A changing world

Like it or not, the world is changing in ways that will bring people of different cultures together. Europe is currently facing a migrant crisis. Huge numbers of refugees are arriving on the borders of European countries looking for safety and the possibility of normal life. The difficulties faced by these people brings them closer to us. It is becoming more difficult to simply turn one’s back on people’s suffering.

Western countries are facing the problem of increasing numbers of migrants. These desperate people are seeking refuge from poverty, disease, or violence. Often, it seems, western countries have caused the problems. Photo. By Irish Defence Forces [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Most of these refugees come from the Middle East (for example, Iraq and Syria), South-Central Asia (for example, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh), or Africa (for example, Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan). Most are men but there are also large numbers of women and children.

People in London in 2002. They were protesting against the idea of a war against Iraq. They said it was impossible to force people to become democratic and that the goal of the war was just to steal oil. In spite of the huge numbers of protesters, the war went ahead. We are still living with the consequences today. Photo. By Users AK7, William M. Connolley on en.wikipedia (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

What is causing this incredible movement of people? In some areas there is a long history of starvation, desperate insecurity, and disease associated with poor infrastructure. Imagine living in places where there is the constant threat of civil war, where little or no medical treatment is available for a wide variety of medical problems.

Medical conditions in poor countries are often beyond our imaginations. The guinea worm infects dirty water supplies and grows inside infected people’s bodies! It then digs its way out, usually through the skin of the foot or leg. Although there is no medication or vaccine, the guinea worm has almost been eradicated by educating people and improving the water supplies in areas where there is a problem. Photo. By CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, more than half of the migrants are currently arriving from Syria. The chaos in that country can be directly traced to military actions started by western countries. In May 2012, dozens of American war veterans threw away their medals; they claimed that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, were unjust. They said that the goal of these revenge attacks, staged after the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, was merely to steal oil and profit from people’s misery. British veterans have done the same thing. According to the war veterans, western militaries have been committing murder and torture. They say that these wars should themselves be regarded as terrorist actions. Is this exaggerated, or are our leaders often bad people who we cannot trust? Maybe we need to try harder to understand.

After the 9 11 (Nine One One) attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets in 2001, a US-led coalition led a series of revenge attacks. Photo. By UpstateNYer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In any case, there is little doubt that these revenge attacks created incredible chaos leading to a dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees coming to Europe. Can we blame people for wanting to escape to safety? To understand problems of cross-cultural communication, it will be necessary to understand that people often come from countries where the situation is very different from the situation we experience. In the poorest developing countries, disease is a terrifying daily presence. Malaria still kills close to a million people a year. It is unlikely that better medication or vaccines will be developed to save people. Unless we can find straightforward ways to improve people’s lives in poor countries, we cannot expect people to be happy to stay at home.

Malaria causes the death of close to a million people every year. There is no vaccine, and the malaria parasite sometimes develops resistance to drugs, making it even more difficult to treat. Photo. By National Institutes of Health (NIH) (National Institutes of Health (NIH)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The solution seems easy to state: stop causing wars and try to really help people. Don’t just try to profit from other people’s problems while pretending to help them. However, actually achieving this is incredibly difficult. First of all, it requires us to honestly try to understand people from other countries as real people facing real problems.

Anyway, check out the PowerPoint slides here.