Dominica’s Petit Journal: Asylum Seekers Cruise the Mediterranean and Storm the Borders

Dominica’s Petit Journal: Asylum Seekers Cruise the Mediterranean and Storm the Borders

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refugee crisis
Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos. Photo: UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

The News?

They are not travelers lounging on their chaise longue armed with sunscreen and travel guides. They are not immigrants who choose to set up a permanent residence in another country. They are refugees who are forced to flee their country due to conflict, violence, or war.

The distinction is important. According to the United Nations, the majority of refugees reaching Europe by boat this year were from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan. These hotspots are not optimum places of choice for your next family holiday but rather, war-torn countries run by greedy, oppressive or cruel dictators. Refugees are also fleeing Myanmar, Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Individuals and families, young and old, are packing themselves into dilapidated boats with no more than a backpack and a passport in a ziplock baggie to risk their lives at sea. Once on land they are often chased, beaten and ostracized as they race to cross numerous impassive European border controls. Yes, even those carrying weeping children.

refugee crisis
Refugees prepare to land at Messina port in Italy. Photo: UNHCR/Fabio Bucciarelli

Yawn, Why Do We Care?

Hmm, have a chat with your parents or grandparents. It is likely that members in your family fled their respective countries before, during and after World War 2.

We are now witnessing the largest flood of refugees since World War 2. People don’t simply leave their home and all it represents to climb into a tiny boat or pile into a crammed truck unless they are driven by furious desperation and fear.

When can we start to listen and learn from history? When can we stop the vicious cycle? Scream from the rooftops: “War is a grotesque aberration from humanity and people fleeing war need help!” Hey Greeks: some of your relatives found refuge in Syria in the early 1920’s. Hey Hungarians: the largest wave of refugees in Europe’s post-WWII history were from your country fleeing after the 1956 Revolution.

Like it or not, France agreed to be part of the European Union and this relationship is like marriage – sometimes you cannot stand your partner but well, you signed a contract and have certain obligations associated with that contract. Forget about the moral responsibility that we all share, forget about the financial responsibility that we do not want to incur – refugees have a legal right to asylum.

refugee crisis
Refugees marching along the highway out of Budapest, direction Vienna. Photo: UNHRC/Mark Henley

Why Don’t Others Care?

Let’s be honest, we all have our own problems and nobody minimizes their importance. With a 10.2% unemployment rate in France, many are struggling to pay their own bills and don’t have the time to think about the refugees. Others are working but are busy with daily work hiccups, the conundrum of grocery shopping, and completing homework with the kids.

Many avoid the news and its associated imagery because, let’s be honest, once you have seen the powerful photos of the traumatized, hungry people, or even dead humans, it is hard not to be moved. Of course there are some who simply don’t care – the term refugee crisis means nothing to them because they refuse to let their bubble be upset.

refugee crisis
Young Syrian refugees after crossing the Austrian frontier. Photo: UNHRC/Mark Henley

Impacts Us in Land of Croissants? 

Come on, nobody wants to be a refugee. These people had homes with toys, books and family photos lining their walls. Many were successful professionals and business people, following the same routine as you and I. They are seeking safety in Europe and while many fear their arrival will cause upheaval, there are all sorts of statistics about how refugees do better in school, are more productive, and view citizenship and education as hard-won treasures.

Look what happens when we don’t offer support to the refugees. Those who don’t make it are drowning in their quest. Those who do make it to shore are camping on the rocky shoreline of the French Riviera or under the Paris subway bridges by the hundreds.

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It was chilly this morning. Did you wear a scarf? Is your child warm enough? Where will the thousands of asylum seekers go and sleep this winter? Will their children ever go to school again? Winter. Is. Around. The. Corner.

It took a heart-wrenching photo of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian child washed up on the shores of Turkey to jerk politicians awake in their boardroom meetings. President Francois Hollande says France is now ready to accept 24,000 new refugees over the next two years. Let’s see what his leadership brings, not forgetting what foreigners – both immigrant and refugees alike – have contributed to this country.

 

Dominica Drazal
Raised in the Middle East by Eastern European parents, Dominica Drazal was surrounded by rich cultural, socio-economic and religious diversity. Travels throughout her childhood stimulated a fascination for cultures, languages and geopolitics. While she fumbled with accidental arrogance, her parents patiently encouraged her to be humble and open-minded. She has worked in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas in diverse roles (investments, micro-finance, marketing, and business development) and currently is freelancing. Fluent in five languages, Dominica completed a degree in Marketing and History, a Masters in International Affairs from Fletcher (Tufts), and is currently studying digital marketing with Duke University. She is fascinated by the dynamism, controversy and free spirit found in France where she now lives with her son and husband.

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