Waiting: Observations on the Refugee Crisis

America suffers from a severe case of Macrophobia.

Don’t panic. It’s not fatal, but it does have a huge effect on the way we live our lives. Macrophobia is the fear of waiting. Waiting at Starbucks. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for a table at a restaurant.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

– Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

“Fear” may be an exaggeration of the condition, but Yoda does have a point. What I feel is the majority of Americans equate waiting with suffering. They think, I could be doing this or that, but woe is me I am stuck in this line at Costco. Perhaps it’s our focus on productivity from which this fear stems. It’s not that we hate waiting. We just hate missing out on alternatives. It’s the same thinking that drove the success of overnight shipping, HOV lanes, and the Disneyland FastPass. We put so much effort and so many resources into alleviating our fear.

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the massive refugee crisis happening in Europe right now. This is a crazy time to be studying abroad in Denmark, to see the European nations struggle to control influxes of refugees first-hand and to see the reaction of locals, all while trying to understand the complexities of this crisis.

The Danish government has more or less turned a cold shoulder to the refugees. Even rumors of a Danish anti-refugee campaign have been circulating. However, Denmark’s largest refugee problem is actually the vast number trying to pass through to Sweden. Sweden was the first European country to offer refugees permanent residency and therefore has a welcoming reputation throughout the refugee community. Many have family members already settled in Sweden and are hoping to reunite with them. Not to mention, Sweden is offering asylum to almost five times as many people as Denmark and offers far better social benefits to refugees. But getting there is much easier said than done.

Denmark is considered the bridge between Northern Europe and the Nordic countries, which makes it the best route to Sweden. The Danish-German border has been under increasing pressure to document refugees and back in September stopped vetting them altogether in response to the overwhelming traffic. Since then, the Danish, German, and Swedish governments have developed a vetting system that requires all persons traveling between these countries to present a passport. This may not sound like a big deal to Americans, since we must always show our passports whenever we leave the county, but Europeans pride themselves on the Schengen area’s open borders and are concerned about the travel restrictions imposed by this new policy. It would be like needing a passport to cross from Montana into Idaho; a reasonable frustration.

The relevancy of the crisis to my host country has kept me fascinated enough to pay attention. I’ve read articles and I’ve seen the news, but I am by no means an expert on all the causes and effects of the crisis. My experience with the refugees has been mostly passive, so in my recent travels between Denmark and Sweden I was taken aback by the very real refugees I saw in the train stations and cities.

Just waiting.

The red cross had donations stations set up in both the Copenhagen and Stockholm Central Stations. I managed to snap a picture of the heap of clothes, toys, and food that awaited the refugees that managed to make it to Copenhagen.

Gathered in groups and surrounded by giant IKEA bags full of food and clothes, you would never know how long they’ve been traveling. Unlike the silent stone-cold faces of those hurrying past them, the refugees were talking, laughing, and simply enjoying eachother’s company. For everyone else in the train station waiting was an inconvenience, but to them it looked more like a relief, an opportunity.

Walking out of Stockholm Central Station we made our way through lines and lines of excited refugees, anxiously looking past us in hopes of making eye contact with their newly arrived loved ones. Who knows how long they’ve been waiting. Days, weeks, maybe even months.

The journey is still long for those waiting across Europe; their losses are immeasurable. Each refugee carries a different story. Some traveled by boat, by car, by foot, by train. Some have even seen their loved ones perish. Some are alone. Some are young, some are old, some are somewhere in between, but they are all survivors of horror. Of true fear. Of experiences we Americans cannot fathom. When our biggest frustrations stem from long lines at Costco.

If anyone is so desperate to escape anything that they are willing to risk their lives in inflatable boats, walk hundreds of miles through unfamiliar countryside, and wait for days at train stations and borders, then they have my full and unconditional support. Waiting can be hard, but leaving everything you know and risking your life is harder.

Appreciate the moments you have to rest. Appreciate the moments you have to reflect and to take in your surroundings. If you’re sitting in traffic, turn on the radio, listen to some new music. Call your family, tell them you love them. Do something nice for someone. Waiting gives us a chance to do all the thing we sometimes forget to do in our busy lives.

Just don’t forget, we are all human.


To read more about my experiences, check out my personal blog: www.tessatakesatrip.wordpress.com


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