Refugees Are a Constant. So Is Our Global Responsibility to Help Them

I wrote this before leaving for Cuba, but a lack of WiFi prevented me from posting it. The message still stands, as Trump’s ban is set to return this week.

Doesn’t America have a responsibility to accept people fleeing war and conflict?

The S.S. St. Louis cruise liner carried 900 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. They hoped to reach Cuba, as all passengers had procured Cuban visas; most eventually planned to settle in America. Hitler’s wrath had begun and these Jews sought to save their lives.

Jewish_refugees_aboard_the_SS_St._Louis_in_Cuba.jpg
Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis. Photo in the public domain. 

Cuba had accepted full families of Jews on other cruise liners. One family happened to be that of the woman I live with, Marion Kreith. She was a young teenager at the time and took refuge in Havana working in a diamond-polishing factory, with many other Jews, before immigrating to the U.S. after the war. Marion’s daughter Judy Kreith has since made a documentary on her mother’s story.

Yet tragically, the S.S. St. Louis, wasn’t as fortunate as the other ships. Under the rule of the dictator Batista, Cuba turned away this ship of refugees. The S.S. St. Louis turned to the U.S., but was also refused. The ship had no other option but to return to Europe. Over 250 of the passengers ended up perishing in the Holocaust over the next five years.

Why is this story relevant?

Look at what’s happening today in the U.S.. Trump’s ban on accepting refugees from seven particularly war-torn, Muslim countries is not too dissimilar. Is it as bad as the plight of the S.S. St. Louis? Well, looking back to 1939, the situation in Europe surely didn’t appear as bad as it actually was. Yet, the Holocaust happened.

Thus today, even with better reporting, social media and photojournalism, we still aren’t privy to the atrocities that these refugees are fleeing from in Syria, Libya, Sudan and the other banned countries. We can’t imagine a thing as deplorable as the Holocaust happening today.

Oh, but wait. We are are privy to it. Mass civilian bombings, mass hangings, kidnappings, rape, and executions—all inescapable parts of life for many of the refugees seeking safety in America. All from Muslim countries. So is turning away individual families, which tallies to thousands of people, just as deplorable as turning away Jewish refugees during WWII? In my opinion, yes. Surely there are many intricate nuances and complexities to this topic that I don’t mention here and deserve recognition in a political discussion, but the general premise stands.

I hope that “Never Again” is not an empty platitude hung only in museums.

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Syrian civilians after an air strike hit a hospital in Aleppo. Photo: BBC, AFP
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