By N. Peter Antone
Back in 1991, after the first Gulf War ended with a cease-fire and Saddam Hussein started his campaign against the Kurds in the north, numerous Chaldeans who lived in, or adjacent to, the Kurdish areas left, running on foot north towards Turkey.
One of those families, who happened to be relatives of mine, fled, with their great-grandmother traveling on a donkey’s back while the rest of her extended family walked on foot all the way to the Turkish-Iraqi border, where they were able to cross into Turkey.
Many of those Chaldean refugees had neither a passport nor a visa to enter Turkey, nor was Turkey aware of whether they would be able to travel elsewhere or would settle in Turkey. While some waited in Turkey, others continued their walk to Europe, reaching as far as Greece, Austria and the like, seeking places to find asylum.
My own distant relatives were lucky to receive support from then-U.S. Senator Carl Levin, who helped them to relocate to the U.S. on a rather expedited humanitarian basis.
Imagine, if at the time, the Turkish authorities had stopped the fleeing refugees because they did not have a visa to enter Turkey. Imagine, if the Turkish attitude was that their country was one of laws, not of emotions, and that everybody entering Turkey needed to have the proper papers ahead of time.
Imagine, if a segment of the Turkish population had viewed the fleeing Chaldeans as criminals, because they were violating Turkish laws that require entry only at certain points recognized by their government, and only if they had secured proper documentation ahead of time. Imagine, if the president of Turkey had labeled the arriving Chaldeans as invaders and sent tens of thousands of the Turkish army to confront them. What would we have thought of Turkey then?
This came to mind as I learned of the caravan from Central America. The number of refugees in the caravan fleeing Central America and headed toward the U.S. is relatively small in comparison to those who fled to Turkey from Iraq back in 1991. So, what should we think of ourselves if we fully close our doors to those seeking refuge and a chance of survival and the opportunity to build a better life for their children?
When people travel thousands of miles on foot, carrying their kids, trying to reach a better life, that is a humanitarian crisis. Granted, the U.S. is not obligated to accommodate persons fleeing all humanitarian crises happening everywhere in the world, nor should we accept people just because they are undergoing hardships.
But what we should do is view this situation for what it is, a humanitarian issue, not an invasion by people, many of whom our officials accuse of being criminals or “bad” individuals. If we view the matter in a more humane way, perhaps we can find a solution, such as reaching agreements with Mexico, Canada, and other countries to allocate the refugees among them, and perhaps we can find solutions that would balance our ideals of helping the unfortunate while at the same time making sure that we do not sacrifice our own security or the well-being of our nation.
N. Peter Antone is an immigration attorney and a former adjunct professor of nationality and immigration law at Michigan State University College of Law.