Connections: Kindness of Strangers

These children are, in my mind, refugees — not of war, per se, but of a world order that is wildly and wickedly out of balance

Have you heard the news about the 10-fold increase, since 2011, in the number of children coming illegally and by themselves into the United States? The Obama administration has called it a humanitarian crisis. Almost unbelievably, it is estimated that 60,000 children will be apprehended this year trying to get into the U.S. across our Southwestern borders. Many of these children — from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — are placed in the care of a federal agency called the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Others, from Mexico, are routinely sent back home.

These children are, in my mind, refugees — not of war, per se, but of a world order that is wildly and wickedly out of balance. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees reports that half of those interviewed said they had experienced or been threatened with serious harm. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of the eight million citizen of Honduras live in poverty, and drugs, street gangs, and organized crime are prevalent there. Some of the children who arrive at our border without adult supervision are said to have set off in hopes of finding relatives here.

At the end of World War II, when I was growing up, I was frightened by what I heard about refugees. Displaced persons (D.P.s, as they were known) had fled their homes during the war, survived forced labor or the concentration camps, or found themselves hungry and impoverished in a devastated world. There are said to have been 12 million refugees at the end of the war, with 800,000 still in European camps three years later. I don’t know how many were children.

Refugees: In Iraq this year, 500,000 people have reportedly been displaced. South Sudanese are fleeing terrorism into Ethiopia; Central African Republic families are walking without food or shelter into Cameroon. It doesn’t take much effort to find accounts of terrible suffering. Almost 2,000 children among those Syrians who are now in Lebanon are said to have severe malnutrition.

Between November 1938, after Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) in Germany, and 1940, as the Nazis occupied neighboring countries, 10,000 children were saved from almost certain death by being sent to Great Britain with their parents’ blessings in what is known as the kindertransport. Three films have been made about a man named Nicholas Winton, who managed to save 669 Czechoslovakian children by getting them to Britain and finding homes for them there. He is now 105 years old and been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. And there were others.

The president has asked Congress to add $1.4 billion to an existing fund of approximately $9 billion to help house, feed, and transport the unaccompanied children to shelters that the Defense Department has been asked to open in Texas and California until the Office of Refugee Resettlement can begin to figure out what will become of them. Unfortunately, there are Americans who are maleficent enough to charge the Obama administration with causing this crises in order to push through a new, liberal immigration bill. Truly, have they no compassion?