Are we finally seeing refugees as…people?

The current refugee crisis, more so than any other case documenting the mass influx of migrants, has drawn the world’s attention – unmasking the refugee, revealing them as human.

baby

Image featured on The Huffington Post.

This picture says it all. The sheer joy of this child made me cry.

After days of camping out in Budapest’s central train station, about 8000 refugees pulled into the Munich train station, welcomed by Germans in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to The Huffington Post.

German chancellor, Angela Merkel has welcomed over 750 000 refugees into Germany. Dope Pope aka Pope Francis has also urged EU Catholic congregations to provide shelter to refugees.

But are refugees ever really welcome?

Upon a recent visit to Berlin, I stayed in the neighbourhood of Neukolln – boasting the largest immigrant population in the city. Headed for a day of sightseeing, I spotted this graffitied wall:

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“Refugees Welcome”. It caught my attention. Why?

The word “refugee” in line with the word “welcome” is an odd combination. We have been taught refugees aren’t welcome. They are merely tolerated. A problematic bunch of misfits who will only disrupt the status quo. Thus, refugees are victim-blamed.

Stefano Hatfield recently wrote an article for The Independent on the crisis, asking: why aren’t we angrier? We have scrolled past graphic images of the Syrian civil war on Facebook, have mourned the death a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy online; and have seen countless photos of desperate faces illegally crossing borders. Still, it remains a foreign concept, these Syrians…

What is a refugee?

The biggest problem lies with defining what a refugee actually is. Both in our minds and in law.

On the most basic of levels, a refugee is a human who has been forced to leave their country of origin. Someone who has lost everything. They fear for their lives, desperately trying – with limited power – to stay alive. They have the same needs as Westerners do (can you believe?), that of shelter, security, food, water, love, comfort, a toilet, respect, a job, a community, etc.

Due to the incredibly publicised nature of this crisis, the world’s eyes have been opened to an extent to the human behind the refugee mask. Seeing refugees as more than brown-skinned, third-world tyrants bound to reek havoc on the wealthy’s way of life.

Thing is, refugees have always been hidden: not seen or heard from. Now you simply cannot avoid them anymore. They are staring the world in the face, saying: “Listen”.

Still, most of the EU continues to fear the refugee soon to be their neighbour, colleague or perhaps even friend. Because they see them as different and because of a fear to change. Selfishly reserving spaces just for themselves.

Much like the “Luister” documentary revealed about Stellenbosch.

Exclusion is the ultimate form of disrespect.

Be proud of your culture, nationality, religion and language, but not at the expense of others. Maximize utility.

There comes a point when you have to look at yourself and say: “stop being such a selfish pig”. Sure it keeps you happy. But good people are out there suffering, and dying because of our lack of respect.