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Angela Merkel, here’s what it takes to be a refugee

Germany’s policy towards refugees must be determined by how its people would feel if they too were persecuted

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

This week, Angela Merkel petted a Palestinian refugee after telling her why people like her cannot stay in Germany and lead a normal life. Merkel reportedly told the girl: “You are an extremely nice person but you also know that there are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and if we were to say you can all come… Germany cannot cope”

Angela Merkel’s words contain two truths; yes, the sobbing girl, Reem, is probably an extremely nice person. Yes, there are thousands of Palestinians in refugee camps.

If Germany can’t cope, who can?

But referencing the large number of refugees who are in Lebanon does nothing but harm Germany’s case for not accepting more refugees. If a country with the fourth highest GDP in the world and has a decreasing population cannot “cope” with refugees, which country can? Are we implying that Lebanon or Jordan can “cope” or have the resources, amenities, or ability to deal with the influx of refugees from countries within their geographical proximity?

Germany’s policy towards refugees must be determined by how its people would feel if they too were persecuted

Yara al-Wazir

There are countless studies that prove that migration has a positive economic impact on the host country. Refugees aren’t ‘migrants,’ per se, because migrants can always go home. Refugees are desperate for an opportunity to live, and will go out of their way to continue breathing on this world. But I believe most refugees are as keen as migrants on contributing to advances in any new country that hosts them.

What it takes to be a ‘refugee’

The United Nations defined “refugee” in its 1951 Refugee Convention as “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it."

These days, what it takes to be a refugee has changed. It’s no longer enough to be persecuted and living in fear. It’s not enough to spend your life savings on escaping to another country and adapting to its culture, language and trying your best to fit in. The truth is that it takes a lot of luck to become accepted as a refugee; to become integrated within a new community and not get deported.

The question of refugee responsibility has little to do with whether or not a country can “cope” with refugees, and more to do with how politics can maneuver the refugee issue depending on the country. Merkel said it herself, “politics is difficult sometimes.”

International politics has made showing Palestinians any form of compassion difficult. However, it’s the voters who must determine their countries’ policies towards refugees, not international pressures.

Germany’s policy towards refugees must be determined by how its people would feel if they too were persecuted. How would they like to be treated?

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.