Contemporary Europe faces multilayered problems which are of a wicked character and seem non-solvable (Ysa et al 2014). Raising spatial inequalities, environmental demands, security threats, populist movements, democracy crisis and the like have pushed members of the general public and policy makers to almost blame migrants or refugees for this challenging situation.
Media portray refugees in the context of being a ‘foreign policy challenge’, ‘unwanted mass’, ‘threat’ or ‘burden’, very often undermining their role of bringing information to the general public (Fourie 2007). Refugees are lumped together and presented as pure statistics, swiping off the drama and individual stories behind the numbers.
I was lucky to have lived in 6 different countries around the globe in the last decade. Soon I have figured out it was simpler to say ‘well, I’m European’, than argue whether Poland is considered Central or Eastern Europe by people who could only name 5 or 6 European countries.I referred to myself as a European because I share the values of unity, democracy, human rights and solidarity (Arts and Halman 2004) that my Europe holds. Yet, looking at recent happenings in Europe, I feel that the Europeanity I know is changing for the worse and the crisis of values is penetrating the society.
While there is a difference between my situation (conscious decision to leave homeland) and the situation of refugees (being forced to leave their motherlands) (Davies 2010), there is at least one common denominator- upon arrival in a new country one has to face the stereotypes and judgmental attitudes. At some point I would just agree that Poles drink vodka instead of water for lunch or that we only have electricity a few weeks per year, just as much as I would imagine an Afghan or Syrian not to understand why is (s)he taken for a criminal, which would be aligned with views of many, sadly. Negative images and news are hardly ever supplemented by the positive ones as public craves less for happy stories. Just to picture my argument British media has paved the path by portraying migrants and refugees of the Kingdom by presenting their positive role on British society and economy, and reducing xenophobia.
It is pivotal than people do not fall into propaganda traps that have been set up by politicians and not forget that migrants often bring enormous benefits to their adopted countries, contribute to GDP and are very entrepreneurial (Fox 2016). The strength of diversity needs to be recognized. What gets forgotten in this vicious circle is that it is not a fault of displaced people that they need to start their lives in a new place, but the inability of policy makers to find solutions that would allow to respond to the challenges that they were not able to prevent from happening in the first place.
Written by: Ania Ankowska (Development Economist and Ph.D. researcher at Northumbria University, Newcastle Business School)