Friday, October 02, 2015

The Refugee Crisis

At last Sunday's Transition Year House Speech Competition, Felix Mertes came second with an excellent speech on the current refugee crisis. Here is the text of his speech:

You might have heard of the father and his son,  who were running for their lives through Hungarian border control. The father, carrying his 6 year old son on the back, was tripped up cruelly by an camerawoman and fell on the ground. A few weeks later, the two Syrian refugees arrived in Spain, and the father was offered a job at a football academy. As it turns out he was one of the best Syrian football coaches. Last weekend, his son accompanied Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo into the stadium. Things had changed. The refugees had found a safe, new home and a job while the camerawoman had lost hers.

Not many stories about refugees end well. About a week ago, a three year old refugee was washed ashore. The toddler had drowned after the boat he was on with his family had sunk.
The people in those two stories were Syrians, fleeing from their war torn country. And so do 12 million other Syrians, nearly twice the Irish population. They flee from the dictator Assad's reign of terror and Isis's horrible regime. There is no peaceful spot left in Syria.

Of the twelve million Syrian refugees, only 2% have reached Europe. On their way they faced obstacles such as dangerous boat trips, difficult walks, harsh border controls and barbed wire. Not many could overcome those difficulties. Families were split, people died and some got stuck on the way.

The Syrian refugees who have reached their destiny now face the struggle of being allowed to stay. That shouldn't even be the case, as under international law all refugees have a right for asylum, or simply a right to stay.

However, Europe in general is not very willing to accomodate those Syrian refugees. Some refugee opposers for example claim that "only" economic refugees, refugees who flee from poverty, are trying to stay in Europe. That is wrong as 62% of refugees come directly from war torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria.

There are also claims that there is not enough space for all the refugees in Europe. But how come then that Syria's neighbouring countries like Lebanon or Jordan can hold so many refugees? In underdeveloped Lebanon, 1 out of 5 people are Syrians. So how come strong Europe is struggling with only a little amount of refugees ?

Now in fairness, some countries do show some support. In Germany for example, refugees arriving at at a train station were welcomed by a cheering crowd. Citizen initiatives are  providing language classes, food and other basic needs. But the support is limited: for example right-wing extremists attack asylum seekers and burn their homes. You don't really see those pictures though as the image of the helping German has become more dominant, although asylum homes are attacked as much as ever before. 

Now I don't want this to become a speech about the German refugee crisis, but I just want to say that I think it is on Germany, which has a powerful status, to welcome and integrate refugees in order to set an example. If my country could do that, I would be very proud of it.

But in general, the refugee crisis affects us all. It will be on all of us to help and welcome these people. Cultures will clash and there certainly will be difficulties. But if we do help, it will benefit to us all. Many, not all, of the refugees are educated and young and countries with an ageing population will need those people. Welcomed refugees will be thankful and even the smallest things will make a difference.

Also, see it as a test for Europe. Europe has been very peaceful and dealt with the past issues successfuly. If we can represent the ideas of Europe like peace, friendship and unity, we will be able to deal with this issue as well. It is on us. Will we accept behaviour like from the camerawoman ? Or will we deal with those people and integrate the refugees ? If we do, they will be a great addition to us and will make us even more colourful. Thank You.

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