The recent refugee statistics compiled by the UN estimate that 69% are men, 13% are women, and 18% are children.
“The largest single group appears to be young men, open to adventure but woefully ill informed about what they are getting into. Among dozens interviewed recently in Turkey and Greece, only a few spoke any languages other than their native tongue, and most knew little about the countries they hoped to make their new homes.” Read the full New York Times article HERE.
The unknown ahead at least holds the possibility of hope, in contrast to many situations from which they are fleeing.
When the refugee crisis began to explode in this part of the world, many talked about these bands of young men with fear lurking behind their statements, in contrast to the feelings of compassion toward families and children who were traveling.
Were we viewing each young man as a potential radical instead of a human being?
I was stirred as I looked at these groups of young men—some looked so young, like they were still teenagers. Some were traveling with companions they met along the way, others had left their home country together.
“I saw some of my friends blow up,” one young Iraqi man told me, matter-of-factly.
The challenges of integration into a host country cannot be minimized, nor the possibility that someone from a radical group may be hiding in a given group of migrants and refugees.
Still, as I was looking into these young faces, I was struck by their bravery bordering on recklessness, to find their way to a place they knew little about. What if this was my brother, my son, my nephew?
“My friends are scared,” one man approached a Croatian policeman, clearly the only one in his group who could speak English. They had just been processed in Opatovac and were waiting in line to go down into the tent city. “Where are we going?”
The policeman’s English was not very good, and he was probably under orders not to give out information. “Just start moving—the bus is coming,” he said, ushering them forward.
“But if we to Hungary, will they put us in jail?”
The policeman just kept trying to get them to move. “Go, go,” he said to them.
As the line was filing down the hill, I walked over to the man. “Don’t worry, it will be okay,” I said softly.
He looked at me, seized with relief. “Oh, okay, thanks…thank you so much.”
I did not have time to convey what I meant by that—I meant that they wouldn’t be put in jail in Hungary, nor would they be sent back to Serbia. But would it really be okay, in whatever country they found themselves in? Learning a new language and culture—at the mercy of strangers’ kindnesses and a government’s integration plan for migrants?
My response felt woefully simplistic for the complexity of the questions and situation. But at the moment, it was all I could do.