Blog: On Christians and Pharisees

Taking in refugees from the Middle East certainly has legitmate concerns of security, financing, and integration. But fear mongering creates an atmosphere where rational discussion and problem solving are left behind, and Slovakia is a perfect example.

Illustration photo.Illustration photo. (Source: TASR/AP)

Slovakia earlier declared that it would, at least, take in Christian refugees and 25 families were chosen with the support of the Nitra diocese and civic assotiation Pokoj a Dobro. But Slovaks from villages where these people should be placed have started complaining and some volunteers have even received threats. 

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The mayors have mirrored the Prime Minister's example of pandering to fear in order for personal political gain. Instead of assauging fears, they are protesting that they have had no choice in the matter and talk of referendums and convening special sessions.

Let's look at some facts: 

  • There are 25 families totalling 149 people. About one-third of those are under the age of 15. They are Christians of various ancient sects who have maintained their faith even when in the minority. They are well educated. It is highly highly unlikely that an terrorist extremist could infiltrate such a group.
  • These families have been handpicked by a government that has amped up security measures that involve changing the Constitution, searching hotels for foreigners, and upping the number of police on the streets. It has sued the EU's Council of Ministers against refugee quotas. They know they would be finished if a refugee they vetted did something harmful after making security their top promise in the next election. This is not a government that takes in people lightly.
  • As much as other migrants are fleeing war and extremists, Christians (as well as Yazidi) are being actively persecuted by Islamic extremists. Young women are turned into sex slaves, old women are buried in mass graves, and men are slaughtered. If they are given a chance to live, they are told to leave immediately, with only the clothes on their backs. Indeed, it can even be dangerous for them to seek safety in refugee camps. 
  • All expenses will be covered by the state, Church, or private sponsors. There will be no expense paid from village funds.
  • The people chosen are looking forward to coming to Slovakia, learning the language and geography. Theoretically, they may be able to make better money in Iraq than here. Coming to Slovakia is not a move made with monetary gains in mind.

Much of the fear comes from equating all those who come from the Middle East with violence and extremism. One citizen, to argue against taking Christian refugees in his village, sent a list of links to the parish priest, all links of beheadings, bombings, and other acts of terrorism. There needs to be better education, so that all people from place are not lumped together with the worst of them that are on the media.

Slovaks need to be disturbed

“We have to find a mechanism which will not disturb the Slovak public but at the same time will provide protection for endangered Assyrian Christians,” Fico said during the debate, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “I will not support trafficking by those who thought that they could let accommodations for migrants for rent and will get money for three years for it. Is this volunteering?”

Sometimes the Slovak public needs to be disturbed. They need to be disturbed by the horror of war and persecution that people are fleeing. They need to be disturbed that a 'Christian' population has problems taking in fellow Christians. They need to be disturbed that volunteers would be threatened by fellow citizens. They need to be disturbed that their Prime Minister would accuse someone charging rent as traffickers and who continues to stir up fear with his stance of bravado.

More communication and education needed

One of the biggest mistakes made by the government is lack of communication with and education of the local village citizens. When there are no specifics, that is when rumours fly, speculation abounds, and fear builds. And the media needs to ensure that they do not contribute by broadcasting false information.

For example, it was reported that the village of Zbehy was supposed to receive 10 families. When I spoke to the parish priest, however, he said that no such number had ever been expressed by authorities. He was asked to ask the parish for volunteers finding homes to house refugees, with no number attached. Parishioners were curious but not hostile. Those who complained are not active members in the parish. Rumour started circulating that 10 people were coming, then 10 families. Nobody had come to the village to explain anything.

And, he added, people let off steam all the time. People complain about the state of the roads, wages, Roma, etc, and the government doesn't do anything. And now, all of a sudden, the Slovak public should not be disturbed. 

In order to bring calm and reason, the state needs to send a representative to each village involved and clearly express: how many refugees would come to the village and more personal information about them (for example, they are not lazy loafers but a doctor or engineer); explicit senarios of the kind of persecution these Christians are fleeing and the hardships they have undergone (to educate that not all people from the Middle East are terrorists); the process by which the refugees are vetted and processed to ensure security; and steps for integration.

Be active

If a Slovak still insists that he doesn't want even Christian refugees here, I can only sigh that he lacks empathy and humanity. If he is Christian, however, then he has become a Pharisee turning his back on his very own brother. They will cry "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger ... and did not help you?"

But the only way for evil to be victorious is for good people to do nothing. People of Slovakia, stand up. Stand up against the complainers and make your voice of welcome louder than the grumblings of selfishness. Be active - volunteer, join volunteer groups, donate, let local and federal politicians know you support bringing persecuted Christians to Slovakia.

If we have populist politicians, make inviting these Christian refugees the popular thing to do. 

Naomi blogs about the culture, food, and life in Slovakia at Almost Bananas. 

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