Relieved though I was to see Hungary welcoming Ukrainian refugees with open arms, I could not help but remember the rolls of barbed wire that greeted the Syrians and other refugees from the holocaust of their homelands when at last they reached what they hoped might be the safety of Europe.
There are ways in which I understand the familiarity of proximity – I donate regularly to a food bank a few blocks away, but not to one on the other side of town – but I fear there is much more to this than neighborliness. I remember well those long, dusty lines of migrants, on foot, seeking respite. Old people traveling in wheelchairs. Young women pushing prams. How do you do that for one mile over rough terrain nevermind hundreds of miles. How do you greet them with rolls of barbed wire (Hungary) or snatching their children from them (U.S.)? How do you do anything other than greet them with clean beds, hot soup, and loaves of new bread? How do you do anything other than help them find a place to be safe?
Can you imagine the uproar had Hungary placed rolls of barbed wire along its border with Ukraine? Had Poland refused entry? Had Romania left refugees to huddle in sordid camps as the Greeks left those on the Island of Lesbos? As Great Britain and France did likewise in the Calais Jungle?
Ukrainian refugees will not be subject to this kind of treatment. There are reports that European women are leaving prams at the railroad stations for new arrivals with young children. Poland just registered one million persons crossing from Ukraine. Somewhere there is hot soup and fresh bread, bottles of water and safe beds.
This is a good thing.
And what’s good for Ukrainians running from war, from the daily threat of violence, is also good for Syrians and Nicaraguans, Afghans and Sudanese.
But the threat of violence will be, all too soon, not the only threat faced by vulnerable populations. Climate change is even now propelling migrations from lands scourged by drought, heat levels and rising seas. The mother of all refugee crises is nearly upon us.
Europe is relearning how to care for refugees. Those are lessons we will need to remember when the future comes knocking.