Refugee Crisis in Europe

I also wrote this one for a class.

I attended “Journey to Europe: Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis,” which included a screening of the movie “4.1 miles” and a presentation by Dr. Smith, Dr. Raymond, and Stefanie Neumeier. The movie is a documentary that focuses on the struggles of one man to help safely bring families across the sea to the island of Lesbos. Even though the island is small and relatively poor, the native inhabitants still generally feel it is their responsibility to give aid to the desperate refugees who continue to arrive in vast amounts every day.

The main purpose of the presentation was to show that the vast majority of people seeking refuge in Europe are truly desperate victims of the tragedies of war. They are not lazy people who simply want to enjoy the pleasures of Europe, and they are not terrorists looking for an excuse to cross borders. These people risk their lives to escape their native countries, and none of the journey is easy. Furthermore, becoming an official refugee is not nearly as easy as it is popularly described. An individual must be outside his own country and be unable to return, and the country in which he seeks refuge must accept his refugee claim, which often does not actually happen. Surprisingly, the countries who accept the most refugees are not the rich and prosperous ones, but the poor, fragile ones who are at risk of falling into political and economic turmoil themselves. This situation may be caused in part by the citizens of the rich countries who fear that accepting refugees will downgrade their high society. However, this fear is in no way supported by the numerous studies which test it. In fact, the main source of violence is from natives against refugees and from refugees who are not well integrated into society. Thus, it is not the refugees who are the problem, but the natives who refuse to accept them.

The greatest insight I gained from the presentation was realizing the shear mass of the people who are trying to escape the violence of their home countries. It was also very interesting to hear a different perspective of the crisis from the one usually heard from the media. Although I do not follow the crisis regularly, the information I had generally heard previously mostly expressed the concerns of the Europeans who did not want to have to manage the arrival of so many refugees. Realizing that poorer countries – even those that can barely support their own native population – are forced to accept the refugees simply because the prosperous countries do not want to deal with them certainly offers a different view of the situation.

This problem clearly relates to power and inequality. The countries that have more power are able to refuse to accept the refugees because there are enough powerful people in the countries to keep it from happening. These powerful individuals likely believe that they are in some way better than the poor refugees who cannot seem to do anything for themselves. To them, the refugees are clearly coming to Europe to beg for help simply because they are too lazy to solve their problems on their own. The burden is then passed on to the “lesser” countries who accept the refugees either because the people can relate to their struggles and truly wish to help, or simply because they do not have the resources to keep the refugees from coming. Thus, there is a clear inequality between the refugees and the natives, and also between the rich and poor countries accepting refugees.

I cannot say that I entirely agree with all the points made by the presenters, but I certainly do not disagree with them either. There are always two sides to a debate, and it is generally impossible to know which side is actually correct. Certainly, it does not seem right that refugees are being stereotyped as lazy terrorists, and it does not seem right that the poorer countries are the ones who are forced to handle the burden when the richer ones clearly have better and more plentiful resources to share. However, if I were to attend a different presentation supporting the opposite position, they would likely have a plausible argument as well. Perhaps there really are instances where refugees are cheating the system for personal gain, and that is certainly a valid concern that needs to be considered. At the bottom line, the situation is not nearly as simple as either side would like it to be, so the problem can only be solved if both views are equally addressed.