By Nejoud Al-Yagout
There has been a lot of talk about refugee inequality in the world. And though we should not compare refugees, and though we should celebrate anyone that is being helpedregardless of skin color, nationality, religion, or ethnicity-we cannot ignore the fact that there are some refugees that continue to be ostracized. But, before we criticize the world for discrimination, let us take an uncomfortable look at ourselves. Kuwaitis know what it means to be a refugee.
And though we were privileged refugees, we were still refugees. Only a few families were able to live abroad comfortably. The rest of us relied on government assistance and the generosity of neighboring countries. The whole world stood by us in our times of uncertainty. All doors were open to us, remember? What, then, today, of a Palestinian? Or an Afghan, Yemeni, Uyghur, Rohingya, Somalian, South Sudanese, or Syrian? A refugee is a refugee, regardless of where s/he comes from. A refugee is meant to be given refuge.
It is part of the human tradition to take care of one another. Why do we only send clothing or money to others and not let them into our land? Why pray for others when we do not act on our prayer? A closed border is a closed heart. By depriving a refugee of the right to live with us as neighbors and friends and colleagues, and even future relatives, we keep them in refugee camps. We deprive them of the opportunity to become immigrants or citizens of our country.
We keep alive the narrative of us vs them. There are two main factors which divide man: fear and greed. We fear that if we welcome others, they will be a threat to our security. But we cannot
live with that kind of fear. When we let go of fear, we create harmonious societies free from suspicion. Fear results in oppressive rules. Fear results in censorship. Fear results in strict border control. Fear results in preserving-or rather, enforcing-ideology on others. And fear results in rigidity.
The same fear that keeps refugees out is the fear that imprisons its very own citizens in an antiquated matrix begging to dissolve into some semblance of modernity. It is the same fear which makes foreigners feel unwelcome or intimidated by us. It is the same fear that restricts freedom of worship. It is all connected, but we do not realize it. As for greed, it leads to nationalism and further divisiveness. It creates pride and war and expansionism. Although Kuwait is, thankfully, not a belligerent nation, we still suffer from the illusion of privilege, and disdain for foreigners, all in the name of protecting our resources and our country.
But as history, past and modern, has shown: No country is ever safe. So that refugee who we see as the “other” is us, was us or will be us. And we will learn the hard way that we are meant to share
with others, not hoard our wealth. Let us learn from Europe and the way they have welcomed their Ukrainian brothers and sisters with open arms. And let us not criticize Europeans for closing their doors to Arabs or Muslims. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, as the saying goes.
We have closed the doors to the same refugees-refugees who share our culture and even our heritage, in some instances. Oh, the irony! And, as a matter of fact, many European countries have not closed their doors. Many European countries are teeming with refugees from Arab, African and Muslim countries. It is easy for us to point the finger outward because we do not want to remind ourselves of our neglect. But the proof is in the society.
If you travel to many European countries, you will find immigrants (previously refugees) of every color and religion, some who have assimilated into the culture and who have been given citizenship. In any case, if some European countries choose to only take care of their neighbors, then, let us, in turn, be inspired and take care of our neighbors. We should celebrate any country who helps another person in need, even if their help is limited to those like them. We should also consider that if all asylum seekers and refugees are headed West, there would be additional pressure on them. We can create equilibrium by opening our doors.
There are many reasons to choose love over fear. Baby steps can take us a long way. Eventually, the entire world-the “West” and the “East”-will learn that we are all one, but that’s a whole other
article. Until then, let’s focus on our community and ensure we dissolve the fear of refugees and create a haven for the so-called other. Now is not the time to admonish anyone but ourselves.