Treating Refugees Humanely (369)

The BBC reported earlier this week that two lions were rescued from abandoned zoos in war-torn Iraq and Syria now have been flown to their new home in South Africa. The older lion, four-year-old Simba, was found barely alive a year ago in a private zoo in Mosul, Iraq. All the other animals had died of starvation or bombing. The younger lion, two-year old Saeed, was rescued from a zoo near Aleppo, Syria. Saeed was born during some of the fiercest fighting of the Syrian civil war and he was “skin and bones” when he rescued last July. After months of rehabilitation, an animal welfare charity called “Four Paws” flew Simba and Saeed to Lion’s Rock, a big cat sanctuary in South Africa. The rescue and rehabilitation of these two lions took countless hours of work by many people and at great financial cost. That’s more than we can say for most human refugees. And it’s that irony that has caught my attention. What if the same effort and expense were made for each human refugee of civil wars?

Now, before I’m overwhelmed with feedback, let me just say I love animals as much as most human beings. After all, I’m afflicted with three dogs at home. I share most people’s conviction that all animals, wild or domesticated, should be treated humanely and there’s never an excuse for intentional cruelty toward an animal. So, I rejoice these two lions were rescued, rehabilitated, and now are safely living in an animal sanctuary. This story, however, does show how these senseless wars have skewed our moral priorities. My hunch is the big-hearted, generous people who worked on and funded the lions’ rescue, rehabilitation, and transport to South Africa did so out of love for animals. That’s a good thing. My further hunch is that for some of these folk what was going through their minds with this: “we may not be able to stop these crazy wars and the hundreds of thousand people being killed, but at least we can save these two lions.”

Four months ago, a woman and her 7-year-old daughter arrived near San Diego and presented themselves to border agents. They had fled from their home in the civil war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, they were finally in the U.S., a place of safety away from the war, seeking refugee asylum. Less than a week later, the woman’s daughter was taken from her without explanation as to where they were taking her or when she would see her daughter again. Today, this woman still remains at a detention center in the San Diego area, while her young daughter is detained in Chicago apart from her mother or anyone else she knows.

This is what I meant by skewed moral priorities. I’m glad the lions are safe now in South Africa, but I’m appalled that we appear to be treating lions far better than human beings. A 7-tear-old girl was taken from her mother and sent a thousand miles away. How could those responsible see that as anything but inhumane (so much for the so-called “family values” we say we esteem)? I know that no one country, even a large, enormously wealthy country like ours, can solve every refugee problem that exists. But, at the very least, we can keep a mother and daughter together and have them live in humane conditions while their asylum application is being lawfully considered. That is, we can if we care at all about our morality.



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