An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post today about the refugee crisis in Europe. Over the last few months, news about the acute situation overseas has dwindled as other events have taken the spotlight. Nevertheless, the situation continues to play out, and the Post reports today that Hungary, the country in the EU most vocally opposed to refugees, is now trying to find a way to attract migrants because their economy is in such bad shape. The article is titled, “Hungary built a razor-wire fence to keep refugees out. Now, it’s desperate for migrants,” and it is worth a read.
Here are a couple of things I gleaned from the article:
Hungary was borderline xenophobic last year, and is now desperately trying to change their narrative… maybe. Just last year, when the refugee crisis was heating up in Europe, Hungary was perhaps the most vocally opposed country to intrusion from refugees. They built razor-wire fences around their country to keep people out. But now, with the looming economic crisis, Hungary is in need of a new labor force. They cannot keep their own children in country, so they need people to replenish the labor force.
Their reasoning is baldly self-serving. Let me be quick to say here that a country looking out for the economic interests of its people is a good thing. However, let me also be clear that this whole “reversal” of their stance on immigration is nothing of the sort. In desperation, Hungary is trying to find its way out of a hole and is willing to treat people like commodities to do so. It seems there is no pathway to citizenship for these migrant workers, and they will only be allowed to stay for a certain amount of time. All of their logic is rather self-serving and these migrants are simply a means to an end.
They want migrants, but only the “right kind.” The article points out they are going to try to avoid refugees and most likely Muslims. They are going to be selective. Again, countries have the prerogative of safety and societal issues with which to contend. I am not suggesting a country function without considering these issues. I am pointing out that Hungary only wants migrants when it needs them for survival, and if they are the kind of migrant they like.
What can we learn:
Again, it must be said that a country’s government makes different types of decisions from that of the church. I write to discuss what can be gleaned from a Christian perspective, not to debate the political ramifications of Hungary’s decisions.
Here is a lesson in human dignity. Somewhere, buried in all of this, is a lesson in the value of people. People, human beings, made in the image of God, are worth more than how much benefit you can receive from them. Such a utilitarian stance on humanity leads to people losing their value when they lose their benefit. That is a slippery slope, and as Christians, one with which we should always be concerned. We should always stand on the side of dignity for all people. Even refugees. Even ones from which we receive no benefit. Again, decisions about policy are a complex matter, but the principle of human dignity must guide those decisions.
This underscores opportunities for the spread of the gospel. This refugee crisis is not over in Europe. Numbers are fluctuating, and some claim the issue is slowing down. Others say it will be with us for years to come. Whatever the case, these refugees that now call Europe home have years of assimilation and carving out life in front of them. Countries that have opened their doors wide, like Germany, now find whole towns and villages that are more refugee than native. Church planting can be done in these places.
And concerning Hungary, even if it opens its doors to migration, it will do so in a way that is yet again a slap to those people who need refuge the most right now. They will attempt to keep the country walled off from those needing a home and select people they find valuable. This is a moment where the church can show people their value in how they deal with refugees. In a context where some people are treated as having less value, the church can make a clear, counter-cultural claim that the gospel views all people with immeasurable worth.
That same lesson applies here too. While our situation is very different from the one in Europe, we would be fooling ourselves if we pretended we did not have issues with assimilation here. The United States is home to the largest collection of foreign-born residents in the world, over 40 million in fact. That number is just going up too. As our country is trying to make hard decisions about how to navigate immigration, we, the church, have a responsibility to both participate in those discussions and to love all of our neighbors.
Do you know a refugee? Most of us live near one. If you do not, I encourage you to meet some. Ask them questions about their journey. It may shock you, and it will definitely give you an opportunity to show them what it should mean to be made in the image of God.