Novak Djokovic takes on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Over the past several months, the Syrian refugee crisis has dominated politics and the news, focusing on the millions of men, women, and children streaming into Europe and other surrounding Middle Eastern countries in search of safety, security, and a better life. The Syrian Civil War, which has been ongoing since 2011, and the rise of ISIS have displaced or destroyed the lives of more than half of the country’s population, leading to one of the largest humanitarian crises ever recorded.

While many nations have accepted those making the journey with open arms, others, such as Hungary and Slovakia, have expressed concern over the numbers and prevented further refugees from entering into the country. This concern arises from a combination of the high unemployment and weak economic performance of these nations, as well as xenophobic sentiments, such as, “European Christianity must be defended from a Muslim influx.”

The plight of these refugees, both in the struggles of their thousand-mile journeys and in the terrible living conditions within their temporary camps, has captured the attention of much of the world. From social media to traditional media, millions of statements of sympathy and pleas to world leaders to further open their borders are published and circulated. Among the many voices to speak was Novak Djokovic, tennis player and UNICEF Ambassador for his home country of Serbia.

Interviewed in London, where he was participating in the ATP year-end championships, Djokovic discussed of the conditions he saw when he spent time recently in Belgrade, Serbia. Having lived through the NATO bombing of his homeland in 1999, Djokovic understands the fear of the refugees. He also referenced an event from his recent visit home, during which he was playing with a small child when the child’s mother came to retrieve him in order to continue moving with the refugees:

“Honestly, I was playing with a small child; Thirty seconds later, the mother comes and takes him away from me. She says, ‘We have to go, we have to leave now.’ [They] have to walk for I don’t know how many miles to get they don’t even know where. I mean, it’s terrible, honestly, what’s happening”.

Djokovic went on to cite the International Constitution of Human Rights, which states that it is the obligation of countries to offer refugees, at the very least, shelter. He also expressed pride in Serbia for taking in migrants and providing shelter, homes, and food to those in need.

Arthur Ashe also took a stand for the refugees–specifically, the Haitian refugees. When the U.S. government passed an interdiction policy cracking down on Haitian migrants, Ashe protested in front of the White House in an effort to reverse the law. He was arrested, alongside ninety-five other protestors.

The words of Djokovic and actions of Ashe remind us to look at the Syrian migrants not as refugees but as fellow humans, with the same basic hopes and dreams. Understood in this light, it becomes not a choice, but a duty, to provide assistance. As Djokovic put it:

“From my perspective, I’m just an athlete. But obviously I’m following this as a human being. At the end of the day, we all have to be humans and feel for one another. We have to put that in front of all the laws and borders and different political stuff.”

​The United States has maintained a policy of accepting refugees since the beginning of the crisis. However, in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the US has been reconsidering its “open-door” policy, contemplating either implementing a more intense refugee screening process or halting the program altogether. President Obama has vowed to continue the program, but the question continues to be contended in Congress.
 What are your thoughts on the issue? Feel free to comment below. 

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