Thoughts on the refugee movement

Between shame and pride

In June 2015 I was still living in Canada and read the first reports on the development of the refugee situation in the German online newspapers. They reported the fact that German schools (principals) have sent letters to parents and informed that a refugee camp will open next to the school. In the same context, they pointed out the resulting risk that the clothes of their daughters (mini skirts and tops) could lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

With horror I have read in the media of such reports and I felt ashamed to be german! I was happy to live abroad!

A month later there were increasing reports of large waves of volunteers, thousands of volunteers who fought for the interests of refugees and tried to help where ever they could.

It reminded me that germans are aware of their prosperity and their associated social responsibility. The many volunteers have triggered in me a feeling of pride. Proud to belong to a socially conscious nation.

Refugee crisis – what an awful word!

Then the media was suddenly full of reports on the refugee crisis, a word that I heard in the summer of 2015 for the first time. Germany was in a crisis, I only got to know through the media what was going on. Reports of attacks on refugee camps, masses of refugees who could not be provided with enough food and shelter.

I have followed the news with mouth open. The “crisis” has since become indispensable in Germany. And is pushing fears and concerns. The word ‘crisis’ affects the atmosphere of the country massively and I have often wondered in the past few months, if we could not give the topic a more neutral name. Something like refugee movement.

So where are THE refugees?

From a distance it is difficult to predict how such events affect the atmosphere in the country. So I started to ask the family, friends and acquaintances. What’s going on? Are there really so many refugees? Do you notice that?

I almost always got the following answer: 

“Yes, you do see that there are refugees everywhere.”

 In winter 2015, I arrived in Trier and wanted to get an impression of the situation. Also I was told repeatedly that there were now so many refugees. So I looked around the city areas where they should run around in crowds on the street. 

I haven’t found these crowds of refugees they have been talking about.

A few weeks later I went to Kiel and when I got there, I thought “Oh, here are THE refugees” and at the same moment I wondered “But how does a refugee actually look like? How do you recognize if someone is a refugee? “. I was a little shocked about myself that I judged so quickly and wondered how it was possible that my thinking was so affected. 

The influence of our thinking by our environment

So how did it come that I had such thoughts? How did it happen that I put people who look a bit different in a box?  Because it is an omnipresent topic. It follows us in the morning when we get up when the alarm clock rings, it is constantly on television, in the newspapers. Everyone is talking about it. We are inundated with it. We can hardly escape the topic. It is well represented.  

On one hand, it strains our nervous, harasses us, and sometimes it even scares us! We are tense, waiting for something to happen. We are longing for information to help us to sort out our feelings. We want to know if our fears and worries are justified. 

We are unable to escape because we want to be informed. 

Of course we also want to be informed if we can help. Where is clothing needed? Where manpower? How can I change the situation for the good for all of us? The information from our environment therefore help us to organize our thoughts and feelings. We sort them in boxes and that gives us security. But at what point do we put what we saw, what we heard in the box? If I see someone with black hair and a darker skin type? 

First of all I want to say: No, this is not sufficient as an information. 

Secondly, I want to give you the following question on the way: Do we really have to put every single information in a box? 

The man at the bus stop with the black hair and darker skin type is a human being. Point. It does not matter whether he is a refugee. If we manage to make us free from wanting to put people in boxes, we free ourselves from hasty judgments. We will be able to live free of assumptions that restrict an open approach to otherness. 

Comparisons to the largest german outrage in human history

Again and again I read comparisons between Hitler’s time and now. I think it’s good to remember and warn. However, this example is too much for ordinary citizens (hereinafter described as a concerned citizen) who argue against the admission of refugees.  The vast majority of people do not want to be compared to Nazis. Because what the Nazis did was atrocious.

The concerned citizens do not want to gasify refugees, they ‘just’ do not want them in their country in or ask them to leave.  And if you now try to understand the point of concerned citizens, then you will see that asking to leave the country is of course not the same as gasifying Jews. And therefore, this comparison does not reach concerned citizens. 

I mean, speak it out aloud: Nazi – concerned citizens. Nazi – concerned citizens. That is not the same. That’s a huge difference! 

In general, people do indeed not like to be compared. Especially not with something or someone who has done something so horrible.

But with this comparison it’s also always about the question „How did it start back in the days?“ and here you will see the frightening parallels.

 Volunteers warn that such atrocious acts could happen again. They appeal to the common sense and draw attention to a negative example, which, as I said, is much too highfalutin for the concerned citizens. They feel attacked by their own people because they have understood the warning not as a warning, but as an attack. 

I sometimes have the impression that concerned citizens seem to understand the tireless efforts of many passionate helpers as attacks. Concerned citizens are currently experiencing that their fellow countrymen ally with the refugees, sharing their belongings with them, stand up for them. Does that not feel like a betrayal?

I wonder if concerned citizens then think something like “Hey, they actually plays in my team, now they switch to the other team and make me look stupid that I do not change sides and give the opponent my (last) shirt”. I guess that’s how it must feel.

 Note: I use the word ‘concerned citizens’ on purpose so often. One or the other is probably already moaning or rolling their eyes already, because he does not like the term. So why do I write ‘concerned citizens’? Simply because I want to point out their CONCERNS. 

Dealing with concerned citizens, passionate workers, refugees and everyone else

I feel that we should also give this much attention to concerned citizens in the same way. Someone who listens to their concerns, responds to their needs and interests. Someone who stands up for them. I miss the sensitive handling of the concerned citizens. Be aware of their worries, try to understand their needs and interests, find out what their concerns are and attempt to find a compromise for both sides. 

Make a step towards each other is most important. Approach each other, exchange opinions and get into a dialogue, exchange information and be empathetic. Be the intermediaries between the refugees and the concerned citizen’s world! Take them serious!

Because that’s what the right-wing parties are doing!  We have the opportunity to new paths to incorporate new proposals for action, to exchange views openly, let’s talk both sides. Maybe I seem to incredibly naïve now. But I believe in the good in people. I believe that we can learn from mistakes. I believe that we Germans are social beings who care. I believe that we can see the refugee migration as an opportunity to enrich our society. 

How? By approaching, listening, through compassion for all parties (whether workers, refugees, concerned citizens or everyone else), by compromises. 

As a pedaogue, I believe that education is the most powerful tool to be open-minded to strive for an intercultural dialogue. The integration of new cultures at an early age will be the most powerful way to be open-minded towards others. 

Personal experiences play a major role in how we deal with the refugee movement. We must be aware of the experience we have had with citizens who have a refugee or immigrant background. Avoid to transfer you negative feelings from the past on the current situation! Not everyone is the same! And you’re not a Nazi, right? 😉 

With this post I want to encourage personal contact with others and to seek new experiences– have a conversation with refugees, with helpers, with concerned citizens, with everyone else. I want to encourage you to look behind the media scenes, into the mass.  

My personal conclusion

I was so confused by the media and their reports, I wanted to get my own opinion and wanted to get more information. I felt the need to get to know people who are refugees and who are dealing with refugees. Wanted to talk to them, be close and listen to their point of view. Who are the individuals in the refugee and helper mass? 

So I met with a passionate volunteer and a refugee couple and I listened to their story. I wanted to know how their world has been changed by the refugee movement. Next week, I’ll share it with you 🙂 

What I miss, is an interview with a concerned citizen. Whoever would like to tell me how the refugee movement has changed his/her world and opinion, is welcome to send me a pm! 



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