The Refugee Crisis

The Refugee Crisis

I am foreign.

I am from Berlin.

I came to England when I was 12 years old and I was welcomed with open arms.

I feel at home.


Today is about Shaich.

Shaich is from Syria.

Shaich came to Europe when he was 12 years old.

Shaich is a refugee.

He has not got a home.


Over Christmas I was fortunate enough to volunteer in one of the refugee camps in Berlin, this is when I met Shaich, who I will talk about a little later on. As many of you know Germany, under Angela Merkel’s remarkable leadership, has been the main advocate of letting refugees into Europe and every weekend a huge new influx of people from regions torn apart by war are welcomed through the country’s borders. One of the most thought provoking things I learnt whilst working at the refugee camp was of a western tendency to think of refugees collectively as a homogenous group of peoples. We perhaps assume that their sheer volume equates to a unity or  self sustained sense of support galvanised from common hardship. This assumption can lead to us not trying hard enough to integrated them. This is an easy mistake to make and one that College risks making every year with the new Lower Sixth students coming in. Surely they all have each other anyway? However when working with them, helping them and talking to them it enables us to give the crowd a face. En masse those people are not the rapists from the Cologne tragedy, these people en masse are not hidden ISIS fighters waiting for the next opportunity to blow up the West, these people en masse are just desperate human beings who deserve to live in peace without fear.

When I came to the Prep school I was welcomed with open arms. I came to England for educational reasons. It was my free choice to come over. I still love Berlin - the place I call home and go back on a regular basis for all holidays.

Shaich did not encounter the same level of hospitality. Shaich did not come for educational purposes - but to escape war. He came to stop being scared and to learn to feel safe again. It was not his choice. It was a decision forced by the bombings, executions and the brutality in Syria today. 

I remember sitting in one of the children playgroups and spotting a 13 year old boy drawing on a piece of paper. When others were watching he had a massive grin on his face, but as soon as he felt like no one was looking he rested his head on his hands and just stared at the paper in front of him. His eyes were filled with such deep sadness that it broke my heart. This is the thing in the refugee camps - you meet a lot of people with unbelievable stories. The adults are hopeful and relieved they made it this far, the little kids are blissfully unaware, but it is the teenagers that are the most heartbreaking to look at. They are just about old enough to understand what is happening, old enough to miss home, but not quite old enough to have control over their own future. This was the same with Shaich, sitting in a refugee camp thousands of miles away from home waiting to be given a new temporary home. They are in an unaware state with no influence over what is going to happen to them. Shaich is meant to be a child but really he has seen more than most adults have and is trapped in a body of a restricted teenager.

I prepared for England by packing my suitcase and trying to figure out what mufti really meant.

Shaich’s family prepared by selling their entire livelihood to pay off traffickers that would organise their transport.

As I boarded the plane and then got a taxi - Shaich had to hide in the back of a truck for days with 30 other people to then get onto a boat across the Aegean sea.

As I lost my headphones on the plane - Shaich lost something much much worse: a family member.

While I was welcomed with open arms - Shaich is still homeless five months later in Berlin.

This is, as The Economist puts it, "Europe’s biggest crisis in a generation".  I find that we need to put aside our economic judgements and act on a complete humane basis; take the example of Lebanon. It has taken around 1 million refugees, which equates to a quarter of its own population. Our countries have so many more resources! So many more people could be helped!

Perhaps I think that way because I am young. I say: I am allowed to be naive. I am allowed to think that Europe should be able to show hospitality to these desperate people. I am not saying that it will be easy. In fact it is a challenge, but as we are facing it we are writing history. In my short lifetime we have seen so much: the killing of Osama Bin Laden, more rights for the gay community, the first black president, we have fought an economic crisis, seen a shift in the world order, we have arguably lived through the end of the empire with the Hong Kong handover, we have seen the rise of the iPhone and the birth of a new king. So I say there is not much that we cannot do. This is just a new chapter in Europe’s history, we should realise that this is a chance and we should embrace it.

I came to England when I was 12 years old and I was welcomed with open arms.

Why do we not welcome Shaich and the other million refugees currently looking for a home?

No human is illegal.

Share this story