Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris' secondary victims

The refugees I've spoken to about the Paris terror attacks find it just as devastating and mystifying as the rest of us. Some even shed tears while shaking their head and uttering, "Why?" They cry for the victims in France, but they also cry for themselves. Many of them have escaped conflict zones, sold their belongings, left their families and communities, and undergone a treacherous journey to cross multiple borders illegally in order to flee the very people who coordinated the attacks. And yet, because of those same people, the trek just got a lot harder for the refugees in and approaching Europe. Even if they make it to their final destination (usually Germany, Austria, Sweden), integrating into European communities and the global economy is a hurtle that appears increasingly insurmountable. One of the suicide bombers was identified as having passed through Greece, so couldn't other extremists have taken that same route? Of course; of the 800,000+ possibly a handful have relations with ISIS. And that is a terrifying thought. But it's not one that justifies prejudice against a whole people. Concern, yes; vigilance, yes. But sweeping fear and animosity, no.

This weekend, we had the fewest number of volunteers I'd ever seen, and usually we have extra hands on the weekends. Clearly people are worried about their safety and are responding by stepping back. But what we need most to do now is to step fully in; to dive head first into this vast, complicated crisis to do all we can to prevent another attack.

Instead of wasting mental and emotional energy intensifying the differences between "us" and "them", we need to address the major issues still unsolved in this humanitarian crisis. First and foremost, the EU needs to reach a consensus and come up with a shared policy regarding the refugees. Right now countries have no streamlined protocol which complicates and slows down the process both for the nations and for the refugees. It also encourages a finger-pointing game in the Balkans in which countries are placing the burden of proof for their own inability to stave off this crisis on their neighbors. This only aggravates tensions in a region already fraught with centuries-old ethnic hatred and mutually exclusive nationalisms.

In my view, the biggest issues going forward are: how do we integrate the refugees into Europe and how do we weed out the extremists. Difficult problems don't demand simple solutions, but we mustn't give up hope in seeking answers because of the horrific actions of extremists. The refugees are here and more are coming; worrying about how to intercept their path and exclude them from European society is an unavailing solution.

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