Exploring the personal experiences of Sara Mardini and Seán Binder, two volunteers arrested in February 2018 after helping migrants cross safely to Lesvos, Greece, journalist Alex W. Palmer describes the complex situation in which aid workers find themselves in Europe: increasingly demonized by local authorities while under pressure from different ends of the international political spectrum.
Palmer traces the origins of the problem, explaining how, in the early days of the migrant crisis, the grassroots response embodied the values widely shared by EU citizens: to be a place of refuge and compassion, to create a new future from the ashes of two world wars and to set an example based on morality rather than power.
But, as Palmer finds out, that idea was never universally accepted, and it was only a matter of time before that compassion and idealism were overshadowed by anger and resentment. Many have completely dismissed the idea of newcomers. Terrorist attacks and criminal acts committed by asylum seekers have further aggravated collective feelings and heightened public unease about the challenges of integration. The topic has become a pawn for far-right media and politicians, who have helped fuel the growing anti-immigrant temper, portraying Europe as about to be overrun by foreign hordes – and aid workers as part of the problem.
A highly politicized issue, the debate around the migrant crisis continues to rage. As volunteers are targeted, what’s next for migrant aid in Europe?
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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Margaret Willison, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.