Three Books About the European Refugee Crisis

Two hands clinging to a fence

Today I want to recommend some non-fiction books that have helped me to understand the refugee crisis in Europe a little better than I did before. I live in the Netherlands and for years now the news has been booming with stories about refugees crossing the borders, yet I knew nothing concrete about the issue, mostly because all of these news stories were talking about the consequences of these refugees for me, as a European citizen. None of them are about what was actually going on.


What is going on?

In the last decade, more and more refugees have entered Europe. In 2015 the numbers of refugees rose so significantly, that the term refugee crisis started to appear. The origins of these refugees are very diverse, but some of the most popular countries to flee from in the last few years are Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and sadly many more. The people of these nations are dealing with poverty, political unrest, environmental disasters, or human rights violations so severe that they will risk a lot to have a chance to leave.

I think the most well-known struggle is Syria’s. It has had to deal with Assad’s oppressive regime, with badly planned Western meddling, with civil war and with ISIS. Although I will never know what it’s like to live in Syria in these horrible times, I think the closest someone will ever get is by reading The Raqqa Diaries. Raqqa is a large city in Syria, and this non-fiction book takes place during the ISIS occupation of this city. The author Samer, a pseudonym, is a man involved in a local activist group. The BBC has managed to make contact with this group, and Samer has passed on information to them, even though talking to western media is considered a crime by ISIS. The BBC has combined his information into this small book. It’s a text that, I am sure, will make even the most uninterested people care. Daily life changed drastically for Samer. He talks about the people he has lost, both to ISIS practices and to bombings. He talks about torture, beheadings, harassment and trauma. About how the relationships around him change. I’m glad this information made it out of Raqqa when it did. Although it’s a difficult read, it’s fantastic.


Book Cover of the Raqqa Diaries. It is black with white lettering.


What about leaving?

One of the options when dealing with life in a long-lasting dangerous situation, is to leave and to (temporarily) search for a better place to live. What’s that like? There are thousands of different stories here, and most we will never get to know. However, I have read two books that gave me a peek into a few journeys from the African continent to Europe. The first is Nujeen, written by Nujeen Mustafa herself and Christina Lamb. This book chronicles the journey of sixteen-year-old Nujeen from her home in Syria to her new home in Germany. Nujeen is born with cerebral palsy, a chronic illness that causes movement disorders. This means that she has to flee from her city in a wheelchair. We follow the journey she and some of her family members take, by car, by bus, by boat and by train. It’s distressing at times: although Nujeen always tries to see the positive in every situation, as a reader you can sometimes better see how dangerous a situation she is in actually is. The text is completely from Nujeen’s perspective, and sometimes I wish that I could see how for example her sister experienced their travelling. Nevertheless it is an interesting look into the circumstances of course of a disabled teenager, and the circumstances that led her to this path.


Book cover of Nujeen. It is a portrait of Nujeen smiling.


The second book is called Crossing the Sea, written by Wolfgang Bauer in German. It has pictures by Stanislav Krupar and is translated into English by Sarah Pybus. Bauer is a journalist, and in 2014 he went undercover as a refugee together with photographer Krupar. Their aim was to make the journey together with other refugees from the African continent to Europe by boat, and to report on what it’s like. Although they prepare for worst-case scenarios, they still get kidnapped and arrested, and can’t secure a boat journey for themselves. Even so, their failed expedition is insightful and stunning. We still get to hear what crossing the sea is like through eyewitnesses, because Krupar stayed in contact with other refugees with whom they were travelling. Their combined accounts, together with the impressive pictures, make for an outstanding book that shows us how dangerous, expensive and daunting a refugee’s journey is.


Book cover of Crossing the Sea with a boat of refugees.


What’s up next?

There has been a lot of discussion going on about local shelter. The countries closest to the region of conflict should provide decent shelter for all refugees, so they can’t continue to Europe. Why search a solution far away if it can be close by? Seems logical, right? Except for the fact that this is already happening. So much even that local areas are becoming highly overpopulated. While Europe has been complaining about how many refugees should be allowed to enter each country, local countries have been taking up millions of refugees. The situation is untenable, both for the countries and for the refugees. Because of the large quantity of people and small amount of money available, refugee camps are often of awful quality. Although these camps are meant as temporary support, regularly refugees have to stay in dreadful circumstances for very long periods of time.

Because I want to know more about refugee camps, the next book on my to-read list is City of Thorns, written by Ben Rawlence. Rawlence writes about the lives of nine individuals living in the world’s largest refugee camp, situated in Kenya. Is it ever humane to force people out of a welfaring country, when they have no safe home to return to? And to let them be dependent on substandard camps? I hope this book will teach me more about the possible consequences of European policies.


Book cover of City of Thorns


Have you read any of these books, or are you planning to? Do you have any extra recommendations? Encountered and interesting article, book or documentary about this topic? Leave me a comment down below.

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