Bosnia 1992: Bombs explode in a suburb of Sarajevo near the home of a couple with a six-year-old daughter. After hastily packing, they rush to a military checkpoint, seeking refuge. They watch in horror as Muslims are gunned down in front of them, and the grim weight of their last name bears heavily upon them. When it’s their turn in line, the guard recognizes the father as a professional soccer player and lets his family through. A reputable sports career and the mercy of a fan saved that family from the fate thousands of Bosnians faced during the Balkan wars.
Denver 2015: That same father nows toasts his daughter at her wedding. At the bride’s parents’ table are a hodgepodge of relatives brought together not by blood, but by circumstance. Escaping Bosnia with only his wife and daughter, he has found a new family in America–my family–who now fill the lace trimmed tables and joyfully clink glasses.
As I watched the wedding, the unlikely story of our family’s union stirred in my memory. When this Bosnian family arrived in America, the father became a soccer coach, a position that would lead him to my cousin in Worthington. My cousins, immigrants themselves, developed a strong relationship with him, and soon, his family became intertwined with mine.
His wife was in the hospital with my mother as I was born. His daughter babysat my sisters and me, and he was a constant example of a hardworking American. My parents made sure that no holiday or family gathering passed without this wonderful family. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to know them, to love them, and to be loved by them.
With this in mind, my thoughts turn to the millions of war refugees that make up the, “biggest humanitarian emergency of our era,” according to Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Fleeing the Syrian civil war and the economic and political turmoil of the Middle East, migrants have flooded the borders of European countries. The crisis has stumped world leaders. The picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s dead body and the discovery of 50 bodies inside a truck in Austria have prodded commanders into action.
Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opened Germany’s borders to the migrants, this country alone cannot sustain the influx of migrants, and its borders closed again to curb the onslaught. Meanwhile, refugees wait in railway stations and makeshift camps.
Sarita Patel, a German living near the Austrian border, explains that the poor conditions in Hungary encourage movement to Germany. She emphasizes that many Germans are trying to accommodate the refugees, despite a fear among many that they will strain the social welfare system and present possible security challenges. Her village has transformed a hotel into an apartment building with private rooms and bathrooms for families with communal kitchens. The villagers have contributed clothing and other living essentials to the refugees. Patel reports the greatest need is for translators.
The accommodating spirit is not limited to the villages. St. Pauli Soccer Club, for example, has offered 1,000 free tickets to recently arrived refugees, while Bayern Munich has contributed $1.1 million for a training camp. Some hotels have forfeited business to house the newcomers. There are countless examples of German kindness, for as Sarita says, “There’s so much guilt in our history.”
Patel acknowledges that there is a minority of negative sentiments in Germany, especially among the urban poor. She states, “Refugees are given a lot of free things that cause jealousy and give rise to the fear that they will get more than local people.”
Germany’s initial zeal is faltering, though, as the government, “has failed so badly and has admitted to having no plan on how to deal with all the people,” says Patel. As borders close again, Patel remarks, “I didn’t even know we still had borders.”
Germany cannot absorb the brunt of this problem: it is much too great for one country. European, Middle Eastern, and American leaders need to stand by Germany in its efforts.
We cannot forget the faces of this exodus as we are overwhelmed by its immensity. This is not some other nation’s burden. It is a global one that should be met with an international response. Do not disregard the futures of these refugees, for they could become a part of your future just as one family fleeing from Bosnia changed the life of my family and me.
by Maddie Vaziri’16