By Jake Strickler, Staff Writer
What has come to be called the European migrant crisis – the mass movement of displaced persons from areas experiencing extreme upheaval (primarily parts of the Middle East, Africa, and the Western Balkan states) into Europe – is now reaching a critical mass of concern. This is due mostly to the media attention that the crisis has been receiving since this summer. We have been exposed to horrific stories like the vessels that have capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, killing hundreds; the photographs of a young Syrian boy drowned on a Turkish beach; and the deaths from suffocation of over 70 migrants locked in the back of a delivery truck in Austria. But this concern is also due to the overwhelming enormity of the problem; the fact of the matter is that millions of individuals have been displaced, both internally and externally – and without a home they will have to go somewhere. And the question of where is one that the world has so far been largely unable to answer.
Within the EU, the situation is complicated by the existence of the Schengen Zone – a group of largely contiguous countries that enforce minimal border control. More prosperous countries like Germany have been adamant about accepting refugees, while others have remained steadfastly opposed. This has led to much infighting and the heightening of border protections; Hungary has even constructed a wall along its border with Serbia to halt the flow of migrants. Coming on the heels of the Greek debt crisis, which called into question the very viability of the Euro, this weakening of another integral pillar of the European Union – the relatively free flow of citizens between countries – is becoming another massive hurdle for the region to overcome.
To gain a better understanding of the situation, I reached out to somebody who is directly involved in refugee aid. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Noah Wanebo has lived and worked in Spain for the last four years. He currently works as a business English tutor, based in Madrid. During this time, he has traveled extensively throughout Europe and, as a citizen of the EU, is deeply interested in issues affecting the region. Moved by the plight of the refugees, Noah has become involved with a grassroots organization called Madrid Loves Refugees (MLR).
This group is in its early stages, with a core base of active volunteers and additional participation “ebbing and flowing,” according to Noah. Established to help refugees transition smoothly into Spanish society, he says that MLR is “a coalition of businesses, nonprofit organizations, and volunteers seeking to aid refugees in Madrid through community outreach, awareness campaigns, donation drives, and fundraising efforts.” The group recognizes the urgency of the situation, and claims an “ethical obligation to support the dignity and human rights of refugees in any way [they] can.” This takes the form of first attending to immediate needs like housing and clothing, but also taking a look at the long view toward settlement and employment.
Noah has taken a role in the business partnership arm of MLR. Says Noah, “Our focus is on business outreach to aid in the projects and general efforts of this group. This includes strengthening our group’s connections with local, national and international businesses, as well as gaining new support through outreach. Business support at the moment does not involve finances (due to legal restrictions), but rather help with storing and transporting goods, donations, etc.” They have approached several large trans-national corporations, and in a number of cases have secured the verbal intention of aid, however as nothing has yet been finalized he has asked me not to disclose the names of these businesses. Other areas in which MLR is focusing resources are donation drives, community integration, and NGO outreach.
Currently, Madrid is housing about 200 refugees who are split between two government-operated housing centers, one north of the metro area and one to the south. MLR has had contact with a number of these refugees, including an individual from Syria who arrived seeking political asylum. This is the case for many, and as a result the centers are very cautious about allowing people to enter due to the sensitive nature of their asylum. Some volunteers have had the police called on them when attempting to enter. This person has told MLR that refugees are allowed to live in the centers for up to six months, receiving a government stipend of €100 each month as long as they are not employed. Once the six months are up (or they choose to leave the center), they are on their own for housing. Families of four or more can continue to receive a stipend of €1,000 per month for one year to help offset their expenses. This is where MLR would step in by helping these individuals successfully integrate into Spanish society.
It is unsure when more migrants will arrive in Spain due to the ongoing discussion of refugee quotas that each EU country will be receiving. The Spanish government, however, has been ready and willing to accept their share of the refugees. The leadership in Madrid has gone so far as to hang a gigantic banner reading “REFUGEES WELCOME” from the main administration building. When more refugees do arrive, MLR hopes to be ready to accommodate them, and help them transition into an environment where the threat of violence and destruction does not hang over their heads at every moment. For those involved in this crisis, this represents a shot at a life lived in happiness and dignity, which is something that every human being deserves.
I will be checking in with Noah from time to time and posting updates on the progress of MLR. I can be reached with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.