Don’t let the refugees downIf the US and Europe were to close their doors to refugees now, they would have turned their back on the great achievements they have made in the field of human rights and justice
The right-wing storm that started across the Atlantic has finally landed on the American shores. And, with that, the people of America, a country that regards itself as the leader of the free world and a beacon of democracy, have elected a president who wants to stop Muslims and Hispanics from entering the country and build a 30-feet high, kilometers-long wall on the border with Mexico.
Like his supporters on the other side of the ocean, he dreams of turning his country into a secure, impregnable fortress of happiness and prosperity by allowing no outsiders. But like them he has conveniently forgotten that the people he wants to stop from entering are mostly victims of wars, poverty and disasters, for which his own country is partly responsible.
A fortress it was, the Kathmandu Valley, when my father first spied on it from one of the hills surrounding the Valley: a patch of green flanked by jagged mountains on the one side and malaria-infested forests on the other. Throughout history, this place has always welcomed outsiders. Be it the Kirants, Lichchhavis, Mallas or even the Khasas that came later, all of them found a sanctuary in Kathmandu’s loving embrace.
He had fled his village in Gorkha for Nepal, as Kathmandu was called back then. A scrawny, half-naked boy of 10, maybe 11, with a running nose and inches-long tuppi, barely literate and with no farthing in his pocket, he had walked for more than three days to escape the barren hills and abject poverty of his village for the fertile valley with its lush green paddy fields, gurgling rivers, and beautiful cities.
His ancestors had left Jumla for Gorkha nearly 600 years back, after the fall of the Khasa-Malla dynasty, and their forefathers had migrated to the western parts of Nepal from Kannauj, one of the most important cities of medieval India, probably after it was captured Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate.
To achieve this end, he has sown fear about immigrants among his people. Immigrants take away jobs, monopolise benefits and empty the already depleted treasury, he says. Moreover, they are thugs, racists, criminals. Who knows? That Hispanic guy in ragged clothes and torn shoes might be a drug dealer or a rapist. That Muslim woman covered in a burka and nursing an infant might as well be a mother of a future terrorist.
True. Even the wisest decision carries a degree of risk. But risk is an exception here. And exceptions are not normative. Not every Muslim is a terrorist; not every Latin American is a drug dealers. A few black sheep do not define an entire population. For the most part, the people on rafts who flirt with death trying to cross the Mediterranean or those trying to sneak into the US through Mexico are honest, sincere people whose only hope for themselves and their families lies on the other side.
Long before the fall of Kannauj, even before there were village republics in Northern India, sometimes during the dawn of history, the ancestors of my forefathers must have been among the numerous tribes that left war-torn Mesopotamia. Clutching the statues of their deities, herding cows and singing the songs of their journey, they must have wandered for years before reaching the Indian subcontinent where, from itinerant travelers, they finally became citizens of prosperous village republics.
This is not just my story. Men like birds are a species on the move. Ever since they started out on their grand world tour from Africa, they have moved from one place to another to avoid famine, war and pestilence, tyranny and political disorder. They have moved in search of better places and opportunities. And as long as there are places that can afford them food, security and a better future, they will try to reach there.
We are yet to see if America closes its doors. But if it does so before it reaches its limits, and all the signs seem to point in that direction now, the country of immigrants would have turned its back not just on the great achievements it has made along with Europe in the field of human rights and justice but also on universal human nature.