Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Since February 20th Europe has gradually become a fortress. The Balkan route is officially closed, thousands are stranded in no man's land between the border crossings of Greece and Macedonia, and tens of thousands are stuck in towns and cities they never knew existed. Europe's indecision has torn families apart, mentally exhausted those already physically beat from the arduous journey, and triggered deep uncertainty among refugees about their futures and among Europeans about the EU's future.

Though the refugee aid center in Belgrade provides sufficient food and clothing, it provides nothing that will curb the mounting epidemic of despair. In an effort to care for these people we cannot separate their bodies from their minds and their spirits. With tight resources and hardening public opinion, we've sidelined soul-nourishment.

Caught in this capricious limbo, refugees feel bored, frustrated, powerless, and underutilized, which has led some to alcoholism. Previous refugee crises indicate that these feelings and tendencies often lead to spousal abuse, and I've heard about cases of domestic violence in Greece and Macedonia.

Most refugees who made it this far had a better standard of living before civil war broke out in their countries of origin than the citizens of the Balkans. Now they have three options: apply for asylum in Serbia, apply or asylum elsewhere, or return home. Though the borders are officially closed, we still see people ushered in and out by the expanding market of smugglers. The Financial Times recently estimated that it's a 6 million euro industry. Preying on fear and vulnerability, smugglers exploit refugees and rarely fulfill their promises.

Overblown, shrill rhetoric surrounding this crisis that looks skeptically and callously upon the refugees inundates international airwaves. Yet I have to hold fast to my belief that people have kindness in them that's not represented in these bombastic reports. When we reach out to another human being with compassion it strengthens something within us. If we're not all persuaded by gushy proclamations about our infinite capacity to love, let us then use reason to welcome these people into our cities and lives because they're not going anywhere and when we integrate them socially and economically we'll all profit.

Perhaps its a contagion spread on the frontlines but the world has begun to feel like its on fire. Kind, courageous, and creative acts performed by refugees and volunteers alike tame the flames. Unfortunately, sinking spirits render these acts less and less frequent. When you're unable to move because an entire continent decides you're not worthy, it's all too easy to wonder, "Why bother?"

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