My Ignorance of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

I usually don’t read the news. Local news, national news, international news–any of it. And I’m truly starting to regret that.

I used to be incredibly cynical about the world, thinking there were so many things wrong with it that there was no hope of us saving it. Then I read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a novel you’ll probably hear me reference quite a lot on this blog. This is because I fell in love with the novel’s last lines in which Mitchell confronts his readers by telling them that though their impact can only be small, it is an important impact nonetheless.

Reading this heavily affected my mindset about the world, but only to the point where I decided I should focus on one problem and work to make an impact there. And as a result I started to pay even less attention to anything other than my own ambition to make an impact.

Since I’ve been in Prague, the issue of the Syrian refugee crisis has been brought up often by my peers, friends, and professors. One of the groups in my filmmaking program has even decided to create their short film on the struggles of an immigrant.

However, what I’ve realized, as our professors have fallen more and more in love with the relevance of their film idea, the refugee crisis is not something you hear people discussing often on the streets of Prague. Granted, I’m not fluent in Czech, but it’s also something that’s easy to ignore if no one around you is talking about it as the activities regarding refugees coming into Prague are not highly publicized. I’ve found it hard to find much information regarding the Czech Republic as a part of the crisis besides their joint proposal with Slovakia to create a rail corridor between Hungary and Germany.

However, I did find an article written back on September 11th naming the Czech Republic as one of the countries that had rejected “the European Union president’s proposal for a quota system to distribute the resettlement of refugees among all member states” (IBT).

The Czech government has often claimed that there isn’t a rush to find refuge in Prague–a fact that my directing professor attributes to the weaker economy and lack of familial support the refugees will receive here. She told us that there have been few applications for refuge in the Czech Republic and according to the Prague Daily Monitor, only 69 Syrians have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic since the beginning of this year. But it’s tough to imagine that with so many refugees on the move, all will be able to find asylum in highly desired countries like Germany.

I imagine that the crisis looks different in other countries and maybe even areas in the Czech Republic outside of Prague–or I may even be looking in the wrong places. But I don’t know for sure. All I have come to really understand since I’ve been here is that the crisis is one worth noting but one that will not affect Prague as much as many other countries–at least for now.

What really got me reconsidering my position about international news, especially those covering issues like the Syrian refugee crisis, was Humans of New York (HONY). I really respect Brandon Stanton, the mind behind HONY, because he recognizes that everyone deserves to have their story told, and having realized this, he’s taken the effort to visit nonprofits and people in other countries (now, including those affected by the refugee crisis) in order to give them the opportunities to tell the world about what they have gone and are currently going through. You can tell that, despite its popularity, the endeavor, is not about him; he’s not asking for fame (a fact that became truly clear to me when I had to look up his real name for this post) but is, rather, attempting to connect us all to each other. And as I see it, his is a remarkable ambition; I don’t believe our world can continue to function well if we fail to care about what is happening in the lives and societies of the others who also inhabit this planet. But we also need to strengthen our attention spans.

While many of us joke about our inability to stay focused for long period of time, the fact is, if we care to make this world a better place, we have to care about things for more than a few seconds–more than a few days, even. Only then will it be clear that we care enough to take action. And only then can we truly work together for change.