The Refugee Debate in Europe

From ARK CEO, Alistair Harris.

I am currently in Sweden, where, as in the rest of Europe and beyond, there is intense and understandable debate about refugees, migration and social cohesion. Research routinely shows that accepting refugees provides a net benefit to host countries, but in times of economic or political stress, people look for simplistic solutions and scapegoats for broader societal challenges. In Lebanon, a country where the refugee population is now the largest per capita in the world, we have spent the past 18 months carrying out wide ranging research for the United Nations to understand if and how the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fuels tension and sectarianism. What we found is that the more exposure people and communities have to Syrian refugees, the more accepting they are of them.

Prior to travelling I got in touch with an old colleague, a Syrian refugee and artist with whom we worked in Turkey. He informed me he had just become a Swedish citizen, was busy working in the arts and had just written his first book, in Swedish. This got me thinking of the many Syrian former colleagues we have worked with and what their status and achievements say about refugees and migration at a time when this topic is so keenly debated. Late last year in Toronto I met up with an old Syrian friend and colleague who is now living in Canada. Two of the projects he worked on ended up at the Cannes film festival, yet his journey to Canada took him from Turkey to Greece on the smugglers’ boats before eventually finding safety in Canada. Today he remains an artist with a new found love of rap – his first album will be out any day.

Another colleague was imprisoned and tortured in Syria for seven months, before eventually fleeing to Turkey where he used comedy to undermine the appeal of extremists. Today we are working together in Europe to support the integration of Syria refugees and promote tolerance, inclusion and social cohesion. A further colleague worked for years inside Syria as a citizen journalist, and now as a Turkish citizen he continues to amplify the voices of those impacted by conflict by supporting partners in Yemen seeking to show the reality of life in a country where 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance. And finally, one of our partners was welcomed by France following the murder of her husband by Islamic State, and today she works with us to reach and assist at-risk women inside Syria. 

These refugees already enrich the societies that have welcomed them, whilst retained their pride in being Syrian and their desire to help those impacted by the country’s devastating conflict.

Dom Spiers