Teaching the Migration Crisis

“Refugees Welcome,” Regensburg, Germany

Riding the 21 bus from the Altstadt of Salzburg, Austria, to our comfortable rooms at Haus Ballwein, just where the fields begin at the edge of the city, we stopped near the wonderful Augustiner monastary-brewery. The rear double doors opened to let a grandmother push her stroller onto the bus.

Standing there, holding my rolling suitcases, I was struck by the emblems of the Red Cross, emblazoned over a dilapidated building. On its gates, stenciled paintings of running figures and the words, in English, “Refugees Welcome.” We had stopped outside a center for people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other nations in crisis.

In Regensburg, Germany, we had seen similar signs. Outside Jyväskylä, Finland, where we are living until July, unaccompanied minors, mostly Iraqi I’m told, live in a camp, their futures uncertain. In Oulu and Turku, an anti-immigrant group calling itself “Soldiers of Odin,” patrols the streets. A new chapter has appeared in Estonia, despite the fact that that country hosts virtually no refugees at all.

The current “migration crisis” gripping all of Europe is a topic all students deserve to wrestle with. What is to be done to help settle the millions of people roaming Europe, cut lose from their homelands by war, instability and economic uncertainty? What of the millions more taking shelter for who-knows-how-long in camps and cities across the Middle East?

IMG_4672.jpg“Kein Mensch ist Illegal” (“No Person is Illegal”), Regensburg Germany

This is not an issue that will soon disappear. Politicians from the US to Hungary to France will make or destroy their political careers by responding to this new, mass migration–as well as the others already underway around the world.

And how many people will be forced to leave their homes in coming years as the impacts of climate change become more widespread? According to the World Bank, “In Bangladesh, 40% of productive land is projected to be lost in the southern region of Bangladesh for a 65cm sea level rise by the 2080s. About 20 million people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are already affected by salinity in drinking water.” Bangladesh alone could produce millions of climate refugees.

Upper-secondary students will have a chance to weigh in soon as voters, as politicians seek to protect or transform challenged notions of national identity. How can young people learn to evaluate this issue?

Here are some questions for students to consider:

  • What rights do people have to cross international borders in time of crisis?
  • Do people have a general right to move freely throughout the world? Why or why not?
  • What are the international agreements on this issue? (Look here.) What do you feel is the morally just answer?
  • When can a nation rightfully announce it can take no more refugees or migrants, no matter how worthy their need?
  • Should nations refuse entry to refugees but still admit wealthy or skilled foreigners seeking to immigrate?
  • Should there be a global agreement to collectively fund long-term refugee support efforts no matter where the refugees initially go?
  • What determines if a person a “refugee” or a “migrant?”
  • Should unaccompanied minors, migrating across international borders, have different rights than those with adults?
  • What is my country’s policy for taking in refugees?

There are, of course, many more important questions for students to ask. As an American, I wonder why the Finnish government is facing tough questions regarding migrants from Iraq while my government is not. This just doesn’t seem fair, somehow. Why should Germany take in so many more people than France or the UK? Should the EU be paying for the maintenance of its southern border or is this the responsibility of the (often poorer) nations that happen to be situated there?







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