Egypt and Tunisia are pretty much off the front pages of the newspapers and the television news programs. Replaced by Berlosconi, unemployment statistics and whatever else. Buried among the headlines of last evening's bulletins was a 'minor' story about 2,000 Tunisian immigrants that have fled their country for the coastal towns of Italy. Nothing much about why these people have fled. In fact, it is very rarely that we hear the personal stories of what has happened to individual people that has compelled them to seek safe havens. We don't yet know if the situation in Tunisia will compel many more thousands the flee nor do we know if there will be a similar influx of Egyptian nationals.
Every year thousands and thousands of people try to come to Europe for refuge. Many of them will be sent back, or end up in camps as they wait often long periods of time to find out their fate. They will face many cultural battles and often humiliating conditions, mostly unimagined and almost always undeserved. Always in the back of my mind I remember that I am a descendant of immigrants -- emigrants from Europe -- looking for a new life and finding it on the east coast of America. How wonderful it must have been to have had a place to go.
Today in order to be allowed to settle in most countries in the west, you must prove that you are not an 'economic' refugee, but rather that your life would be endangered if you were to return to your native country. I smile ruefully at the term 'economic refuge' what it really means is , if you are poor and looking for a better life forget it. How easy it is for some to forget the immortal words on the State of Liberty:
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teamming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
We have preached the virtues of democracy intensely for many years and we have encouraged other countries to embrace its virtues. But we haven't thought much about the consequences -- for the people who want this for their country and for the rest of the world. As we applaud other cultures and countries for demanding and obtaining their right to be heard we must consider also that we will not escape the global impact of these demands.
These demands will not be easy to meet, but there will be no choice. The smaller the world becomes the more important it is to remember that we are our brothers' keepers and they in turn may become ours ...