Category Archives: Refugee camps


Blog 400 July 2, 2018

By Photograph by D Ramey Logan, CC BY 4.0,

On the base of the Statue of Liberty are engraved these words:

Give me your tired, your poor,

your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

We do well to remember that we are all immigrants. Some recent, some long ago, but we all came from some other land to this country. Some of our ancestors came through Ellis Island, as well as other ports of entry, but they were the homeless and the tired. Struggling to escape poverty and the pogroms of Europe, our fathers and mothers landed on this shore seeking to walk through the golden door.

In this time of struggle and debate over immigration , let us remember this country was built and sustained by “the least of these” as well as the best. Let us never  forget the world still looks to America to find for the golden door.

They all want in. No one wants out. I hope you have a blessed and safe July 4th holiday.

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BLOG 323 October 24, 2016


            The year 1492 is famous for more than Columbus coming to America. In that year Ferdinand and Isabella, the Roman Catholic monarchs of Spain, drove the entire Jewish population out who would not convert to Catholicism. At least 200,000 people were expelled with many dying as they fled Spain. The large population of Sephardic Jews had first migrated when Jerusalem fell in 70 C.E.. Today’s Israelites will have their own remembrance of this period.

And the Anniversary?

Five hundred years ago in 1516 those Jews settled in Venice in an area called “The Ghetto.” The word ghetto came from the Venetian dialect for foundry or place of “casting” and meant nothing more. In approximately an acre and a half, tall buildings shot up for both residents and shops on the bottom floor. As high as nine stories, they became the skyscrapers of their day.

While the idea of a ghetto was forever stigmatized by the Nazis in World War II, the origins were only the name of a specific area. When Mussolini’s government fell in 1943, Venice came under the control of the Germans. The Gestapo systematically hunted Jews. Giuseppe Jona, the Jewish community leader, committed suicide rather that being tortured to provide names of other Jews. A total of 246 were found and sent to death camps. Only eight returned.

On March 29, 1516, the Venetian Senate decreed that “Jews must all live together” in a guarded and enclosed area of the city. The ghetto area was surrounded by canals and had two large gates that were locked at night. However, as anti-Semitism spread across Europe, many Jews came to Venice. In the 1620s, over 5,000 lived in the ghetto. Today only a handful still remain. The rest are spread throughout the ancient canal city. Five synagogues still stand and the area is the center of life for the 450 Jews who remain in the city.

The crowded streets and high-rises became a center for innovation, culture, and commerce. Theaters, music academies and literary centers sprung up. A highly-regarded kosher restaurant and kosher hotel are still open everyday.

That 1516 decree is now being remembered in Venice by an exhibition in the Doge’s (the chief magistrate) Palace. The exhibits trace the ghetto from the beginning of the Jewish settlement through the arrival of Napoleon in 1797 when the Ghetto gates were torn down. In addition, it marks the contributions of Jews into the 20th century.

The invasion of Napoleon gave Jews the right to own property and have free movement. In a sense, Napoleon set Jews free from the time when restrictions had been in place for what they could do. Banking, working in a pawn shop, the practice of medicine, money lending, or textile selling were the main areas that were open to them.

Even with these restrictions Jews lived a good life in Venice’s ghetto.



a rewritten and new edition of


A Robert L. Wise classic helping people

suffering with pain and loss.


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BLOG 280 November 23, 2015

The terrorist killings and attacks in Paris and Belgium have raised new fears and questions about refugees. This flood of humanity pouring out of Syria and the Middle East represent the largest migration in the recorded history of the world. But why aren’t they going South instead of North? Aren’t Saudi Arabia and Kuwait closer? Why not them?

Actually, Lebanon has received the largest number of Syrian refugees on a per capita basis. The Saudi’s claimed to have taken in 2.5 million but the actual number is more somewhere between 100,000 to 250,000 at best. This doesn’t begin to touch the 60 million currently on foot. Not since the surge of displaced persons, including Jews and other refugees after World War II, has the world witnessed such an upheaval. They are coming not only from Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, but also North African countries. Currently, the United States is caught in a political debate about the possibilities of receiving Syrian immigrants that might have a few terrorists in the mix.

And it all began with the Syrian Civil War nearly five years ago!

So, why don’t they all march South?

One reason is geography. It is easier to take your chances in surviving ocean crossings than a trip across the scorching desert. A second look at a map reveals endless stretches of thirsty sands. I once crossed the Sinai desert in the winter and felt humidity that was like a minus 20% below the scale. With all the amenities, I carried, the journey still imparted genuine concern.

Another reason is the strict regulatory rules imposed on any influx of foreign labor. Because these countries did not sign the 1951 Geneva Convention regulations on refugees, they do not have to confer basic rights on refugees.

Countries like the Saudis continue to be concerned that a large migration could destabilize their kingdoms. Really? That isn’t a genuine concern in Europe today? Note how Hungary dogmatically closed their borders.

Even Arab journalists have described life in Europe as holding out better possibilities for equality and justice under the law. Women are treated equally and such is not the case to the South.

At the same time, many in France, Germany, and countries like Austria and the Czech Republic worry about where this will end. For example, Passau, Germany has 50,000 inhabitants with 48 churches and four pubs. Today and everyday 35,000 immigrants pass through the town. This influx has caused the local officials to end up in an outspoken conflict with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Polls indicate Germans are equally divided on accepting or rejecting asylum.

While the knee-jerk reaction of politicians running for the White House as well as a majority of governors screaming to stop the overflow into their areas, the dam is still broken and the flood has already spilled over. Two basic questions confront the entire world: What can be done practically – and – what is our moral response.

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This week’s headlines declared the second round of Syrian talks to be a failure. The United Nations mediator for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi concluded the second round of talks without even setting a date for further negotiations. Both sides were sent home with instructions to reflect on their commitment to possible diplomacy. These attempts at discussions have only been a dismal failure. In the beginning, I took the position that such was inevitable regardless of international pressure to move forward.

The Syrian government stalled because they believed they are currently ahead in the war. The inside story revealed the Assad regime so closely monitored the discussions that even the smallest details were checked by them. Russia has either not tried or at least not made progress in changing Assad’s mind. The Syrian regime’s delegation refused to discuss a change of government which is exactly what the rebels are fighting for. End of story. A train going nowhere.

This past week the town of Homs was  again filled with tragedy. Two trucks attempting to bring food and supplies into rebel held areas came under heavy fire, wounding four paramedics. Apparently, the trucks were targeted by roadside bombs and mortar shells. As the week progressed, dozens of women and children attempted to escape from the town under an agreement between the government and the rebels for a three-day cease fire. Like everything else in Syria the truce tragically didn’t hold. Taking cover behind United Nations vehicles, the citizens ran to exit the town. When explosions returned, many left their baggage and belongings and ran.

The government accused rebels of trying to score points with the international community by capitalizing on human suffering while the negotiations were still in session. However, anyone following the plight of the citizens trapped in the Old Homs area knew of the severe food shortages and the frail condition of these exhausted survivors.

During these efforts, the commander of the main Western-backed rebel group appealed to the Islamic extremist groups for unity. The Al-Qaeda linked Al- Nusra Front vowed to torpedo these efforts as well as negotiations with the government. Consequently, it is almost impossible to identify who actually speaks for the rebels.

When all of these elements in the conflict are mixed together, it makes for one big-time mess going nowhere. With more than 135,000 Syrians already killed and 9.5 million driven from their homes, the debacle continues to escalate. As I painfully noted earlier, no end appears in sight until the last soldier has been massacred.

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            Last week we took a brief overview look at the continuing civil war in Syria and the effect that Russian support had on the struggle. With 50,000 to 60,000 citizens killed and a continuing capacity to destabilize the Middle East, the world needs to worry about Syria.

            Russia appears to be going through a continual spasm as Vladimir Putin pushes not only for dominance but also to bend the elite to fit the national mood of the country. Recent decisions by the Duma (the lower house of the Parliament) passed undebated legislation to tighten the state’s control over dissent and political activism. The January 14, edition of The New York Times reports that Putin  has made strengthening Russia’s sovereignty his priority. Halting the adoption of the thousands of Russian children needing homes abroad is an example of how ruthless these decisions can be. Protestors filled Moscow’s streets.

As has been the case in Syria, it also reflects how wrong Russia can be.

The world of Syrian refugees continues to reflect the incredible hardship war has visited on the survivors. In Zaatar, Jordan, floods washed through refugee tents and left boggy, muddy trails through the camps. As winter approaches, many of the refugees fear for their survival. In these desert camps that crowd 50,000 people into nine square miles, normal is somewhere between horrible and inhumane.

International talks between Russian and the United States in Geneva, Switzerland expressed a mutual agreement that the war should end, but little else. At the United Nations Russia and China continue to block resolutions to pressure President Bashar Assad to leave. The United States can not envision how a new transitional government could be created if Assad is a part of it. While the diplomats argue, the combatants continue to kill each other.

Syrian troops advanced in a strategic suburb of Damascus, attempting to secure Assad’s seat of power in the capital. At the same time, rebels made advances in the north. The government announced recapturing much of Daraya, an area surrounding a major military air base just south of the capital. A day earlier the rebels took control of the northwest Taftanaz air base in a blow to the military. It is not easy to tell what this tit-for-tat exchange actually means. Often such announcements turn out to be propaganda. It is clear that one of the rebels most effective fighting units s is the Jabhat al-Nusra arm of al-Qaida. Not a good sign for the future!

In an unusual move, the rebels freed and swapped 48 Iranian prisoners for 2,000 prisoners held by the government. This number included women and children. The deal was brokered by Qatar, Iran, and Turkey. No one is certain why Syria agreed, but it may have been because of pressure applied from Tehran, Assad’s remaining major ally. Iran denied they were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and claimed they were pilgrims to Shiite religious shrines in Syria. Such an explanation is of the order of explaining American troops are in Afghanistan looking for Santa Claus and the North Pole.

The civil war goes on and the death toll continues to rise. The United Nations appears completely inept. Can it get much worse? Yeah, it can.

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