The migrant crisis: a danger for the European Union, or an opportunity to be human?

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A little girl in a red jacket is carrying her toy elephant. She is at the Miratovac Refugee Aid Point with her family, who are walking behind her.
In January 2016, a little girl is at the Miratovac Refugee Aid Point with her family. The Aid Point was set up for people to access support services and the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space, where children could rest and play with their peers and once again feel like children.

During the last few years, Europe has found itself in an unexpected situation: the migrant and refugee crisis which peaked in 2014. The estimated number of refugees in search of shelter in 2014 was 886.000 people, which was 269.400 (+45%) more than during the previous year, while in southern Europe that number reached 170.700, which was 95% more than the previous year. (Source: UNHCR)

During those times, Europe was supposed to show the world that it would turn the principles it stood and fought for during the times of stability into action. Unfortunately, Europe failed to do so and showed that it is divided more than ever.

The problem didn't appear in 2014. It appeared a lot earlier, but due to the fact that world countries turned their heads the other way instead of solving the issues in Syria (Syrians make up the majority of asylum seekers, 149.600 people, source: UNHCR), this problem turned into a crisis which the EU wasn't ready for.

Europe was supposed to show the world that it would turn the principles it stood and fought for during the times of stability into action. Unfortunately, Europe failed to do so and showed that it is divided more than ever.

The crisis came, the global solution did not exist, and most of its weight had to be put on the shoulders of the bordering countries such as Greece and Italy. Fear of refugees, guided by racial prejudice, started to develop in other European countries. As a side effect, far right political movements gained their popularity among the common people. 

That is not the EU we want, at least not the one I want. Perhaps there are politicians and people who are not supportive of migrants and refugees. Perhaps these politicians and those who think like them, haven't seen what I saw: trains and train stations overcrowded with terrified people, policemen carrying children on their shoulders, or citizens coming out of their homes to give the refugees at least an apple to have something to eat. If they saw what I did, they would not have the same opinion that they do at the moment.

The people who are coming to our doors are fleeing from war, hunger, and poverty. Do you really think that the barbed wires are a suitable answer to their cry for help?

The European Union is a group of the world's leading economies, well-organized countries with functioning social systems, infrastructures, democracy, and industries. These are the countries that can deal with a crisis like this - but only if they want to. The people who are coming to our doors are fleeing from war, hunger, and poverty. Do you really think that the barbed wires are a suitable answer to their cry for help? Or the troops armed with water cannons and pepper spray to keep people at a distance? Do you want our Union to be remembered in the history books as xenophobic rich men behind the barbed wires? During our lifetime, each and every one of us could find ourselves in a situation like they are in. Would you like to be stigmatized and ignored or helped as much as possible?

The European Union can only profit from cultural difference. Isn’t our motto "United in diversity"? The problem was never solved, only postponed. Our job is to learn something from this situation; if such crisis should ever reoccur, we need to stay open-minded and open-hearted for the people who need our help, for those who left everything they had behind, running for their lives into foreign lands. We are Europe, from regular citizens to presidents. And it is on us to build the future of the Union and create its perception in the world. The future is on our shoulders, and it is only as bright as we are.

All facts and figures used in this paper, such as numbers and percentages, are available at www.unhcr.org and www.imf.org

Matija was born in 2001 in Zagreb. He currently lives and attends school in Zapresic. He is the President of the Student’s Council and is actively involved in all school activities.

Children and young people are one of Europe’s greatest assets. For the European Parliament elections in May, Voices of Youth is running a special blogging series to ensure that the opinions and voices of children and young people and heard during the elections and by incoming European politicians.

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