Friday, September 25, 2015

Swiss-based Filipina Artist Tina Heiter Writes About the European Refugee Crisis #refugeecrisis

My artist friend, Tina Borja Heiter, who had attended Maryknoll College and who is now a resident of Switzerland, sent in her comments re the European Refugee Crisis.  Tina Heiter is a Switzerland-based Filipino artist who exhibits her art in Zurich. Tina holds a degree in Foreign Service majoring in Political Science and History, thus her keen interest in politics. Tina has held several exhibits in Switzerland and is presently preparing for another solo exhibit in Galerie am Schanzenbgraben in September 2016. Follow her link at


This refugee crisis has consumed my interest.

Europe is overwhelmed with the mass exodus from Syria and Africa. Europe is being criticized by the US media, particularly by CNN, for not doing enough. The unpreparedness of the EU -- just reeling from the Greek crisis as well as the mass immigration from Africa entering via the Italian borders for economic reasons, and then having to face the huge number of refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq -- is epic. 

While I sympathize with the refugees’ plight, I can also understand the unpreparedness of the EU  – these refugees did not come in trickles but by the hundreds of thousands stampeding their way across Europe within a few weeks. No country, even the USA would have done any better trying to organize the flow of entries as well as providing food, clothing, shelter, medical aid and transporting them to the countries that would take them in.

The entries of refugees coming from Africa via Italy has slowed down a bit but the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are plentiful.

My big disappointment was how badly these Syrian and Iraqi refugees coming in from Turkey via Greece were being treated by some Eastern European countries – particularly Hungary and Macedonia. Shame on them as they have been victims of war themselves and all of them came to Western Europe as refugees! At least some Balkan countries like Serbia and Croatia were kinder and more helpful to these people, remembering how they were given asylum as political and war refugees themselves during the Balkan wars in the ‘90s.  EU member countries especially those who have benefited so much from joining the EU should help solve this refugee problem.

Some institutions and people have contributed privately to provide food and resting places especially for those who walked through the Eastern countries to reach Germany. But more should be done. 
The EU are still trying to develop a system of distributing refugees to the member countries. I’m grateful to the leadership of Angela Merkel who, while defying opposition from her own constituents, insisted that all refugees must be treated humanely and with kindness. Germany has promised to take up to a million. Meanwhile, thousands of refugees are arriving each day and well, how much more can Germany or Sweden take? So it seems that they have now also closed their doors (at least that is what I know for now).

The other problem also is the fear of terrorists disguising as refugees – I believe this is the reason why UK and France are not so keen in taking in refugees. On the other hand, those rejected or treated inhumanely might have all the reason to join ISIS.

Migrants at the Greek-Macedonia border, courtesy of Wikipedia 

Long before this crisis, Switzerland, who always does things quietly, has already been receiving immigrants from Africa, mostly Eritreans, and it has been airlifting people from the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon. 

Why are there so few? It’s because the beneficiaries of these special government measures are not those who arrive at the borders. They are selected “in close cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)”. Then they are put into UNHCR-run refugee camps in Syria’s neighbours (refugees currently number 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan and 250,000 in Iraq). After that, their files are submitted to the intelligence services to ensure that no Jihadi sympathisers have found their way in. All this takes time.”

In the first eight months of this year, Switzerland received 19,668 asylum requests from all nationalities. That’s expected to rise to around 30,000 by the end of the year, a sharp increase on the 23,765 asylum requests placed last year, which was already an 11 percent rise on “ 2013 figures.”
Consider that Switzerland is a tiny country with only 8 million population and 25% are not of Swiss origin. Switzerland’s face is in fact changing as all those former refugees like Hungarians and those from the former Yugoslavian Republic have become permanent citizens/residents and are well established in this country.

I do hope that EU will come up with a solution very soon.

Here are additional links: 

Regards from Switzerland,

P.S. As I said, there is a new development everyday. In addition of the 50 Million Swiss Francs, Switzerland is pledging another 70 Million to help finance the care for the refugees in the various countries of entry or where there are refugee camps.

There is also opposition towards accepting more refugees in Switzerland from the ultra conservatives  types who are behaving quite badly against accepting more refugees – but fortunately they are in the minority and the Swiss leadership headed by a woman president, Simonetta Sommaruga is like Angel Merkel, who has a good heart. 

In times like this, it pays to have a woman to lead the country.
Read also

Tags: #refugeecrisis, #refugees, refugees, refugee crisis, Syrians, Iraqis, war, Syria Hungary, Germany, asylum

This is all for now,

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