29 October 2015

On the Refugee Situation in Europe

I write this article while sitting in a room in Malta. It's been my second visit here, this time for work. The first time was almost two years ago for vacation. And in both instances, I have seen plenty of refugees here, they sit and hang around the main bus station in Valletta. And when they travel in the bus, they separate themselves from the rest of the crowd, somehow. I see them in Berlin too, little by little, they enter the general public consciousness. The government office dealing with asylum applications sees a surge in applications, and the Rathaus Wilmersdorf near where I live now has quite a few refugees staying there temporarily.

Every day, when I see the news, there is always something about how the refugees are moving from Syria and Afghanistan and Eritrea to Europe. How they are flooding Kos and disturbing the holiday-makers, how they are flooding Budapest train stations, how they are desperately trying to cross the Hungarian border fence, how they are being detained in Macedonia, the list goes on and on and so far there doesn't seem to be an end.

I knew a Syrian person back in graduate school. She was in Buffalo for two years as a MA student in my department. I wondered how she was doing, after all this. I tried searching for her online, and found a profile in a professional networking site. I tried making a connection, and a few days later, she contacted me. I told her that we weren't really close back when we were in Buffalo (I came in 2005, she came several years later, and we had a different set of friends), but given the current situation, I thought of her and was worried about her well-being. It turns out that she is still in Syria, but about to leave soon. Thankfully, not via the refugee route, but to a different country in the Middle East, as her fiance lives there.

Sometimes, I think about what I can do to help. My German is not good enough to deal with administrative issues. I don't speak Arabic, Kurdish, or other languages that the refugees typically speak. I see the websites of the volunteer organizations here in Berlin, and I scan it to see if they need anything that I can provide.

Of course, this situation has resulted in conflicting emotions within. On the one hand, there is the sorrow that results from seeing human suffering. On the other hand, there is the slightly jarring premonition that things are about to change soon, and these refugees are bringing it about. Just ask my quasi-in-laws who live in Budapest and ask them what they think about the situation there, where refugees are flooding every transit hub in their attempt to reach Germany.

One thing for sure, is that this situation makes a very negative impression for the Syrian government. I find myself distrusting politics more than ever, as I see politicians still traveling with their limousines, staying in their fancy palaces, and "negotiating" on polished tables, yet their people are suffering, trying to flee their own country, just so that they can survive and have a better life.


  1. I think it's great that you considered helping, and one way you can help (and we all can) is by understanding the situation globally and not treat refugees as second-class citizens or worse, as invaders.

    1. Zhu,

      I think it's human nature to think that refugees are "invaders", after all, that conclusion follows if we're inherently selfish, no? I think the key is to see what while short-term selfishness might lead one to think that these refugees are invaders, long-term selfishness, with a wider scope, would probably lead one to think that by helping these refugees, everyone here would have a better life in this planet.

      It's still a vague and not-well-sketched argument, I know, but somehow I have the feeling that I cannot treat the refugees as invaders, since who knows, I might find myself in the same boat some years along the line, and I don't want to be treated as invaders for sure.