Dr. James Willis, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies, is currently in Germany for two reasons. The first is to conduct guest lectures at four German universities. The second is to produce a story and photo gallery for the The Oklahoman newspaper about the refugee crisis that Germany and much of Europe is facing.
Refugees began fleeing to Germany last summer but have been arriving in smaller numbers since 2011 when the Syrian Civil War began.
Germany, according to Chancellor Angela Merkel, will take in at least 800,000 refugees in 2015 alone. This means that the country is letting in more refugees than any other European nation. The majority of those refugees have already arrived, but the country is quickly running out of room and resources.
It is estimated that 4 million Syrians will leave their country to find asylum.
“Sweden and Austria are also offering asylum to the refugees, most of whom are from Syria and Iraq. But apart from Germany and these two countries, the rest of the European Union countries are not taking many,” said Willis. “France has offered to take only 24,000, while Great Britain is only taking 20,000 over the next five years. Germany is pushing hard for these other European countries and Britain to take more.”
While in Germany, Willis is visiting the refugee sites where people from Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries are being housed and cared for. He is conducting interviews with key people in the hopes of publishing stories and photos that will bring awareness to America about the refugee crisis in order to encourage people to help.
Before Willis became a professor, he was a full-time journalist in Oklahoma City and Dallas. He has continued to write for The Oklahoman as a special correspondent and has covered stories like the Oklahoma City bombing and the three anniversaries of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“I love doing this kind of work because it does help people in need,” Willis said. “The world has to know these crises exist before people will kick in and offer help.”
Willis said he believes the ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris may relate to the refugee crisis.
“This open immigration policy in Germany may come under fire this week following the deadly attacks in Paris Friday night,” Willis said. “It will be a test of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s resolve to see if she can continue welcoming up to a million Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq.”
“The question is whether you deny asylum to hordes of people fleeing terrorism themselves because there might be a couple Islamic terrorists slipping in with them,” he added.
Organizations such as Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders are currently offering aid in Germany, as well as many local volunteer groups. Police officers and soldiers are also on the scene in order to keep the refugees safe and secure in these emergency accommodation sites.
According to Willis, there are many heart-breaking scenes of loneliness and families that are trying to keep their children safe.
Germany is trying to bring order to the process, but winter is coming, which means that things are only going to get harder for refugees who are awaiting permanent registration.
Once refugees complete their registration, a process that takes about two months, they may choose to remain in the country permanently.
Once they are registered, the German government will help bring over their immediate family. It is very expensive for someone to get out of Syria, which is why often only one family member flees.
Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees is controversial among Germans. The population is fairly evenly split over whether they approve of bringing in almost a million Muslim refugees in such a short period of time. Some worry about the long-term effect it will have on the German culture.
The situation is dire for these refugees. They are seeking a safe haven from the bombs and shootings in their home countries. Many of them are well educated and want to continue their schooling and university studies in Europe. Overall, 3,400 refugees have drowned or are missing, and 70 children have died crossing the ocean to Greece.
“By all means, the U.S. should take in more refugees—not simply because it is in keeping with who we claim to be as a nation, but because, unlike Greece, we can afford it,” global studies professor Dr. Richard Slimbach said. “Those refugees are, according to Matthew 25:40, at least our neighbor and in some mystical way Christ himself. Ultimately, Syria must be made habitable again and that is a far more difficult task.”
Within a year, refugees will represent one percent of the German population. The country is the size of Michigan and currently has a population of 80 million. One in three refugees are children and some are unaccompanied. They were sent to Europe by their parents in order to evade bombings and other harm.
“One of the easiest and most effective things Americans can do is to get on Facebook and Twitter and start talking about this refugee crisis,” said Willis. “The buzz has to get going, because a lot of people are in dire need over here. They are victims of wars their governments started. They didn’t want to leave home, but they had no choice.”