WORLD

A Stain on History, Happening in Real Time: Collective Amnesia and the European Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis hasn't gone anywhere. But news outlets and political leaders everywhere are ignoring it—and xenophobia is making it worse.

Around 2015, the so-called European refugee crisis was topping every newspaper headline. Reports of the 5.2 million refugees pouring in from Syria and other war-torn countries that year led to mass calls for mobilization to create infrastructure and support systems for displaced peoples. The photo of Alan Kurdi, the drowned three-year-old who provided a name and face to the crisis, sparked international acknowledgment and inspired humanitarian activists all over the world.

Alan Kurdi, via Medium

But that was four years ago. What has happened to those 5.2 million since then?

Firstly, there are a lot more than 5.2 million now. According to the UN, as many as 63.5 million people have had to flee their homes because of conflict since World War II; and today, roughly eight thousand people per month arrive in Greece, Italy, and Spain from Syria, Guinea, Algeria, and neighboring countries. These numbers are staggering; the lives they describe are almost impossible to imagine. But each figure corresponds to individual experience and a body that likely has crossed countless miles of ocean to arrive on European shores. Though it is impossible to generalize their stories, the majority of these people are currently stranded in liminal places like refugee camps or living as undocumented citizens without access to rights, living wages, and other protections.

According to the Aegean Boat Report, around 20 boats have arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos alone in February 2019, carrying a total of 791 people. Lesvos's Moria Camp holds somewhere between eight to ten thousand refugees; it was initially designed to hold ten. Many have been there for over half a decade, and the conditions in the camp are becoming more and more unlivable by the day.

Moria Camp, via Al Jazeera

Many refugees go through hell and back to get there. Left with no choice but to flee violence and unlivable conditions, many spend thousands of dollars on hiring a smuggler who could carry them across the sea. The journey is treacherous—smugglers sometimes have deals with authorities or even pirates, and recent reports have revealed that the journey is more dangerous than ever before, with 1,600 to as many as 2,730 people dying at sea in 2018. The UNHCR released a report which argued that although the official number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean fell last year, this was likely due to "reductions to search and rescue capacity coupled with an uncoordinated and unpredictable response to disembarkation." This in turn, "led to an increased death rate as people continued to flee their countries due to conflict, human rights violations, persecution, and poverty." As the world forgets, the little structure and safety netting that does exist inevitably falls apart.

The news is a strange beast. Some stories can dominate for months and fade out so suddenly it's almost like they never happened; particularly shocking acts of individual or random violence can consume headlines while systematic, long-term horrors can fade away, having lost their ability to capture audiences' attention. With countries like South Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan steadily experiencing mass exoduses for years and years at a time, and with the inundation of tragic stories and gory photographs from Syria, it's easy for ongoing horrors to slip underneath an ocean of facts and figures that seem too overwhelming to address.

It's also easy for governments to shirk off responsibility for taking in refugees, seeing as technically they are stateless and, therefore, are not protected by any citizenship rights. Though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees basic protections for all people on earth, it does not specify which countries are responsible for providing these protections.

But every political decision manifests in lived experiences. For example, when migrants arrive on the shores of Lesvos, they are sometimes met with volunteers who provide water and transportation to the camps. Families and individuals are assigned at random to tents, which are crammed next to each other, creating unlivable conditions.

Image via aljazeera.com

Lesvos, in particular, has an extensive volunteer population, but overall aid groups often work as band-aids, failing to heal the sources of a larger issue and failing to structure a pathway forward. Instead, aid groups and refugees languish on Lesvos, in the grey area of statelessness and global amnesia. NGOs are gradually shifting their focus to working with refugees and locals to develop long-lasting relationships and skills, which can propel migrants forward into new lives.

But in light of the antipathy many locals hold towards newcomers, and also because of the trauma, language barriers, or other struggles that migrants face, the process of adjustment is challenging and will require individualized attention, patience, and cohesive efforts. Reports reveal that the majority of refugees fleeing severe conflicts will have vestiges of trauma; the IRC reported high levels of depression and PTSD among refugees across the board.

A 2011 Oxford University study found that the best way for refugees to move forward is through integration into life in their new countries. Solutions lie in treating the wound at its source, addressing xenophobia, and fighting for fair opportunities to education, jobs, healthcare, and other vital structural support systems. On the other hand, stranding migrants in places like Lesvos—where they live in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, surrounded by strangers who may also be experiencing trauma, with no idea of if or when they will be able to leave—is a product of a collective worldwide amnesia, a refusal to see what is happening in real time.

Long-term, slow-moving challengers are not foddered for breaking news. Particularly massive floods of refugees might pique the interest of a world leader; an artist might draw attention to the crisis through an installation in a busy city; but always, the cycles of violence and erasure continue as the world gets caught up in shinier, brighter topics. But remembering and acknowledging what is happening is the first step to moving in a new direction.

