SA/TO Down South by Ava Feer

A letter from Jacob: Even before the revival of the Swizzle, SA/TO Down South has been a cornerstone of SWUSY. It’s changed through the years and had many different authors, but at its heart SA/TO Down South has always maintained the same goal: to educate the region about Social Action issues in our region, in our country, and across the world. Everyone who writes for it has the freedom to explore whatever topic they want. This year’s inaugural SA/TO Down South was written by Ava Feer, a member of the SA/TO Squad, from HouJew. She explores one of the biggest topics of the last year, and touches upon the Jewish idea of welcoming the stranger.

The refugee crisis that emerged in the autumn of 2015, that was caused by violent conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan has left hundreds of thousands of refugees surging toward mainland Europe, one of the largest human migrations since World War 2.

Refugees trying to escape the wars in the Middle East and Central Asia have faced many hardships. Thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean. Many have been exploited and abused. Others have spent days stuck in freezing weather trying to cross various European borders. This crisis has shown the best and the worst of humanity and ordinary people have turned out to help the refugees as opposed to others who have exploited and shunned them.

Even though I am just seeing this tragedy on television, I am struck by the refugee camp for Syrians fleeing their homes. Whole families live in squalid conditions. Parents have no way to make money or provide for their kids and their children cannot go to school. I saw one interview in which the father of a family says he wished they never left Syria. This was shocking since the prospect of dying there was better than living in a refugee camp with no future.

European governments have been muddled in their response to the crisis. The Hungarian government built a fence along their border to keep migrants from traveling through Hungary to get to Germany. Balkan countries such as Serbia and Croatia responded by allowing migrants to travel through their land to reach other countries. Most northern European countries have welcomed migrants but recently Sweden and Denmark announced an increase in border controls and there is clearly opposition across Europe to taking more refugees.

The countries migrants travel through are small and poor, and some of them simply cannot cope with the sheer number of migrants. My mother is Croatian and I know first-hand that Croatia does not have the resources to host tens of thousands of refugees. This is why European nations need to work together to solve this problem. Quotas that are fair to all countries should be put in place. Money should be distributed to smaller and poorer countries to help ease the stress the migrants put on government resources. There is no good done by putting up border fences.


My family in Croatia has visited reception centers and brought the migrants anything they could spare; a few morsels of food, some clothing, some toys for children. Individuals can only so do so much though.  The governments must help these people. Until the European powers work together, this crisis will not diminish.

This crisis has a personal element for me. My parents met during the war that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia. While they weren’t refugees, they were forced to leave. My father was an American journalist who was critical of the Croatian government and was advised he might be safer if he left Croatia. They did not take the threats seriously until a group of Croatian soldiers showed up at his house and started calling his name while shooting in the air. After that, they decided to leave because it was no longer safe to stay. Fortunately, they had the option of going to the US. Refugees now in Europe are faced with a similar dilemma before they set off on their trip in search of a better life. They had to decide whether to stay in their home and possibly be killed or take the risk of setting off into the unknown to find a better life.

There are many ways you can be part of the solution to this humanitarian crisis. The agency UNHCR is on the ground in countries such as Greece, and Italy and provide shelter food and water to refugees, they need all the donations they can get as winter is approaching and the flow of refugees shows no sign of easing. You can find out exactly how to donate at This is the biggest and most wide reaching aid agency helping refugees.

Doing the right thing is never easy. But the refugee crisis is a test for humanity. European powers need to show the world that no human life is valued above another and that they welcome people in search of a better life.