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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

In the Wake of Tragedy: How Privilege Shapes Our Response to the Migrant Crisis

What more can I say? What can I add to the conversation that I haven't already mentioned countless times?

I feel now like whatever I say won't change anything. I can't add more to the discussion than I already have. Commenting on these endless stories never makes a difference.

But I can't ignore it. I have to say something.

Another group of "migrants" has died. It's five people this time, including a 4 year old little girl. I've read the stories in the papers. The reporting is the same as always: "More "migrants" have died in the Channel." The people remain faceless and nameless, and they will be remembered as nothing more than "migrants" who have died, more in a countless stream of other "migrants" who have died in a similar fashion. And nothing changes. More "migrants" will die this weekend, and no one will care.

And we received more news this week. The United Kingdom has passed a new law, after years of fighting about it, that "migrants" can be removed from Great Britain and flown to Rwanda for resettlement. Despite mountains of evidence that Rwanda is not a safe place. Despite the British Supreme Court declaring the law unconstitutional. Of course, nothing matters more than winning votes. Rishi Sunak, the prime minister of the UK (himself the descendent of immigrants), has prioritized winning votes over the lives of people who are simply looking for a better life.

And the old tired arguments are recycled: "We have plenty of homeless British people we should help before we help the 'migrants,'" "It costs too much money to house 'migrants,'" "We need to keep Britain for the British." It's so easy to talk about a faceless mass of people with whom you have no relationship and no desire to form a relationship in such a dehumanizing way.

And I'm on vacation this week.

I'm in Alsace with my family, taking a break from our work and visiting with some of the Mennonites here. I can't help but feel guilty, taking time off when so many people are suffering, when people are literally dying in the Channel near Calais. My family gets to enjoy some time away, visiting a train museum with our kids, and driving 100 miles per hour on the German Autobahn.

I know I shouldn't feel guilty, but I do. But I can't change anything by myself. My presence in Calais wouldn't have saved the lives of those five people. It wouldn't have blocked the passage of the new law in England.

But my life is easy. My life is easy because of the color of my skin, the language I speak, and the country where I was born. I don't deserve it anymore than those who are drowning deserved to have been born in a country under an oppressive regime. I've never been stopped and asked for my papers; I'm hardly ever asked to show my ticket on the train. I can go into and out of the train station without suspicion. I can meet and talk with Calaisien people without fear of discrimination. In fact, I'm almost a celebrity, since I'm an American in Calais.

I'm honestly not sure what the point is I'm trying to make. I just hope that this will make the reader think a bit. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty, because guilt is a useless emotion. Maybe my readers can just think about the privilege they were born with. Maybe this will encourage those individuals to think about how they can use that privilege to advocate for those who don't have the same level of privilege. You don't have to feel guilty. You need to be aware, watching for ways that you can provide help and support.

Take a moment and reflect on your life. How have you experienced the privilege of being born in the West, likely in a wealthy nation? How can you use this privilege to follow the commands of Jesus to "love your neighbor as yourself"?

Blessings, my friends. Pray for those who have lost their loved ones.

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