Blog · September 21, 2015

Refugees, Expats, Immigrants & Vagabonds

I know I speak a lot about EB and having a child with this horrible disorder, but there is more to me than that, of course. As most people know, I was born and raised in Italy, a country I deeply love, and as my life unfolded in a most interesting and mysterious way, I became an Immigrant. After living in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona, I moved to California nearly 15 years ago. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s not my real home. I miss Italy. My immigration story is long, one I explained in my book “Butterfly Child”. A story too long and intricate to explain here. At the core of that story is the fact that I am a traveler, a vagabond, an adventurer. On my bucket list is all places I want to see with my own eyes. Nothing else. I’ve always been this way and I will always be this way. I want to go to Ground Zero and visit the museum and the Statue of Liberty. I want to see Boston. I want to see the Niagara Falls. I want to see every corner of my beautiful Italy. I want to go to Paris. I want to go to Scotland. I want to go to Diana’s grave and place flowers there. I want to see the Pyramids. I want to take a cruise from Amsterdam to Norway. I want to take a walk around St. Petersburg. I want to see the Great Wall of China, I want to take a cruise to Hawaii… if I could be a vagabond, I would be one.

map-pin-300x225I find it interesting how uttering the word “immigrant” nowadays is almost like a cuss-word. I hear Donald Trump mumbling about a “wall” and I shiver. Good God. Is he trying to encase the whole country in medieval walls? It’s all just laughable. And hypocritical… isn’t the US founded by immigrants? Hello?

From its earliest days, America has been a nation of immigrants, starting with its original inhabitants, who crossed the land bridge connecting Asia and North America tens of thousands of years ago. As a matter of fact, if we keep going back in time, we can safely say that anyone that lives anywhere BUT Africa is the descendant of an immigrant.

Humans are quite nomadic. We move around in search for better jobs, adventure, deals, love or even for diversity. But being an expat is not really easy: new house, new language, new laws, new city, new people etc. Relocating is exciting and stressful. It takes a certain person to take this on, and they have to have a good reason and a good amount of chutzpah to do it, leaving your family and everything and everyone you know behind. Contrary to popular belief, immigrants usually are the ones that open up businesses, and have that go-getter mentality that many do not. I know, because I met sooo many! My research confirms my findings that migration is typically economically beneficial.

I totally understand why there has to be a need for immigration laws, so please don’t get me wrong. I totally get it. Especially in countries that already border on overpopulation. Taking in refugees means that you have to accept changes to a nation’s identity or culture, which, while this may not be big problem in the US, since there is such diversity here, it can be quite disconcerting for certain countries. While the changes are often economically and culturally enriching, it’s scary. No doubt about it. A country like Italy, for example, with gorgeous catholic churches all over, some built during the Roman Empire, is of course going to be upset if someone is going to build a Mosque in Rome to accommodate immigrants. I can see that.

As I saw the events happening in Syria though, I had to do a double take on my sentiments about immigrants. You see, when I was a child in Italy, there was this huge problem in Morocco and many fled to Italy for political asylum. I will never forget seeing the beaches or any resort locale being inundated with people from Morocco bugging us to buy their items. We were always weary because it looked like stolen stuff and we were upset that our vacation was ruined by people constantly approaching us, asking us to buy what they were selling. It could have been watches, jewelry, bags, sunglasses, anything, really. One day at the lake we sat at a table to eat ice-cream and I counted 9 times where someone approached us to buy stuff. It was insane.

The good news is that all those immigrants from Morocco have finally integrated (took long enough) and now have regular jobs, and while there are still immigrants selling stuff at the beach or the lake, they don’t approach you specifically anymore, at least not as much; they are happy to lay their items on a blanket on the beach and wait for people that are genuinely interested to come to them. Heck, I even bought a couple of cute bags from this guy that spoke perfect Italian and was so helpful.

The immigration issue though, it’s now getting completely out of control. Greece and Italy are completely overwhelmed with the amount of refugees coming in from many countries, not only Syria. In the news they only talk about those Syrian immigrants coming through Turkey and being stopped in Hungary & Croatia, but make no mistake, this is a big Southern European problem. Under the Dublin regulation framework, the first country a migrant sets foot in has an obligation to decide whether they’re a legitimate refugee and should be granted asylum. The law doesn’t tell countries what to do, it just tells them what they cannot do, which is they cannot send the refugee back to where his or her life will be in danger.

In the meantime, that government is supposed to feed them, house them, clothe them, provide medical care, drinking water and give them an opportunity to work. Considering the fact that unemployment in Italy is between 13-20% as it is, you see the problem. 10% of refugees were tested positive for Scabies and 25% have Hepatitis C. The Italian population, as one may surmise, it’s scared. Scared about everything. Morally they want to help, but there are consequences to be had. To make matters worse, countries like France and Austria are deporting any refugee they catch right back to Italy citing the Dublin Regulation. This is not a few thousand refugees we’re talking about, the numbers, according to Fabrice Legger, the head of the EU’s border agency, has put the figure at between 500,000 to a million. As Italy is not as economically stable, as, say, Germany, now it has to feed, house and provide medical care for a MILLION people! I don’t see how this is going to have a good ending. I just don’t. It scares me, and I am half a world away.

It is one thing when people move around the world independently (not specifically moving to the United States, but moving from one country to another), but it’s another one completely when MILLIONS flee from a specific country in one direction as it’s happening now. To be clear, there have always been refugees. People have often been forced out of their own countries because of war, but this issue with Syria is just too much. I understand why they are fleeing. Bashar al-Assad’s regime has targeted civilians ruthlessly, including with chemical weapons and bombs. ISIS and other groups have subjected Syrians to murder, torture, sexual slavery and more atrocities. Their civil war has killed 250,000 people, displacing half of the population (11+ millions) and caused 4 million to flee. What I don’t understand is why there is no talk on TV or anywhere about what to do to keep refugees from showing up in the first place. What is being done by anyone to help fix this problem?

The solution, in my humble view, is to address the underlying cause of this crisis. While all I hear all over that our moral duty is to save lives and take in refugees, I believe that our moral duty is to help them reclaim their country. I listened to a refugee being interviewed and he stated quite clearly how he didn’t want to leave, but he didn’t want to die. That if there was no war, that he would go back in a heartbeat. There are examples in history of revolutions to reclaim a country. It happened in the United States… twice, if you count both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It happened in France when things got dire to overthrow the Monarchy of Louis XVI. It happened during WW2 to overthrow Hitler. There need to be some guts involved. Sacrifice.

I am just a mom, I am not even sure I have all the details right of what’s going on. All I know is that there is power, strength in numbers. I can’t help but wonder if the 4 million Syrians that are fleeing were to collectively do their own version of the “Storming of the Bastille” if they could accomplish something. Don’t we always tell our youth: “Don’t Quit”, “Don’t Run”, “Fight, fight fight?”. The US has sacrificed greatly for their freedoms. Why should we sacrifice for someone else’s?

Just wondering out loud… I don’t like wars, but I also understand that sometimes there is no other choice.

Love and Light,