**I apologize for any spelling or grammar errors you may find in this piece. I wrote it quickly and passionately and then got too angry to look well for errors.**
De Pere, Wis., has a sister city in Sweden – Amal. A small, beautiful city in Western-Central Sweden, in 2010 it held 9,065 citizens. But as the unrest in the Middle East threatened the safety and lives of millions of Syrians, Somalis, Libyans, and others, families were forced to flee.
Imagine this. You are the mother of three living a comfortable life in Syria. Perhaps you lived in Aleppo. In 2010, your husband and oldest son are arrested and put in political prison for no apparent reason – they had not attended any meetings nor posted any signs supporting a resistance. In 2011, you and your oldest daughter (fifteen) leave work and school to stand in a nonviolent protest blocking the Syrian military from passing on the roads. Amazingly, this act of resistance leads to release of 100 prisoners. One of whom is your son – Sami. Your husband remained in prison.
For a couple years, before the violence heightens, you continue your life. You go to work, you avoid any sign of political leanings for your own safety, your children go to school. But soon, it’s impossible to continue.
The war between Assad and Syrian opposition forces cripple your home, your life, and your safety. You are forced to make a decision – leave Aleppo for good with your children and leave your husband or risk losing all your lives in bombings, building burnings, or shootings.
You look at your children. You have to go.
Months later – months of crossing open and dangerous water, through the mountains and often unfriendly faces of Europe – you arrive in Amal, Sweden. That same small, beautiful town in Western-Central Sweden. Home to originally 9,065 Swedes, Amal now welcomes over 1,000 refugees – growing their population to over 11,000 people. You are welcomed. You have shelter, food, and friends. Your children can go to school. When asked about your nationality months later, you can say with bittersweet feelings that you are Swedish. You may have left everything – almost everything – behind in Aleppo, but you made it to a new home with your three children.
Stories like this are more common than not in Amal and cities around the world. Families and individuals fleeing war, political and economic oppression, and other human rights violations end up everywhere. After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, many fled to the Dominican Republic across the mountains. El Salvadorians try to escape violent gang activity by riding on top of trains into Mexico and the United States. Tutsi refugees fled to Uganda and Burundi during the Rwandan Genocide.
Some places, like Amal, are more welcoming and forgiving than others. Dr. Robert Pyne and Dr. Robert Osgood of St. Norbert College visited De Pere’s sister city after they had taken in over 1,000 refugees, and when they visited a local school, they saw the difference a welcome home could make. Students were taught Swedish, made friends with Swedish classmates, and adopted the nationality as their own. They made artwork to send back with the two professors about their life in war but also of their new home.
While students sat at desks and spoke with the professors about their journeys, Dr. Pyne asked them if any had ever considered coming to the United States as refugees.
The students laughed.
“Come to the United States?” one asked. “Why would we do that?” The student was only fourteen years old, and they looked around at one another and rolled their eyes like only teenagers can do.
“Why not?” Dr. Pyne pressed.
“They don’t want us there.” “We would get sent back home.” “They hate us.”
Even at such a tender age, these students know hate. They knew it before President Trump asked why the US was taking in immigrants from “shithole countries.” The rhetoric of politicians, as well as from regular citizens, showed them that it would be impossible. If they weren’t turned away at the metaphorical door to the US, it would be at least two years before their paperwork was accepted. And if they somehow were accepted and weren’t dead before those two years were up, they would be entering a country that offered little to no support, but hate and prejudice in spades. No, Sweden and countries like it were a much better choice.
People from countries like Haiti, El Salvador, African and Middle Eastern countries (yep, let’s just lump all of those together in sweeping generalizations), know that the president doesn’t want them here. They know that far too many of Americans don’t want them here either. That’s why so few (by comparison to other places) even attempt it.
But when we look out in the world and see people who don’t have clean drinking water, or who are fleeing because they don’t want to rape and murder family members, or because they just had their entire town demolished, or are being killed, or any number of atrocities – and we have the gall and audacity to question why we would welcome those people, we…
I don’t even know what to say. I am so angry, even after three days. Even after more terrible things have happened and will happen in the coming days, I’m sure.
I realize we can’t take everyone. I know that. But to so disparage entire countries of people who have faced more tragedy than our president has ever faced is horrible. It might be one of the most horrible things he has ever said.