resettlement office – just a 10-minute walk from the UN – recently, I noticed that many of their individual offices seemed to be overflowing with boxes. When I asked whether the folks who worked at IRC were moving in or moving out of the space, I was told that after some U.S. politicians threatened to curb the flow of refugees, the IRC had received a huge, unprecedented surge in donations. And they simply had no other space to store all the clothes, toys, and home furnishings that had come flooding in, just from ordinary people. A similar outpouring occurred inside the U.S. government. When we announced our goal to admit an additional 15,000 refugees this year, many U.S. national security professionals volunteered to take extra trainings and work extra hours in their already long days to help us meet that goal.
These examples abound. The small Vermont town of Rutland has committed to taking in 100 Syrian refugees. The mayor, whose grandfather came to the U.S. after fleeing war in his native Greece, said of the decision, “As much as I want to say it’s for compassionate reasons, I realize that there is not a vibrant, growing, successful community in the country right now that is not embracing new Americans.” Local schools are preparing to support kids who cannot support English, and local businesses in Rutland have said that they will look to hire refugees. One of them is a regional medical center, whose director is the grandson of refugees from Nazi Germany. “I know there is a good-heartedness to this city,” he said. “If you come here and want to make the community better, Rutlanders will welcome you with open arms.” A poll some of you have seen that was released this month by the Brookings Institution suggests that most Americans feel the same way. Asked if they would support the U.S. taking in refugees from the Middle East after they were screened for security risks, 59 percent of Americans said yes. Yes.
Nicholas Winton passed away last June, at the age of 106. At the time, the 669 children he saved had some 6,000 descendants. Six thousand people who otherwise would not have enriched our world, but mostly for the efforts of one single individual. Imagine, for just a moment, what would have happened if the United States, or any other country, had shared his sense of urgency in that instance, or in so many others. Imagine what we could do if we were to bring a similar urgency, a similar stubbornness, a similar resilience to the crisis today.
If we are proudest of the Wintons in our history – as I think we all are – we know what must be done. So that when his question comes to us – “Is it possible for anything to be done to help us with this problem?” – our answer must be yes, there is so much we can do. So much more we can do.