Image via Oxfam Novib Academy


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City.

POLITICS

Trump's New Campaign Hotline Is a Cry for Help

Donald Trump's 2020 campaign created a hotline that makes leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.

If reports that Trump is expressing concerns to close associates that impeachment is "a real possibility" are true, there's now a hotline to provide him reassurance and support. But the 1-800 number isn't for him to call; it's for his supporters to leave him personal messages ending with "thank you, President Trump!"

The first re-election ad for 2020 aired on CNN this week, and it oddly features Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Dead-eyed, Parscale recites, "President Trump has achieved more during his time in office than any president in history." Of course, the timing of the ad begs a few questions about this assessment, as the Washington Post notes that every organization led by Trump over the last 10 years is currently under investigation.

Parscale continues, "We have a booming economy, historically low unemployment, including the lowest unemployment rate for minorities in history." At least this is a more grounded statement, considering unemployment rates reached a 50-year low in October due to the fact fewer people are participating in the workforce—due to lack of skills, opioid addiction, high college enrollment, and lower rates of female employment. To evince the viewers of this accomplishment, the 1-minute-long ad flashes some B-roll of smiling laborers at assembly lines.

"We need to let President Trump know that we appreciate what he's doing for America," Parscale says later in the ad. "That is why I need every Trump supporter to pick up a phone right now and deliver a personal thank you to your president." Closing the segment with a waving American flag, the instructions to "call 1-800-684-3043 and press 1" make leaving a message for the sitting U.S. President as easy as voting for your favorite contestant on America's Got Talent.

After the ad's first run, journalist Yashar Ali shared the video on Twitter, pointing out that calling the hotline leads to a brief recording service asking for your name and adoration for Trump's administration–promptly followed by an appeal for a campaign donation.

If callers are unsure if they want to contribute, Parscale's voice reminds them how much Trump needs their support. His crackling recording says, "But President Trump is under vicious, daily attacks from the fake news media and far-left Democrats who want to implement the radical socialist agenda." His appeals ends, "They will stop at nothing to overturn the election and remove your president from office."

So who's calling the hotline? Jimmy Kimmel called a mock number on his show Tuesday night, thanking Trump for "making it okay to use casual racism on Facebook." Twitter users shared the cutting messages they'd like the president to hear, including CNN analyst Renato Mariotti, who responded to the claim that "President Trump has achieved more in his time in office than any president in history" with sounder examples, "Lincoln freed the slaves. FDR led us to victory in World War II."

At the very least, thank you, President Trump, for creating an excellent service to drunk dial.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

POLITICS

Two Years Ahead of 2020 Election, Trump Raises $100 million

The president's re-election campaign doubled spending over the last three months.

Even with his re-election vote two years away, President Trump has raised more than $100 million towards his campaign.

The president's fundraising total, which include his campaign committee and joint accounts with the Republican National Committee (RNC), raised more than $18 million from July to September, according to numbers filed by the Federal Election Commission on Monday night. With more than $106 million at his disposal, Trump has raised a historic amount for an election this far in advance. In contrast, President Barack Obama had just $2.3 million in his bank account two years before his 2012 re-election bid.

The preemptive effort to undermine his future Democratic contender began as soon as 2017, with Trump's abnormal decision to file for re-election the day he was sworn in. There was barely a pause in his campaign's rallying tours across the country—they continued in the first months of his presidency.

Strikingly, the president's campaign committee has raised the majority of its bursting wallet from donations of less than $200. These small sums represent nearly 98% of the money he collected during the third quarter of the year. That's not to say his fundraising team hasn't sought larger donors. One check deposited in the RNC joint account for $250,000 came from venture capitalist and human blood enthusiast Peter Thiel.

Reuters

Trump's campaign doubled spending over the last three months to $7.7 million, seeking to stir up its Republican base with more rallies and online appeals. $604,000 was paid to Ace Specialties in Louisiana, the manufacturers of the Trump base's favorite "Make America Great Again" red hats. $1.3 million was paid for legal fees, which includes services related to the Russian meddling investigations, and $1.6 million was spent on advertising to a shadowy company called American Made Media Consultants.

According to the New York Times, the company was created by the campaign to purchase media advertisements as well as online fundraising solicitations. While it's not intended to create profit for Trump, the company could allow the campaign to avoid declaring precise spending details to the election commission. The idea seems to draw inspiration from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

In a statement, the Trump campaign's senior advisor encourages their grass-root supporters "and millions more like them to get out and vote in the midterms so President Trump can continue to build on his agenda with even greater success for the forgotten men and women of this great country."

Despite his success, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, reportedly raised more than double what Trump did between July and September. The $38.1 million haul is a quarterly fundraising record for a Senate campaign.

Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites.