Refugees on the Borders: Life Finds a Way

Refugees on the Borders: Life Finds a Way

“Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

The little girl has a mop of curly brown hair with blond highlights, a colorful but warm shirt, dark blue jeans and white sneakers. She looks like a four- or five-year-old ready for an outdoor romp.

And she is outdoors, on all fours, as if ready to play at being a little curly-haired terrier, or maybe a slower-moving turtle.

Except . . . stretched out and propped up around her are other curls, curls of razor wire, through which she is being guided by a man who might be her dad, or perhaps a perfect stranger.

She is crossing the Serbian/Hungarian border.

She is a refugee.

From what?

Many who are striving to cross Hungary’s razor-wire border are fleeing the violence in Syria and Iraq. Others are fleeing some other dangerous environment due to ethnic/religious conflict, or simply seeking food, or just a better economic future.

What is clear is that this little child, on all fours, should be playing at being a puppy, or a turtle, or whatever her imagination invents. She shouldn’t be crawling under razor wire.

That’s the easy part. I doubt that many of us will look at this picture and say, “She deserves what she’s getting,” or “If her parents had been more responsible, this wouldn’t have happened,” or “She’s probably a drug smuggler, or a murderer.” If we see the photo, we’ll be troubled.

We might want to condemn the Hungarians for creating the landscape in which this event unfolds. But that may would be more than little unfair . . . and hypocritical.

Hungary is on the frontline of illegal immigration into the European Union right now. It seems clear that most of those flowing illegally across her borders don’t want to be in Hungary. They want to be in the more well-do-to countries of the EU. But they have to pass through Hungary first.

And Hungary’s “job,” both in terms national and EU policy, is to stop the travelers, preferably outside her own borders, but certainly before they get any farther.

Think of Hungary as the European equivalent of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California, where we, too, have coils of wire and much, much more to deter those fleeing whatever and seeking life within our borders.

Countries have sought to control immigration, to draw distinctions between citizens and noncitizens, welcome visitors and unwelcome interlopers, for as long as there have been countries. Human beings have been doing it even longer (think of the primordial distinctions of family and tribe). There are security issues here, both in terms of protection against physical assault and against economic privation.  It is exceedingly hard to argue that the practice has no basis in reason and no place in a country’s policies.

Reason, if it will be worthy of the name, also must confront reality. There are laws of nature, one might say laws of physics, at work in immigration. Where there is great abundance in one place, and great deficiency in another, there will be a natural flow of people from the latter to the former and, over time, a natural flow of the former to the latter.

The flow can be restricted, perhaps even stopped, by creating barriers high enough that the abundance is held in and the seekers kept out.

But just like New Orleans, whose tragic destruction when the levees failed 10 years ago teaches more lessons than we can count, even high barriers can fail . . . will fail . . . under a sufficiently determined onslaught.

Whether we are dealing with illegal immigration or, more proximate to many of us, tensions arising over wealth and poverty in our own cities, reason urges a two-fold strategy. Impose barriers, of course. But also invest in raising the level of those who are distressed, so that the barriers are less necessary, the need to emigrate less urgent.

Because, in the end, that little child will get through. Against all odds, those fighting for life, or a better life, will keep fighting. Stopping them entirely will compel us to do things we won’t want to confess we have done. And even when we think we have prevailed, life still will find a way.