Claire Nieusma

The elaborate and historical buildings lining the streets of Vienna make the city’s European ties and history immediately apparent. Its underlying political issues and tensions surrounding migration are not visible to the casual observer, which is why I am grateful for this opportunity to learn about the migrant situation in Austria through multiple perspectives. These approaches have enriched my understanding of the situation and given me a new lens to observe the city that I would not have experienced through only inside the classroom.

Even our informal conversation with a refugee from Syria named Jack gave us some insight into his personal experience with the difficulties integrating in Vienna. He admitted that the Austrians are closed off and not easy to get to know, his experience connecting to what we learned about of the difficulties of integration particularly in Austria.

I am fascinated by the concept of identity and how central it is to the migrant situation for both the natives and newcomers. As Dr. Ceka explained to my group over coffee yesterday, identity is a fluid concept that can change over time and also be heavily shaped by political influences. Even though identity is not fixed over the long term, the perception of identity has significant implications for those that it includes and excludes. Today, it has created negative feelings toward migration, as many Austrians feel that their national identity is threatened by the number of asylum-seekers entering the country. New migrants are separated from this perception of identity, creating large barriers in their integration into society.

I find it interesting how identity has serious consequences on migration and the treatment of migrants even though it is made up through perception. Similarly, Dr. Deckard’s discussion with us has made me question the definition of a refugee. I had not considered before that classifications of migration are in reality a spectrum, though this difference is essential to understanding how to deal with the current refugee situation.

I had believed that refugees could be more concretely defined without considering the fact that the variety of individual situations make classifying refugees difficult. The subjective nature of the term refugee and the circumstances that constitute refugees translates into confusing migration policy applications, as we learned about in Dr. Bruce Leimsidor’s lecture. I had not known the amount of chance involved in the process of obtaining refugee status. Obtaining refugee status largely depends on the particular individuals interviewing asylum-seekers and reviewing their applications. Circumstances that may qualify one as a refugee according to one person may not for another.

The lack of clear classifications creates unfairness in the current system because every situation cannot be assessed in the same manner everywhere. Our interdisciplinary approach has placed the refugee situation in a broader context, leading me to also realize that the issue is not entirely unprecedented in history. Conflicts between “outsiders” and “insiders” have always existed, and the city of Vienna has not been immune to these struggles. Our visit to the Jewish museum today highlighted this point. The Jews were migrants to Vienna who were excluded by society, and their situation was also exploited by politicians- they were the “scapegoats” for many problems in society. Even though the Viennese were also migrants, natives are identified in part by the timing of migration. I learned how identity shapes these separations despite its fluid nature as a concept. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of how politics affect the lives of real people. Approaching the issue of migration from multiple perspectives on this trip, including individuals with personal knowledge and experience, however, has made this fact even more evident.