If there is any hope in history, it is the blessing of witnessing one of the countries that drove my father’s family out of Europe welcoming a new generation of refugees. As I have gotten to know a few, it puts a human face on the crisis: so many are students and teachers, just like many of us. The young woman in the photo below was studying English literature at the University of Aleppo. Often they have come alone, leaving behind families in a war zone, because their families could only send one member–or because only young men were considered strong enough to make the journey, on smugglers’ boats across the Mediterranean, and then walking for weeks across Europe. One told me proudly he had only been beaten once on his journey, in Macedonia, because he is very fast.
While most come from Syria, they are a melting pot of the woes of the world. The young man from Iran is part of the several million strong Afghan diaspora, who face continual discrimination from the Shiite government, and increasingly threatened with conscription to fight for Iran in Syria–convenient cannon fodder. Today’s English lesson was a timely reminder from an Afghan student about the conflicts we forget. He said, “I come here because there is a war in my country” and I corrected it, “I *came* here because there *was* a war in my country”–and then he corrected me: “I came here because there *is STILL* a war in my country.”
My refugee students are inspiring and resilient young people who are a resource for the countries that are smart enough to welcome them, and the best hope for their countries and the world. The Afghan boy, an orphan who turned 19 last month in Austria, was working for a radio station at home and is apprenticing as a journalist–his dream is to work for the BBC. One of the Syrians is studying German intensively so he can resume his studies in the fall–he was training as a civil engineer, and wants to be ready to return and rebuild his country as soon as peace comes.
I am grateful to have the chance to help the stranger here, and when I return I hope to contribute to build our welcome for the stranger in our own community.
Dr. Alison Brysk
Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Professor of Global Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara