Take our tired, our poor and our huddled masses [Archives:2008/1138/Viewpoint]

March 17 2008

During Dutch Development Cooperation Minister Bert Koenders' visit to Kharaz Refugee Camp two weeks ago, female African refugees held up their crossed arms above their heads to signify that they are being held as prisoners at the camp. They complained of harsh conditions in the camp and increasing security problems due to violent tribes in the area.

The refugee issue in Yemen is one of the most enduring problems the nation has suffered, with the most recent number of registered refugees being around 90,000 who have successfully made it to Yemeni shores, while many more died trying.

How much hospitality is expected from a poor host with many problems of its own? The French gift to the Americans, the Statue of Liberty, reads: “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.”

Those words were written by Jewish activist and writer Emma Lazarus who worked with East European immigrants through her association with the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society. The lines are part of “The New Colossus,” which she composed in 1883 as part of a fundraising campaign to erect the Statue of Liberty.

However, Yemen isn't reading from the same song sheet. In fact, if it were up to us, we'd have a national symbol written on it: “Take our tired and poor and give them a life.”

Yet, relatively, we seemingly take in even more refugees than the United States or Europe.

We harbor all sorts of refugees, but offer them a life no better than the one they fled – not because we don't want to, but because we can't afford it.

The Netherlands recently pledged $700,000 (approximately YR 216.6 million) for the Kharaz Camp and because the Dutch are concerned and interested in helping, there's even more support on the way. But while this helps, the original problem remains, as more and more refugees continue arriving to our poor country, which is only getting poorer.

The world is getting smaller and more populated by the second; however, the tragedy is that it's the poor and underdeveloped nations that have the highest population growth rates. Hence, the result is an increasing number of “tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and seeking a better life in the developed world.

However, with this increased demand, the offer becomes scarcer and more selective; for example, not just anyone wishing to obtain a better life in the United States or Europe may do so. As it is, there are negative reactions by members of the developed world community who don't want any more immigrants because they are changing the Western world's identity.

Eventually, our tired, poor and huddled masses will have to stay with us. Or, maybe we simply can circulate them among other poor countries like ourselves, such as what's occurring between the African Horn and Yemen, thereby losing lives in the transaction.

One of the main reasons for Yemen's population explosion is blind ignorant faith and misunderstanding of one's religion. If you ask the average Yemeni man – who earns less than $200 a month and has a family of eight – “Who's going to feed your family?” he'll point to the sky and say, “Allah is there.” True, Allah is there, but He never asked you to throw yourself and your family into disaster.

While I'm unsure if this deep mistaken faith applies to African peoples, they too have a problem of when to say enough children. I don't think our problem really is religious; rather, it's our respect for human life. We are careless about our responsibility as parents. We think it's easy to bring new lives into this world and we don't care what kind of world into which we're bringing them.