The European Refugee Crisis through the eyes of those experiencing it firsthand
An ocean away, there lies a crisis. Driven out by fear, people are fleeing from their homes and setting out on an indefinite journey, desperately searching for a place where they are safe and welcome.
The European Refugee Crisis has been a major topic of discussion recently, especially as political decisions are being made with regards to the matter. Yet what is the reality of it? How is it perceived differently by those who are seeing it through their own two eyes?
Nilüfer Çetik, 21, of Istanbul, Turkey provided some answers. “At first, people disliked to see them [the refugees] around,” said Çetik. “They were poor, they were escaping from the camps and live on the streets. They were considered as a life threat.”
However, attitudes have shifted. “Today, the community shows sympathy and also feels empathy for them,” said Çetik.
“Sometimes I hear that people in Europe blame Syrian refugees about ISIS. However, we know that they also escaped from them and this is why they are homeless,” said Çetik. She also noted that since the prominent religion of Turkey is Islam, it’s easier for them to accept that ISIS is not the Syrians’ fault.
Life is not exactly a piece of cake for the refugees. “People want to make more money out of refugees,” said Çetik. “They load buses and boats to double or triple their normal capacities.” This leads to many dangers in the travel itself. “In summer, everyday a boat sank,” said Çetik. “Sometimes security forces could help them, but mostly people died.” These boats mostly take people across the Aegean Sea from southwest Turkey to the Greek islands, where it is easier to enter Europe undetected.
Even those who do make it face continuing hardships. Çetik told of a Syrian family living near her school. Seven or eight people live together in a small house that is not in healthy living condition, and the youngest boy sells paper towels outside the campus gate. “This family is one of the lucky ones,” said Çetik. “Usually, refugees cannot find a proper place for a human in order to sleep.”
Aleksandra Grujic, 17, of Novi Sad, Serbia has observed similar circumstances for the refugees there. In August she traveled to Austria and crossed the Hungary-Austria border. “It was so sad to see those people and children sitting on the grass, trying to cross the border,” she said.
“The biggest problem for Serbia was in September I think, when both Croatian and Hungarian borders were closed and refugees literally had nowhere to go, so they stayed here,” said Grujic. “And of course, we provided them with food and everything, but it was a big attack on Serbia’s already low budget.”
According to Grujic, the borders are now open, but some hotels filled with refugees and Syrian restaurants remain in Novi Sad.
Stiliyana Kirilova, 17, of Plovdiv, Bulgaria noted that the refugees there are largely perceived as a threat. “The influence in Bulgaria for now is only the fear,” said Kirilova, “because we have been told that there isn’t a safe place in Europe and the main terrorists’ aim is to make all the Europeans frightened when they are going out.”
Maria-Yoana Stoynova, 18, of Plovdiv, Bulgaria has also noticed an atmosphere of fear surrounding the events. “I hope things get better, because many people are afraid that the third world war is about to take place,” said Stoynova.
“In France, you have heard, the situation is very dangerous, and everyday we hear about bombs in France and in Syria,” said Stoynova. “In short, this is all we talk about and listen to everyday.”
Brad Janiszewski, 22, of Chicago, IL spent ten weeks in Greece on a study abroad program this fall, and he noticed the opposite. “It’s strange,” said Janiszewski, “I was there for three months and I never really heard that many people talk about it… I mean it’s a big issue going on, you’d think people would talk about it.”
When he did hear people talk about it, Janiszewski noticed two general attitudes towards the refugees: some people felt the refugees were ruining everything they had and were depleting their resources, while others felt the need to take the refugees in, to care for them and house them.
Janiszewski encountered many refugees during his time in Greece. His group handed out food and water to the 2000 to 3000 Afghan refugees in Victoria Square in Athens, as well as giving showers and shavers elsewhere. In one place, they even played soccer with the kids.
“One thing I think we gotta know, we gotta understand, is that these are people,” said Janiszewski. “These are people that come from families, people that have jobs, people that had a house, a life, and that for whatever reason, normally, whether it be just warfare or terrorism, they decided to leave that.
“I remember the guy I was talking to,” said Janiszewski. “They took a 3000 mile journey across the Middle East, got on a little boat made for about probably like 12 people and they put 60 people on it or something like that. And they were being shot at. All for the chance that they could have a better life.”
It seems that the refugees are misunderstood in many capacities, and they recognize that. “We met a lot of refugees, and this happened to me multiple times,” said Janiszewski. “The people would come up and they’d be like, ‘Hey, we’re not ISIS, we’re not all terrorists.’ I wouldn’t even bring it up, like I wouldn’t even be starting the conversation, and they would just tell us that… Like they were so ashamed of that and they were so ashamed that people would think that’s what they were that they wanted to discredit it right off the top.”
Although he thinks it’s likely that ISIS is present in the refugees somewhere, Janiszewski feels that most of the refugees are truly hurting people who are looking for a better life. “The hard thing is distinguishing who is who,” he said.
Will these people ever find a place they are safe and welcome? Will they ever find home? The answer remains a mystery for many as they continue their journeys.