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