“Those who dream of Europe”: Šunjić gives refugees a voice | Tyrolean daily newspaper online

Das Buch beschreibt auch, wie weit die Realität oft von den Erwartungen abweicht. (Symbolbild)

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Vienna – The issue of migration has been high on the political agenda in the EU for years. While the discussion is often only about how best to isolate oneself and how to push back as quickly as possible, the migration expert Melita H. Šunjić gives affected people a voice in her book “Those who dream of Europe”. Nine case histories provide insights into the dramatic realities of life for many refugees, and in subsequent factual chapters, Šunjić discusses current politics.

In a neutral way and without emotionalising, Šunjić tells (escape) stories of refugees and migrants from different countries on different routes. She goes into the often quite understandable reasons for fleeing, describes the mostly dramatic and traumatic experiences during the escape and gives insights into the grueling reality of many upon arrival in Europe.

The short stories do not portray any real people – even if the chapters of the case stories have names like “Dorine from Cameroon”, “Djamal and Becca from Syria” or “Imani and Idris from Somalia”. Rather, they are prototypical examples that summarize repetitive patterns and experience reports from thousands of interviews. However, all the content, all the details are true, as the author and long-time press spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) emphasizes.

The picture starts to crack

All the protagonists have one thing in common: when they turn their backs on their homeland, none of them is aware of the arduous time they would expect. “Neither at home nor on the road had he ever thought that life in Europe could be difficult,” writes Šunjić about Berhane from Eritrea. Driven by a lack of prospects like Berhane or Mamadou from Senegal, war like in the case of Djamal and Becca and Karim from Syria or fear of oppression like Asif from Afghanistan or Grace from Nigeria, they set out with the aim of a better life for themselves and her family in mind.

But the closer they get to Europe, the more cracks run through the embellished image of a continent of freedom and opportunities for everyone – as it is conveyed via social media by those who have already “made it”. Here the author shows a sad and dangerous vicious circle: Out of shame, many of the asylum seekers do not report their difficulties to their families back home (no opportunity to work as long as the asylum procedure is ongoing, so little or no money that can be sent home ), let alone psychological stress (violence and torture during the flight, racism in the host country). Instead, they pretend a good, new life – which in turn motivates those who are considering fleeing to Europe.

These are of course also motivated by smuggling networks, which are becoming more and more shameless and powerful. But: Since there are virtually no opportunities for legal entry into the EU, for example for labor migration, many are “to a certain extent forced to use the services of smugglers,” explains Šunjić. The focus on border management is therefore, in their view, misleading and ineffective. One aspect is interesting here that the author only mentions in passing: According to her analysis, smuggling networks only became really active along the Balkan route after the route was closed at the beginning of 2016 – also at the instigation of Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP).

Harsh criticism of the EU

In the seven factual chapters at the end of the short book, the migration expert primarily analyzes the problems in Europe itself. She takes EU policy seriously and attests to it being “ambiguous”, since on the one hand it aims at deterrence, but on the other hand at immigration instructed (keyword harvest workers and carers). It addresses the need for sea rescue and tells which migration policy those affected want themselves.

As the reading progresses, one thing becomes increasingly clear to the reader: one hears the voices of those affected very (far too) seldom. And: Many refugees in Europe are unhappy and frustrated, but at the same time have few other options. “She used to dream of going to Europe when she imagined a good life. Today she didn’t even have dreams, just this terrible fear of life, ”says Imani from Somalia. Only one of the nine case stories has an ending that can roughly be described as “happy”. (APA)


Melita H. Šunjić, “Those who dream of Europe. How flight and migration take place”. Picus Verlag, Vienna, 2021. 208 pages; 22 euros. ISBN 978-3-7117-2095-5

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