This semester I’m taking a host of really interesting courses at UCR, including International Human Rights, taught by Professor Oomen, the Dean of UCR. Yesterday, February 12, our class was invited to participate in a debate about the refugee crisis, organized in collaboration by UCR students, and the Rotary Club Walcheren.
The debate was more of a structured conversation on two topics that were decided before the event. There was a panel of guest speakers who were carefully chosen to bring a wide variety of insight to the afternoon. In the audience sat many UCR students, along with politicians, and distinguished guests from the community, as well as a few refugees who are settling in Middelburg.
The first question that was posed for discussion was “What should European citizens and refugees expect from one another now that they are increasingly taking part in the same society?” As the moderator, Professor Oomen encouraged an initial informal discussion where everyone mingled and shared their opinion with others, not just the people they were sitting with. This unmoderated discussion, a couple of my classmates and I had the chance to speak with a member of the Dutch Parliament, and another gentleman. We had somewhat conflicting ideas, but it was very insightful to speak with people differing opinions.
Following the unmoderated discussion, the panel shared their views on the question. The speakers voiced similar sentiments, advocating for compassion and understanding being the first step to improve relations between the Dutch citizens and the Refugees. Attention was also brought to the question of whether the goal for the future was assimilation or integration. One of the statements that stood out to me the most was from a professor from UCR who quoted Franklin Roosevelt, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” I think that this is a very important notion to keep in mind when thinking about how Europeans react to the new refugees in their cities, or towns. Both old and new inhabitants of a place share common values like friendship, family, and hard work, but without an open mind, there are increasing xenophobic attitudes that are expressed.
After a short break, question two was posed to the group; “Should primary and secondary schools be obliged to pay equal attention to all prominent minority groups in the Netherlands in their curriculum?” Again, an unmoderated discussion preceded the structured debate. Again, there were insightful comments made about education by the panelists. Unlike the first question, the opinions were more varied, especially when it came to the wording of the question. The discussion also swayed between discussing the question, and discussing how education helps integrate refugees into Dutch society.
I found this question particularly interesting because I was able to relate to the question more. I think it is very important from kids to learn from each other, and that it is a very plausible proposition. While the statement of the question is somewhat extreme, and ambiguous, I do agree with the fact that there should be discussions in classes to help students to understand their peers. This question is also interesting to be because I come from a family where both my parents are teachers. When I was home at Christmas, I was asking my mom whether there were structures in place in her school board for the integration of refugee children into the school system, to which she replied there are ideas on paper that aren’t being well translated into the actual classrooms. Overall, there was a consensus that the best place to start was for refugees to learn Dutch.
After the debate there was a reception and fundraising dinner in support of the Rotary ShelterBox. Some of us UCR students accepted the invitation to the dinner where we had the opportunity to chat with other attendees, and reflect upon the debate. At table I was assigned to sat two fellow UCR students, two high school students from Vlissingen (the neighbouring city to Middelburg), a gentleman named Ali, who is a refugee from Iran, and one of the members of the panel. Dinner brought really interesting discussions, and it was really nice to meet new people. I enjoyed chatting with the high school students, and hearing how passionate they are about learning.
I’m very happy to have been able to participate in this event. The discussions were enriching and made me think of the more human side of the refugee crisis, rather than the political side of the crisis which we mainly discuss in class. As an exchange student, I think it’s important to take advantage of opportunities that are presented to you, especially when they have the potential to meet new people, and gather new perspectives.
Have you been to any interesting events recently, or are you looking forward to something that is coming up? Tell me about it in the comments, or tweet me at @AshaCGL
Song of the Week: Ongeveer – Eefje de Visser
There are so many good songs that I’ve been listening to this week, so here’s an English one as well
Make My Love Go – Jay Sean ft. Sean Paul