Crossing the border into Germany

“It’s not a refugee crisis, but a politics crisis,” stated an education and history student at the University of Hamburg, “Refugees aren’t the problem. The war is.”

During my time living abroad I’ve come to see the people of Germany as caring, passionate citizens who want to see their country continue to grow as refugees enter the country. I took some time to interview students at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Although open and willing to answer any questions posed, the students wished to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

According to the Washington Post, more than a million refugees crossed the European border in an attempt to flee the Middle East and the Syrian war. Today it’s one of the major points no one can stop talking about, especially students.

So why are so many refugees coming specifically to Germany?

“Germany plays the ideal role for how other countries should behave,” said a psychology student. “Germany doesn’t have border controls like Sweden, Denmark or Turkey.” Although once considered “one of the most welcoming nations for refugees,” Sweden has since implemented new border-control requirements. A similar situation has arisen in Denmark, in which people are required to “show valid identification…for the first time in more than half a century.” Meanwhile, Germany’s borders remain completely open.

Though the majority of the refugees are coming from Syria (53 percent), many come from all over the Middle East–14 percent from Afghanistan and 3 percent from Pakistan. The education and history student is also an Afghan native-they felt easily relatable to the refugees: “We’re first seen as people who created more problems. They didn’t speak the language, and people believed they were taking jobs.” As an immigrant, the student believes this generalization is false. Interviewed students agreed that media chaos is to blame for the confusion. Only looking at one source doesn’t give the full story. “The first step to helping is to understand the war in the Middle East.”

“Yes,” replied a friend and fellow law student. “The media has the biggest responsibility, but most people in Hamburg only read the local Zeitung (newspaper) or Morgenpost (morning post), [which] doesn’t give the full picture.”

Both students agreed that there are pros and cons to social media. Media outlets like Facebook and Twitter set the stage for what the world cares about, whether it’s the refugee crisis or, more recently, the Paris attacks. “Before the photo of the drowned toddler in Turkey, no one really cared about the refugees.”

Another social-media outlet that majorly influenced perspectives of refugees is Humans of New York. HONY was created by Brandon Stanton, a self-made photo journalist. Stanton traveled to multiple Middle Eastern countries to learn about and portray individual refugee stories. One of the students felt that though many media outlets “exaggerate the situation and focus only on the criminals,” at least there is more focus on how to treat the refugees as people.

Following suit with the rest of Germany, the University of Hamburg has implemented programs to help incoming refugees. The education and history student became involved with teaching seminars about learning German as a second language. After looking into German law and human-rights issues, the friend believes that “[they are] finally studying something actually important.”

However, there is still a long way to go until the situation is completely resolved. Most students want to help, but it’s hard to set aside extra time from their busy lives. “[I wish] there were courses that gave time to help while also giving credit,” commented the psychology student. “It’s not enough just to volunteer. We need paid jobs for more incentive.”

There is a clothing-donation center near the University of Hamburg, Messehallen, at which students can spend a minimum of 30 minutes sorting clothing for refugees donated by the people of Germany-but this is still volunteer work. Nonprofits such as Flüchtlingszentrum (The Hamburg Refugee Center) also offer resources such as cultural information, German courses and residence-permit help. Only time will tell how these efforts will impact Germany’s future as a whole.