Saginaw native Meredith Bieber shared what she learned about the European refugee crisis while volunteering in Bosnia and Serbia during a Traveling Tap talk Jan. 22 at Oracle Brewing in Saginaw.
The series focuses on giving SVSU students and faculty different perspectives on a range of international topics.
Bieber chose to volunteer after hearing about people seeking asylum in the Balkan states and Europe from countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Bieber said people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Somalia are attempting to flee unsafe living conditions spurred by government corruption, ongoing wars and economic struggles. The mainstream media is not reporting much on this topic, she said.
Criminal justice and sociology senior Olivia Lipskey agreed that she has not heard much about the issue.
“This is something we really need to learn more about,” Lipskey said. “I personally didn’t learn about it in school.”
To address the lack of attention around the crisis, Bieber gave a presentation to a full room at Oracle and explained the situation and how many people are truly being affected.
Host countries are housing millions of refugees collectively. Bieber’s presentation included statistics about which countries are hosting refugees from specific countries.
Turkey has the most refugees, with 3,660,000 Syrian people in the country. In Istanbul 22 percent of the population is Syrian. In Jordan, refugees make up 30.4 percent of the population. The country has 1.5 million Palestinians, 1.4 million Syrians and approximately 1 million Iraqis.
Some of the challenges facing these people beyond what dangers they are fleeing include the high risks of being killed or deported back to their home country. People are trying to reach countries like Germany, France and Belgium, but Bieber says that violence along the way could also be a setback.
“Other countries in the European Union can finance diversion tactics at pivotal borders like Croatia, Hungry and Romania that are extremely violently discouraging of refugees,” Bieber said.
In places like Serbia, travelers tend to get bottlenecked, she said.
This happens because they are outside the E.U., whose border is more difficult to get past, she explained, but once asylum seekers get through the border into the E.U., they can travel freely between most countries since they share open inter-state borders.
Bieber said that hiring a smuggler to assist in crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat or crossing segments of land in a bus is often expensive and dangerous. Asylum seekers may ride in the storage compartments of vessels in the dark for days.
Erin Fong, an occupational therapy junior, said the most compelling part of Bieber’s presentation was the explanations of how the asylum seekers traveled.
“You hear about the refugees in America, but you don’t see how much they go through,” she said.
Bieber also discussed with the attendees about the process to apply for asylum.
According to Bieber, asylum seekers in a country like Germany have to repeat their story to several people, undergo corroboration of that story and jump through several other hoops.
Shannon Sturgis, a nursing junior, said it is an extremely vulnerable action to go tell officials repeatedly while seeking asylum that you have lost everything and need help.
“It’s part of history we never see, and it makes me want to make changes,” Sturgis said.
Attendees were engaged and asked questions for nearly a half hour after the presentation.
They stayed and chatted with Bieber as well as each other about the information presented during the evening.