Thursday, September 17, 2015

Opinion: Michaela Keck On the European Refugee Crisis #refugeecrisis

Dr. Michaela Keck

The refugee crisis in Europe has dominated the news ever since the the Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, drowned. The image of his dead body came to symbolize the refugee crisis in Europe. Daily we read of migrants drowning as they journey across the short but turbulent stretch of the Mediterranean. We read of the tension between the refugees and Hungarian police. We read of the heightening of border control in European countries as they try to figure out how to deal with the surge of asylum seekers.

The reality is that people have been fleeing conflict areas for some time now. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, are some of these conflict places.  Syria alone has some 6.5 million displaced people.

Curious about the realities that ordinary folk in Europe deal with (with regard to the refugee crisis), I sent an informal interview to friends about the topic.

Here is Dr. Michaela Keck's reply.  

Michaela Keck was born and grew up in Bavaria, received her Ph.D. degree from Goethe University in Frankfurt, and is presently lecturer at the Institute of English and American Studies at the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany (for more information, see 

Cecilia Brainard:      Is the current refugee crisis affecting you?  How?

Michaela Keck: The refugee crisis is not directly affecting me in the sense that there has been any significant impact or any changes in my personal or daily life. I may have students this winter term who are refugees in Germany if they manage to deal with the bureaucratic hurdles to enter a German university, that is. As a matter of fact, I had an adult guest student in one of my courses a few terms ago and he gave us a brief account of his route of escape from Syria. At present, there is also one adult student at our Department who, as far as I know, is a refugee from Syria and has come to live with her family here in Germany. Apart from these more superficial contacts, the present situation of the refugees as well as the political responses in Germany and Europe are of great concern to me since they raise issues of migration and future immigration, social and economic justice and equality, and the role and responsibility of Europe in such global crises.  

CB:      What do you think of the response by the various countries to this crisis?  (I’m thinking about Germany, Hungary, France, UK, US, Arab countries, etc.) Can the response to the refugee crisis be better? Any ideas how?

MK: While I am pleased to see that the willingness to welcome and accommodate refugees in Germany has – a least for the moment – overruled the right-wing violence and the xenophobia that groups such as Pegida try to spread, I am wary of the ways in which these groups will make use of the refugee crisis for their own anti-immigrant propaganda. And I am especially concerned that the responsibility that we as European citizens have to the refugees, will be twisted into a populistic propaganda claiming that workplaces and economic opportunities are snatched away by refugees. As to other European countries, e.g. Hungary or Poland, I am simply appalled that members of the EU can get away with arbitrarily setting quotas, or deciding about refugees’ required religious membership in order to be eligible for asylum – their EU membership should be re-evaluated or sanctions should be pursued if they consider themselves justified to determine such criteria at the same time as they expect support by the EU. Similarly, rather than offering the building of mosques in Germany, Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for their firm closing of their borders – among other rich Arab Gulf states. As one report courageously remarked last week, where is the much-praised solidarity and friendship among these countries in times of crisis?

And yes, the response to the refugee crisis can always be better. Just one example. Some European countries have long been critical of the US-Mexican border fence, or the Israeli West Bank barrier; and although I am well aware that these comparisons are uneven, to say the least, all of a sudden these countries find themselves in the position of having to install fences along their borders – my point here is the morally righteous position that some European countries have been taking vis-à-vis other countries’ problems, be they problems with immigrants or refugees. Now that the problem has become our own, it looks very different and it remains to be seen with what kind of solutions the EU will come up. Surely, fences or walls will not be the solution.   

CB:     The troubles in the Middle East and Africa have been going on for some time now. Do you think the refugee crisis has gotten worse recently?  If so, why?

Yes, I do think that the refugee crisis has gotten worse. One reason for this is that – and it is awful to say it so bluntly – there is obviously profit to be made out of the plight of the many refugees. Another reason is that there is no political or economic improvement in sight for these countries. I think, it is high time that the industrial countries who have vested interests in the Middle East and Africa begin to come together and re-think their policies with an eye towards economic and political solutions that benefit the people who live there.

CB:      Many worry that extremists will sneak into European countries along with the refugees – do you think this is possible?  Any other thoughts about this?

MK: A crisis such as this will indubitably bring opportunists who take advantage of the situation. But the worry that extremists in disguise are among the refugees – I may be wrong here, but I think such ideas say more about the present state of international affairs, propaganda, and patterns of justification in the so-called war on terror than about the refugee crisis.

CB:      Can you share any other ideas and thoughts you may have about the politics and issues related to the current Refugee Crisis?

MK: Maybe more of a hope, that is, that in the months to come the enthusiasm to help and volunteer in coping with the upcoming challenges, Europeans and the EU retain their commitment to the human aspects of this crisis and also critically re-think their own political stance, and especially their economic interests (e.g. the export of weapons / weapon technology) into these countries. Surely, welcoming and accommodating refugees is a long-term commitment that will require discussions about integration and occupational models – discussions that have barely begun. It will also require a responsible stance by the media who tends to quickly forget even the most pressing issues after a short time span.

CB: Thank you, Michaela.

Michaela and Cecilia, photo taken in Frankfurt, 10/15

Stay tuned, I'll be posting more comments about the crisis.

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