Experiencing the Refugee Crisis Firsthand

Vienna, Austria

By: Jonathan DeMeo

Myself and a small team from our university made our way to Vienna, Austria in August 2016 to explore the complexities of the refugee crisis in order to elevate our understanding of this situation. Our goal was to create a short documentary that would both inform and inspire university students to take action. We centered the story around Vienna due to its geographical positioning in Europe, our on-the-ground contacts, and its rich history of working with refugees. We knew that the crisis looked different now than in early 2015 so we wanted to understand and learn as much as we could. Each refugee we met had a unique story of their journey. Some dealt with hardships that brought them to a near death experience, while others had a more “routine” journey to safety. Each would share their emotions, feelings, and what they left behind as they fled due to war, persecution and economic hardships. We met refugees that were fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran.

There was always a longing to go home and return to the time their country was stable and peaceful. This was not a vacation for them and not somewhere they desired to “overtake”, this was a refuge due to the fact that their homeland was unlivable. These were people with careers, education and families that so desired for life to be restored back to normal and to return to the country they love. One Syrian refugee said,

“For sure if the situation gets better in Syria, I will go back with no doubt after a while. And for sure I am not going to remember these difficult days, I am going to remember the beautiful days of Syria.”

Among the many ideas and themes that we learned about the refugee crisis, one stood out to us, and that was that these refugees are constantly in a state of waiting. Arriving to Europe is not the end of their journey, in many cases it is just the beginning. They have to navigate life in a country where they don’t speak the language, engage with local officials and the government to secure their asylum status, sort through how to live on a small stipend due to the fact they are not allowed to legally work until they receive the correct status and paperwork, and other intricacies of living in a foreign country. Not to mention many of them have been ripped away from their families and left with nothing to try and rebuild their lives and bring their family back together.

In the midst of a refugee trying to figure out how to survive, countries are imposing new regulations and rules upon them that are constantly shifting and changing. Some are being removed from countries and moved to another due to a shift in the political stance or new legislation being passed. What seems to be forgotten in the midst of a large-scale crisis like this is that at the very center are children, families, and individuals who just want to live in peace and security. This, we must not forget.