Open door, open eyes

How the refugee crisis brings out the best in people – and the worst.

In one way it was much easier two months ago when the crisis hit the media mill with a vengeance. Back then we were faced with an unavoidable, seemingly unsolvable situation, and there were clear heroes and villains. The heroes were left-leaning media across the continent and countries like Germany and Sweden, who were doing the right thing and opening their borders to the poor victims, no questions asked. The villains, on the other hand, were the sizeable minority sentiments in all countries (also those two), and countries like Hungaria, Slovenia, the UK, and Denmark, who dared question the wisdom of accepting the full influx uncritically.

Since then the issue hasn’t actually gone away, but there are more nuances and thus a less clear picture in the media. Now we hear stories such as: a series of arson attacks on Swedish refugee centres; Angela Merkel dropping in polls; Austria building a fence on the Slovenian border; a Danish man who spat on refugees from a highway bridge being charged by the police; and refugees in Sweden protesting their new home because it’s too cold and far away.

When you look at some of the reader comments to the news coverage of these stories it is quite clear that not everybody is all happy and welcoming of the situation. On the contrary, these venues open, non-committed discussion seem to be a breeding ground for public anger and racism among a large number of supposedly ‘good citizens’.

People are jerks, yes, but the bottom line is that not everything is rosy. Of course the refugee situation will come at a cost, and present huge challenges to the societies where they have been accepted, reluctantly or not. In Denmark we have developed a public discourse where discussing the challenges is accepted, whereas some of our neighbouring countries still shy away from posing the difficult questions, out of fear of being accused of racism.

A naïve, black-and-white approach will not help anyone address the challenges, however. Closing our eyes to the problems in Syria is dangerous. Equally dangerous is closing our eyes to the problems of integrating the refugees who have fled from there. You can close your doors, and close your eyes. But if you do open your doors, you should also be prepared to open your eyes.

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