The ongoing refugee crisis is reaching mammoth proportions as we speak. As students from the Central-Eastern European region, which is acutely affected by the issue, the Swarthmore community’s response — one, largely of indifference — worries us. The apparent reactions, rather than of compassion and interest in the issue, are not nearly as keen as we might hope for from a campus as politically charged as ours.
It seems to us as if the campus community has isolated itself from world news by a bubble of indifference. While trustworthy information is freely available, we have hardly encountered formal or even informal discussions on the issue. Despite the New York Times’ repeated front-page reports and general worldwide concern, Swarthmore, seemingly, has not taken note. Accordingly, we have decided to take small first steps in bringing this issue into the campus spotlight.
To begin, let us try to summarize the situation, which started in 2011. At this time, the Arab world was in turmoil, as shown by a series of protests, later named “The Arab Spring.” Many countries, including Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, experienced abrupt changes in their respective governments. This geopolitical instability led to several civil wars, extreme poverty, and famine. As a result, many had to flee their countries. In their search for an exit from this dangerous life, they turned their gaze towards Europe.
These refugees were supported by large networks of smugglers, who, in exchange for generous amounts of money promised that Europe would grant them asylum upon arrival. Despite spending all their lives’ worth on such assistance, paid in advance, people found themselves without help. Moreover, upon reaching Europe, they were improperly ‘greeted’ by European governments, which were caught unprepared for what was about to turn into one of the largest mass migrations experienced by the Old Continent.
This short summary demonstrates the complexity of the situation. Who and what is right is anything but clear-cut. That is precisely why the whole campus would benefit from dialogue about this topic, which we aim to initiate by giving more background information.
The complexity of the situation stems from multiple roots, and the conflict can be interpreted from religious, political, and even historical points of view.
First, the lack of information on said refugees’ background is troubling. Four million people have fled Syria over the past year (about one-fifth of the country’s population), and their journeys are intertwined with those of economic migrants from other parts of the world. Due to the large scale of their movement, it is virtually impossible to tell refugees and migrants apart when they enter the Schengen Zone*.
Another crucial problem is the lack of a central, united response from European governments. In absence of this, each government acting independently has had a different reaction; while Germany welcomed the refugees, Hungary has shown a rather xenophobic reaction. Possible inspiration for Trump’s proposed foreign policy, Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban has ordered the construction of a 100 million dollar barbed wire fence on the country’s Serbian border, to keep refugees out. This investment, unsurprisingly, has proven futile, as thousands of refugees find a way around it daily. Despite several calls for a unified reaction from Germany and Sweden (who, facing an aging population, welcomed the immigrants), Central Authorities refused to cooperate and collaborate.
Naturally, the question comes to mind: Why would a continent as developed and prosperous as Europe reject these persons? The answer is multifarious, but with strong xenophobic and racist roots. Despite fair assumptions that these largely developed nations would know better, bigotry is apparently widespread. For reference, it is useful to examine the historical precedent that formulates European thought, especially in severely homogenous countries that are incomparable to nations such as the USA. In its turbulent past, outsiders (such as the Ottoman Empire) have tried to conquer large parts of the continent, which now serves as the impetus for strong negative feelings towards foreigners. Naturally, Romania and Hungary (our home countries) have been reluctant to accept the refugee quotas as suggested by the European Union. Even among much of the population of our nations, there is widespread discontent towards refugees: anti-migrant slogans have flooded both national media and social media platforms, calling for a “unified, Christian Europe”, as Viktor Orban wrote in a German newspaper.
As students of an inclusionary campus where we feel safe and free to speak our minds, this exclusionary political agenda has left us enraged, dispirited and rather helpless, as we read about the events back home. Despite thousands of deaths (2,500 people over the past summer, according to UNHCR) our continent is unable to find a joint policy to overcome this most ardent threat to its stability.
Moreover, the lack of reaction from the United States, whose role in the destabilization of the Middle East cannot be overlooked, is disturbing. President Obama has declared on Thursday that the US will be able to accommodate approximately 10,000 refugees (the number of people entering Europe in approximately three days) in the next fiscal year. While this signal of international management raised our hopes momentarily, such efforts amount to nothing if other countries remain reluctant to help.
Although Europe’s past is tainted by colonialism and bloody internal strife that has caused long-lasting worldwide suffering, it is still our home. In keeping, we would like to see a more concerned, involved, and attentive reaction from our peers. The two of us, along with other members of the student body and the administration, have decided to pioneer a campaign aimed at informing the campus community on this engaging issue. We hope to achieve this through a Collection that will be held at the Friends’ Meeting House today, Thursday, September 17 at 7:30 PM. Additionally, we plan to host a panel of experts who understand the intricacies of the crisis and are willing to share with us their knowledge, thoughts and opinions. Further, to keep you updated on this event and the situation at large, we have started a Facebook page titled “Informed Swatties: The Refugee Crisis.”
*This region, considered one of Europe’s greatest achievements after the Second World War, is a passport-free area comprising of 26 European countries. For example, between Hungary and Germany there are no passport checks, just like there are no border controls between Maine and Texas. As a result, once an outsider enters for instance Hungary or Italy, they can travel without any restrictions between the countries of the Schengen Zone.