Shanty Towns are Dangerous

My friends the Darwins have a post up, like just about everyone else in the blog-o-sphere, on refugees.  It’s got a provocative title and is filled with some nice historical context and common sense–boilerplate Darwins.  Go read the whole thing, and pay particular attention to the last two paragraphs (buried the lede a bit there, Darwin).

I happen to live near a rusty squatter’s enclave nestled against the rail line (which gives me, happily, the distinction of living on the wrong side of the tracks–my 80s dreams have come true!).  It’s not obvious when you walk to the train station, but there’s a gravel road that splits off and disappears into the trees.  It looks to be a charming country walk or great path for running.  But get a hundred yards down and, if you have an ounce of common sense, the spidey sense goes off.  You are Not Wanted down that path, say the rusted tops of trailers and shacks.  Everyone in my neighborhood has at some point wandered down there and come hastening back with a bit of an elevated pulse (including, only recently, my dear wife).

From time to time you’ll see someone leave the Metro station and head down that way.  Once in a blue moon you’ll see a pickup truck come out.  In the pre-dawn light of my commute I have crossed paths with people coming out of there–altered, drunk, perhaps crazy.  Nothing bad has ever happened to me, but I clutch my Rosary a bit tighter and prepare to swing my briefcase with all my might when they move toward me to give me a little scare.  Don’t even get me started on the dogs.  There appears to be an arms race between the squatters and the neighbors.  Who can have the biggest, craziest sounding dogs to scare the others off?

What if, instead of 50-100 (?) people living down that path, there were 20,000?  And none of them spoke English, and all of them were angry–angrier than the people who are already stuck there and unemployed?  Can my local medical facilities provide care to 20,000 more people right now?  How many of them need to go to school?  All of them, probably, given the conditions they are fleeing.  Are we going to build 10-20 new schools right now?  How many more supermarkets are we going to build for these people who don’t have money to buy food?

When a nation creates a refugee camp at the outskirts of their civilization, or for that matter in one of their cities, that’s what is being made.  Of course it’s a breeding ground for crime.  Of course it’s a wiling audience for ideologies of violence.  It’s the simplest thing in the world to understand–being a nation of refuge is a grave responsibility and a significant burden.  The story is just starting when the refugees arrive.  As Darwin points out toward the end of his post, what is needed is roots.

Well ok, how does a municipality, or a commonwealth, or a nation, forge neighborly ties?  Is that why I vote for my governor?  I’m not familiar with any executive order that has ever successfully done this.  Oh, it turns out it’s actually my job to be neighborly and forge those ties?  Well wait, how many people are responsible for settling refugees then?  How do I forge ties of home and hearth with people who don’t speak English?  And they generally have a dim view of the liberal western society they are now stuck in?

This sounds like a big job to me, like maybe more a job for the Holy Spirit than for the kings and princes of the world, but what do I know.  It’s not like our society likes to solve problems with prayer and fasting.  Not a lot of what Jesus asks of us is terribly easy.  Quelle surprise!  It’s the strength of the welcoming culture, with its real, spiritual resources, that makes for successful refuge–not decisions by Secretaries of State and mere infrastructural improvements.  Nations of the world, ours included, will continue to find this difficult as long as the latter are preferred to the former.

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