He Who Feels It, Knows It

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Monday's coordinated rescue. Photo by Emilio Morenatti/AP

Monday told us all we need to know of the ongoing refugee crisis. On one side, the U.S. boasted it had welcomed 10,000 Syrian refugees this year as promised and ahead of schedule - a 0.004% sliver of the estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the world or of the millions accepted by smaller countries like Turkey and Lebanon, but still up from last year's total of 1,700. On the same day, international crews - including the Italian Coast Guard, EU Border Agency, and Doctors Without Borders and other NGOs - coordinated one of the largest one-day water rescue operations ever, rescuing over 6,500 refugees, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, who sometimes leapt off overloaded rubber dinghies without life jackets into choppy Mediterranean waters. The day before, crews rescued another 1,100 migrants in the Strait of Sicily, some of the estimated 400,000 fleeing to Italy despite increasing dangers, closed borders and anti-immigrant sentiment; at least 2,726 men, women and children have died trying to get there.

Meanwhile, many of those refugees already in Italy stepped up as best they could when last week's earthquake hit. A group of 35  frightened asylum seekers who had just arrived the day before in Ascoli Piceno, just 80 kilometers from the quake’s epicenter, offered to pull people from the rubble or clear evacuation areas, said the head of the NGO Group of Solidarity. Another group of over 70 asylum seekers living in a shelter in Gioiosa Ionica pooled their tiny daily allowances of  2 euro to make a “small and symbolic gesture of solidarity.” Their reasoning: The images of the destruction reminded them of what they'd fled, they know what it means to lost everything, it was their turn to help, they are now part of the community. Said one, "If I'm still alive, it's because people here welcomed me." That process is ongoing: In the small town of Servigliano, the mayor described residents moving from skepticism to acceptance as they discover their common humanity, turning "diffidence into curiosity, and then into knowledge."

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