Refugees in Europe: A crisis?

Fresh Eyes on the Refugee Crisis - image by Tom Turley

Over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. And since the conflict in Syria continues, this influx will not halt.

It is the biggest refugee crisis since World War II according to the UNHCR. The journey by sea is dangerous, the circumstances in refugee camps and asylum seeker centers are far from ideal – to say the least – and tensions between host countries make it difficult to find constructive solutions.

With such big numbers and their political, social and logistical complexities, it’s easy to feel powerless as an individual.

Still, there are opportunities. As Margaret Mead has famously been quoted:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

So with a group of young academics, we thought we should do our part. During two intensive days in Amsterdam, we brought together over 20 experts on migration and refugees. Their expertise ranged from human rights to history, and from public health to engineering. It was an international team, also including people from (former) conflict areas.

Solidarity turned out to be a central theme in the meeting, with respect to both refugees and local citizens in host countries. While solidarity and other values such as dignity and equality are stated in the EU ‘charter’, they seem to be lacking in how the crisis is handled.

We invited Adam Westbrook, a young video maker (if you don’t know him, he showed why Leonardo da Vinci was a looser, highly recommended) who visualized these ideas:

Fresh Eyes on the Refugee Crisis from GYA on Vimeo.

The meeting led to actionable ideas for our own professional communities:

  1. There are some great education initiatives in refugee camps, including learning spaces with e.g. 3D printers and other equipment. These ‘labs’ help provide tools for direct use but also to develop skills and entrepreneurship. We can help them expand and multiply.
  2. We can help individual refugee scientists (or clinicians for that matter) continue to contribute to their domain of expertise despite the circumstances. Of course, this needs some coordination but via professional associations, universities and NGO’s there are many ways to connect with refugees.
  3. We can work more with the media – traditional and new – to provide reliable facts and figures, and insert some scholarly and clinical knowledge into the highly emotional debate.

We wrote a brief report with broader policy recommendations. An example is the importance of labor opportunities for refugees and that there should be a better understanding of the current circumstances. The report also acknowledges that we should not forget the global nature of the problem. While 1 million refugees seems a lot, compared to countries such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon it is almost (but not quite) piecemeal.

And finally, we recommended to address ‘root causes’ of the refugee situation. It may be discarded as naïve or simplistic, but we shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the room: it would be much more effective to address the conflicts rather than the influx of refugees.


A huge thank you to everyone involved in this project: our impressive participants; the wider community of scholars and refugee scientists; our generous donors, advisors, provocateurs, and supporters; Tom Turley for offering the telling picture for the report’s cover; Maggie Dugan who did a wonderful job as facilitator; Tracey Elliott who helped us write the policy document; and Adam Westbrook for the beautiful video.

For further reading:
The report: Fresh Eyes on the Refugee Crisis
Turner, S. (2015). Refugee blues: a UK and European perspective European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 6 DOI: 10.3402/ejpt.v6.29328

3 thoughts on “Refugees in Europe: A crisis?

  1. Naive, this is what we are when we think we have to speak about “the elephant in the room”, as you called it, Eva. I have heard it several times…from side of very qualified people.

    I tryed several times to speak about “the elephant in the room”, in my position as the actual Human Rights task force leader of the ESTSS, without success. I proposed in fact one year ago a “Israel – Palestina psychotraumatological conference”, sponsored by the ESTSS but as I said, with no echo.

    I try here again: we, as psychotraumatologists, have to go into the etiology of the problem of refuegees: war. The end of the war is the single solution for this crisis and the prevention of millions of PTSD and other psychotraumatic problems in the future.

    Again: we have to organize a conference on the wars /armed conflicts in the Middle East just from a single and unique point of view: the psychotraumatological analysis of compulsion to violent repetition, hate as a form of sadistic pleasure, reinforcements of violente / destructive behaviours trough the war industry and some other important questions that stay outside debate.

    • Hi Paco, thanks for your comment. You mean that we should talk more about the elephant in the room, is that correct? I believe there is still a lot to gain in the area of science diplomacy and ‘border crossing’ research (& clinical) projects, to connect communities. Let’s keep working on it.

      • Yes, Eva. We have really to focuse on “the elephant…etc”. THE PROBLEM ARE NOT THE REFUGEES, IT IS THE WAR AND THE CHRONIC CONFLICT in the Middle East. We have to open an international psychotraumatological space of continous reflection and professional ideas about how the “treat”, as we would treat a complex, difficult case, the conflict in the Middle East.

        Listen, I have been reflecting a lot about this question and, despite clear economic, important interests to maintain the war, if you listen carefully to the documentary of israeli film maker Dror Moreh “The gatekeepers” you will understand much more.

        We as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses etc. have to come in contact with people working in the diplomacy, the secret services, even the military. We have to.

        I suggest that each of the people that reads this blog, writes an idea about what should be treated first in these “patients”, in this “case”. What are the most urgent issues that should be adressed?

        My first and everyone first idea: security. Without cessation of warfare there would be no solution at all, now and in the future, for the problem of refugees. We have to create places of interchange of Israeli, Palestinian, Iraqi and Sirian psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers that join efforts. Not just the american Kerry and the russian Lavrov. These people are diplomats, have no idea about clinical psychotraumatology…And this is a psychotraumatological problem what we are again considering now!

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