By now you may have heard about the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are flooding the shores of Europe and forcing several nations to confront their own ideas and definitions of democracy, equality and fairness. Some people reading this column may be thinking of giving me a side-eye “look” followed by an old saying from my grandmother: “We have bigger fish to fry!”
I understand. Black men, women and children are still be murdered by the state at a rate of one person every 28 hours. The growing economic disparities between rich and poor and white and Black are growing more stark each year. Furthermore, the infrastructure in the U.S. seems to be crumbling while jobs disappear around us.
I do understand there are some serious issues many families are confronting in this country. However, I implore anyone who has yet to observe the immigration debates occurring right now across Europe to please devote a small amount of time to this issue.
Currently, migrants are fleeing Syria because of civil war. However, there have been thousands of migrants from the Middle East and the continent of Africa who have braved the unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean to seek a better life on the continent of Europe. Demographers estimate that roughly 800,000 immigrants will reach Europe in 2015. Currently, the primary counties from whence the immigrants arrive are Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Kosova.
There is so much discussion as to the obligations of the host countries, how many immigrants should each country take in and what will happen to their pre-existing welfare states, jobs and housing stock. Many countries are struggling with their new reality because they do not have a history or the statistical levels of racial and ethnic diversity celebrated (by some but definitely not all) in the U.S.
The concerns of host countries such as Germany, Greece, France and Britain are valid. However, we would be remiss if we did not ask ourselves the harder questions as to why so many migrants want to leave their home countries in the first place. What are their nations doing (or not doing) to motivate individuals to sell everything they have so they can pay traffickers who move in the shadows of society to transport them across dangerous waters in deplorable and dangerous conditions for the mere possibility of making it to Europe?
What role do we play in this debate? How does our own country support (or fail to support) the home countries of so many of these immigrants? We know Boko Haram has brought terror to parts of Nigeria for years now. What has the U.S., as one of the strongest nations in modern times, really done to “Bring Back Our Girls”? What should be the responsibility of French citizens today, beacuse it was France that created the modern Syrian state after WWI? Does the U.S. or the many host countries in Europe have an obligation to prevent some of the human rights abuses and conditions of poverty that serve as the impetus for so many migrants to embark on these dangerous journeys?
I say yes. If we consider ourselves global citizens, we must be concerned with the freedom, equality and human rights conditions of our brothers and sisters far and wide. In the mid-20th century, Nelson Mandela, Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro were brothers in arms fighting colonialism, imperialism and promoting liberation movements. We too can think of our struggles internationally. The heavy task is to figure out just how to do that in the 21st century.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is a tenured professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.