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Tom Hanks: Fences won't solve refugee crisis
00:57 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The actor says he's dismayed by the chaos that's driving people from their homes, and he urges a better response from Europe

He criticized recent election campaign rhetoric about immigrants

"Let's not demonize them, let's humanize them. Let's not call them refugees, let's call them men, women and children," he says

CNN  — 

Fences won’t solve the European refugee crisis, actor Tom Hanks says. The Hollywood star and American icon decried the use of border fences to keep out refugees and migrants fleeing persecution as Slovenia began construction of a razor-wire fence on its Croatian border.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Hanks spoke with dismay about the violence that’s forcing people to flee their homes: “What do you call the sort of chaos that is in Syria and parts of Afghanistan, the places where Muslim fundamentalism is reigning and there seems to be no rhyme or reason … to the honoring of human life?”

He went on to urge a more effective humanitarian response in Europe – one that doesn’t involve erecting border fences: “We have an opportunity here, I think. … Most of the world, or a great part of the world anyway, is civilized nations that should be able to address the problems and should be able to accept the realities of not just refugees and migrants, but the great humanitarian crises that are going on. And the answer is not going to be fences, is it? I don’t think so.”

In the past year, several European nations have resorted to erecting razor-wire fences and walls. Hungary has faced strong criticism from European Union officials for constructing barriers on its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Romania. Hanks’ opinion echoes that of EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who warned in September: “Walls and fences are no solution for tackling the refugee crisis.”

Hanks also criticized the rhetoric used about immigrants in the U.S. presidential election campaign: “Let’s not demonize them, let’s humanize them. Let’s not call them refugees, let’s call them men, women and children.”

The actor, who says he’s “a lay historian,” said that large movements of people are not unprecedented but that the world has never found the best response. “Down throughout history, the civilized world has had to (deal) with this problem. I don’t know that we’ve ever dealt with it well. Have we?” he said.

Hanks, who played a refugee stranded in an airport in 2004’s “The Terminal,” said that when he’s abroad, people still approach him about that role: “In Europe, parts of it, I get many people that come up to me: ‘I was “Terminal,” I was “Terminal.” You made my story, this was me.’ “

His performance in “The Terminal” was based on his father-in-law, Allan Wilson, who was born as Hassan Ibrahimoff: “He escaped the communist camps. He was beaten and slapped and tortured, and he was in camps where people were (hanged) for no reason whatsoever. And he made five daring escapes, only the last of which succeeded, in order to get him away. And I cannot look at anybody who is not an American, who wants to come to America, and not see it through my father-in-law’s eyes.”

Hanks also saw echoes of the current refugee crisis in his latest film, “Bridge of Spies.” At one point, the Cold War thriller shows residents of 1957 East Berlin being shot to death as they attempt to escape to the West. “Looking at what was going on, you couldn’t help (but see parallels),” Hanks said.

The actor said that for many fleeing war and persecution, “America is still to some degree a promised land that says, ‘If you can make it here and if you respect the laws and if you pay your taxes and if you educate your children, all will be well.’ And it’s not the only country in the world where that happens, but it is the one that we sort of broadcast that, in the values that we portray and communicate to the rest of the world.”