Saturday, June 11, 2016

Evening lectures in Salzburg
I had the honor of giving two evening lectures this last week at Salzburg University and at the local Women's Media Association. Both went well; or at least, the polite audiences led me to believe that this was the case. We discussed peace journalism vis-a-vis refugees, and our reporting refugees project in Turkey.

Refugee families alarmed at Austria's right wing politicians
As part of a peace journalism workshop this week at the Univ of Salzburg, the students and I visited with several Syrian families here about their experiences. The students' reports about this meeting are posted below. Here is my report:

(SALZBURG, AUSTRIA) Even though Jamila, her five children and husband just arrived in Salzburg from Syria just nine months ago, she’s worried that they may be forced to leave Austria because of right-wing political pressure exemplified by the near-election last month of right wing presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.

“We watched (the election), but we didn’t understand everything,” Jamila said. “We’re happy the Green Party won. In Syria, we ran away from the radicals view…We just want to live in freedom.”
As for the fear that gave rise to Hofer’s anti-immigrant party, Jamila and her friend Razan said through a translator that Austrians have no reason for dismay.

“The first thing we will do,” they said, “Is to learn the (German) language…to express our feelings. We want to work and not take money from the government. We are here for only a short period, so there’s no reason to fear.”

Despite this, and even with the Green Party’s victory last month, the Austrian government has nonetheless begun to further restrict immigration. Austria accepted 90,000 asylum applications in 2015. In February, the country announced that it would allow a maximum of 37,500 applications in 2016 (, 3/6/2016). Jamila and her family are still awaiting their asylum interview with government officials—an interview that is a prerequisite for the government to grant asylum.  She said this interview could occur in days, weeks, or months. Until then, her husband can’t legally work.
Jamila and her family live in a non-descript church near central Salzburg—the kind of unadorned building that isn’t readily identifiable as a church.  50 Syrian refugees live here. Jamila said she appreciated the welcoming environment at the church and in Austria generally. “Everyone here is calm and not aggressive. Everything is perfect,” she said, smiling. Jamila added, “We feel safe here, so we feel at home, but not the real home.”

As Jamila and Razan spoke, children darted in and out of the room, some bold enough to enter, others lurking and laughing in the doorway. These children, her five and those belonging to her friends, are the reason Jamila and many others left Syria.

Jamila said she waited four years during a “bad situation” in Syria before she fled with her family. “The most important reason is that the schools there were all destroyed. We want our children to get an education.”

No matter the circumstances of their flight, one thing that Jamila and her family didn’t leave behind was their traditional Arab hospitality. During the interview with student journalists, Jamila and several other Syrian women present invited a number of student journalists back for a lavish feast (after Ramadan). The journalists eagerly accepted the invitation.

No comments:

Post a Comment