No Room at the Inn

(Written August 2015)

I wonder sometimes at what point in history does a country switch from being A country to OUR country?

With the increasing number of conflicts raging throughout the Middle East and North Africa there has been a HUGE increase in migration. Massive numbers of people have been leaving war torn regions and crossing land and sea to find hope in Europe and elsewhere.

By some estimates Europe will see more than 1 million migrants over the next year. Already tens of thousands have died at sea or in the back of cargo trucks as they pursue the simple dream of peace.

Of course this level of influx has inflamed rhetoric on both sides of the issue with a vocal group loudly complaining about migrants and with governments building long walls of coiled razor wire along borders while others are actually busing migrants straight to the border of the next country in the line.

These perspectives are in stark contrast to our own here in Winkler and Morden where, over the past decade and more we have welcomed many new residents from around the world encouraging them to make this place home while continuing to celebrate their own unique heritage, culture and language, as is the Canadian way.

In the south our American friends are being eroded by the hot gusts of bloated wind that come pouring forth from bigots like Donald Trump who propose building a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep out “illegal immigrants”.

All of which forces me to ask again – when did a country become our country? When did we decide enough is enough and no more are welcome in the privileged west?

In the 1930’s my great uncle decided to move to California to become a doctor and so do you know what he did? He simply moved there and is now retired and living comfortably.

In 1890 my great-grandparents left Ireland and came to Canada where another branch of my family had already settled in the 1850s.

It feels as if the people of Europe, the United States and to a lesser extent Canada said – ok – we have enough people…no more need come, shut the doors. The language of the conversation has become a language of “us” and “them” with people yelling “Go back where you came from!” oblivious to the irony.

Can you imagine what our ancestors would say if they could see how we treat the disenfranchised of the world today giving that they too, were likely displaced and looking for opportunity?

Perhaps it is time to stop thinking about how we live in a country and start realizing we live in a world and we need to share it.

In Canada our version of Ellis Island is Grosse Isle, Quebec. More than 500,000 Irish immigrants passed through the place and into Canada…5,000 of them died and are buried at Grosse Isle. The island is now known as the Irish Memorial National Historic site in recognition of the importance of immigrants, their contributions to Canada and the sacrifices made on the road to hope.

It is because of migrants who left hardship that we are who we are and the western world is as privileged as it is – our history removes from us the right to close our doors, or in fact, to build doors in the first place.

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