Sammy Syed

Marc-Aurel-Straße 10
Coming into Vienna paints a scene of small cars, bikers on a commute, strollers on a walk, the tight streets, and apartment buildings in pastel. At first glance, you see a beautiful European city. As far as the purpose of the trip goes, this was a pleasant first look. The progression of our trip to investigate the Refugee Crisis in its relation to Vienna and Austria is something I have been looking forward to. The trip to the Vienna Museum was a good place to start. I love history and seeing the way Vienna has been molded time and time again allowed us to get a better understanding of Viennese history with physical objects, maps, and pieces of art but also its migration patterns and influences. I wasn’t as aware of the extent of Turkish influence in the region. The meeting with Vida Bakondy and Gerhard Milchram afterwards regarding migration exhibits at the museum was insightful; happy to see that there are incentives to acknowledge and exhibit information regarding current migration patterns and sentiments towards it. Seeing the Stephenplatz Cathedral was a great way to see one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever witnessed. Being in a space that has been suspended in the same space over centuries of war and change with its intricate beauty was a rare experience. The trip to the International Organization for Migration (IMO) was great and Katharina Benedetter was well-versed on the organization and told us about the process of processing asylum seekers, integrating them as refugees, and other information related to that. As someone who has worked with refugees in different settings and different organizations, this was familiar to me but also insightful from a European perspective. It does not work the same way in America. Here, some of those fleeing their lands come to Austria on foot and typically alert someone, usually an official such as a police officer, of their situation and then are sent through the asylum-seeking process which itself is a lengthy and complicated process. The more coordinated programs revolve around preparing those granted asylum with a place to stay in Austria and then schooling programs for basic education but also language composition and cultural training for integration. The funding for organizations such as IMO comes largely, if not all, from private donors and sponsors, which I suspected but nonetheless see as problematic as time goes on due to tinkering of circumstances on which money will be granted. I enjoyed listening to the presentation and talking with Katharina. There is a sense of trust that I found here that was unlike anywhere I have been, and that is coming from living in Wichita, Kansas and Davidson, places where people already have general trust with each other and have small town feels. No one has checked our train tickets. There is a restaurant here that is a pay-as-you-go bill system. That’s peculiar for a large city like this. A few other observations I had made were of the cosmopolitanism of the city; particularly Muslim women, with their hijabs as very noticeably Islamic, but also Turks and also people with slightly different appearances than what is considered an Austrian person (granted, we were still in a tourist city). A conversation with Dr. Ceka about the city’s and perhaps even country’s denial of such diversity is a hindering to its progression and acknowledgment of minority groups which may and probably will be an Achilles Heel in the future when such groups are, as usually, repressed and often seen as inferior to the larger homogenous society. The color videos of from the film museum were rare and an eye-opening moment; we often forget that these event happened only a lifetime ago. Our usual depiction is with black-and-white photographs and that it seems so long ago and so far away and now we are witnessing color images of anti-Semitism that took place only minutes away from where we were sitting. Witnessing the presentation from the Syrians later was something I feel is necessary; the artists agree. These are “normal” people. We tend to forget that. In the West, people throw on a label on these asylum-seekers and pity them and take them for hopeless, helpless peoples but these are people who had homes. Who had families. Who had jobs, real jobs as in teaching, acting, owning businesses. Who enjoyed watching movies and playing sports and reading and laughing. Presenting their lives and hardships is not an easy feat, being in a foreign country and in front of foreign people. But it becomes personal. It becomes immediate and action-driven. They are not just these people running from difficulties hundreds of thousands miles away; they are right in front of you. Proximity is important; the more immediate something is and becomes, the more likely you are to be concerned about it and it becomes more salient. I particularly enjoyed the discussion with Dr. Deckard and Heslin; I have not considered thinking of America’s own refugee problem, but our tendency is to reframe it as illegal immigration and bash on those escaping hardships in Central and South America. What is the difference between a refugee, a migrant, an immigrant, an expatriate, an “illegal” immigrant? Zack’s comment of how the cab driver in London mentioned that expatriates are from the States and immigrants are from Poland helped put it in perspective. Dr. Deckard mentioned the difference is between politics and economics; I was thinking the same. I thought of my own experiences as an immigrant growing up in America. How this bicultural upbringing was confusing and giving me half of the American lifestyle and half of the Pakistani one, only a fractioned experience rather than a complete one. But that itself is an experience. Not normative but nonetheless, a series of experiences that shape identity. And that the difficulty of migrants be they refugees or immigrants seeking economic refuge must be much more difficult. I must say that the history of Jews in Europe always breaks my heart. Even after all the movies, books, and lectures, it never ceases to astonish me how we let it happen. It astonishes me even more when we do not do the same for these actions taking place right now. There are more displaced people now than since the end of WWII. Slavery still exists. There is political corruption, famine, genocide, and other indecencies and crimes happening in the world as we know it today, even the United States. But I digress. The Jewish museums were similar to experiencing the refugees’ presentation. Being physically near the places of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust was intense. Educational, but intense. I look forward to the rest of the trip and the educational and cultural aspects that will come with the experiences.