Dutch Girl at USC: Watching the European refugee crisis unfold from abroad

Study abroad blogger Charlotte Wulff has had to watch European Commissioner President Jean-Claude Juncker's decisions unfold on TV, rather than experience the migrant crisis first hand in Europe. Flickr/CreativeCommons

Study abroad blogger Charlotte Wulff watched European Commissioner President Jean-Claude Juncker’s decisions regarding migrants unfold on TV, rather than experiencing the crisis first hand in Europe. Flickr/CreativeCommons

This past summer, Europe entered what might become known as the most monumental migration crisis in recorded history. As capacity for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in surrounding countries such as Turkey and Lebanon was reached, boatloads of desperate families started to arrive in Greece. Not all boats made it safely across the water. Images such as the now-famous picture of a drowned boy washed ashore shook the world. Greece was not able to handle the growing influx of refugees and sent them onwards into Central and Eastern Europe, from where they hoped to cross borders into the West in search of a new life.

At this time, I hopped on a plane to Los Angeles.

The situation has grown only graver since I left. Terror in the Middle East is escalating, forcing more people to leave their country in search of safety. The United Nations Refugee Agency lacks the resources and manpower to provide adequate shelter and food to all refugees. The Western European countries are regulating the flow of migrants from entering their countries, resulting in the overflow of countries such as Hungary and Serbia. The whole continent is on high terror alert following the ISIS Paris attacks, resulting in distrust towards refugees. On top of all this, winter has started — leaving many refugees out in the freezing cold.

It feels so strange to have been gone from Europe while all this has been going on. All the information I have received comes from news outlets and friends. I have not seen anything with my own eyes.

Many news outlets seem very one-sided. The UNHCR Facebook page only posts about children and elderly women — not an accurate reflection of reality. On the other extreme, several sources claim that the majority of refugees are single men who abandoned their families, most of them not even Syrian — this is also not the reality. Some articles over-dramatize the situation in my home country of the Netherlands and make you believe that the refugee crisis is all that people are talking about right now. Yet,  several of my friends have said they’ve barely noticed a difference in their lives.

There is a lot of discussion going on. Many Dutch citizens welcome refugees with open arms.  My home university’s gym was used as a temporary refugee shelter a few months ago, and I see Facebook posts of friends making care packages for incoming migrants and doing charity work to help them settle in. However, I also know that there are many communities and individuals who distrust the refugees and are scared that they will not integrate, and instead try to impose their culture on us. Since the Paris attacks and the Brussels lockdown, there is also a fear that ISIS terrorists might disguise themselves as refugees to enter the country. Even if this were true, there are still millions of innocent and often highly educated people that want to actively contribute to our community if we allow them to do so.

Maybe my view of reality is distorted by the media. After all, I have not been home to experience the refugee crisis. However, from reading articles and news reports, watching debates aired on Dutch national television and talking to my friends, I think I have enough information to voice an informed opinion.

These refugees need our help. They are regular people like you and I, risking their own and their families’ lives to flee war. I urge my Dutch and American friends alike to tell their governments that they want to help these people or donate to the United Nation Refugee Agency. Give these people a chance to rebuild their lives.