Over the past four years, European countries have accommodated more than a million people–children, women, families–fleeing from war both in the Middle East and in Africa. This wave of migration has caught a lot of attention and has become a loud topic of conversation in news, schools and also among politicians. Along with the attention are a lot of negative discourse concerning social stigmas against refugees. As a student in international studies and having lived in several countries in Europe, I have consumed a significant amount of mass media coverage, have overheard and took part in casual discussions, and have become a spectator of how people view and approach this phenomenon which has been commonly labeled as a “refugee crisis”.
In conversations about migration and war, I often notice that people typically say similar (bothersome) remarks. “They’re letting that kind of people into our country” –a recurring statement. I tend to divulge in overheard conversations of friends and respond, “What do you mean by ‘that kind of people’?” To which they say, “Well you know, Muslims”. My “So?” tends to be greeted by judgmental faces as if I was the ignorant person in the room.
Words fail me.
Over the past few years, I noticed that the wars, especially those in the Middle East, and the way the media portrays victims of war who end up seeking asylum in many parts of Europe have created among the general population a negative (if not sad) image of refugees.
Over dinner with friends, I overheard someone refer to the migration crises as “dangerous”, followed by “they’re bringing extremism to our country.” I was seething. At that moment, I had to make a conscious decision to keep calm and to stop myself from rudely stepping out of the room. Hearing people within my social circle say such remarks and hearing some of my friends refer to refugees as “that kind of people” is not only frustrating but also disappointing. It saddens me to think that there are perhaps many others like them who probably just know very little about the issue, but choose to jump to conclusions and place victims of war in a bad light. Experiences like this remind me of the importance of discourse and of understanding the dignity of the human person.
In chapter 6 of the WYA Certified Training Program, St. (Pope) John Paul II and William McGurn showed through their writings how one’s idea or vision of the person has the power to influence movements and policies. I believe that when it comes to wars, how we uncover the facts, how we approach the issue, and how we prioritize the dignity and well-being of all persons involved are of prime importance in creating productive discourse. If we do not foremost see persons as persons, then we are missing the point of all our efforts in trying to solve crises like this one.
I find it worrying when people see refugees or just anyone as burdens to society. I understand that this is a complex issue that a country–or the world, really–cannot solve overnight, or even in a year, but not placing the human person at the center of concern will not bring us any closer to achieving the common good either. But if there is any consolation to the fact that there are still plenty of people who share this faulty understanding, it is that it disturbs me enough to motivate me to take a stance and to get involved.
October 12, 2018
Written by Stephanie Ingrid Höglund, a volunteer at the WYA Asia Pacific office