A volunteer in Krakow, Poland, helps refugees. Photo by Will McCorkle. Used with permission.

Editor’s Note: College of Charleston professor Will McCorkle recently traveled through Germany and Poland, where President Biden heads this week to talk about the crisis in Ukraine with world leaders.  Here are McCorkle’s observations.

This past month I had an academic conference on migration in Portugal. Before the conference, I visited Germany and Poland. I had some friends in Berlin, but I also wanted to see firsthand the situation of what is occurring with Ukrainian refugees. The response I saw from the European community was actually very encouraging and something that should be an example for the United States.

McCorkle | Provided

The friend I was staying with works with a Christian ministry with refugees in Berlin. My friend was hosting a young man from Nigeria who had just escaped from Ukraine. Due to the racial animosity, he was denied entrance in the first border he tried to cross and eventually had to cross through Slovakia. He had been studying in Odesa. The government in Germany not only allowed him to enter but was able to arrange for a type of temporary dormitory for him to live. 

At the main train station in Berlin, there were thousands of people entering every day. The German government had set aside a special area where they could be registered and dozens of Germans were there to help. People were holding up signs saying that they could offer a place to stay or a ride if the refugees needed it. This is in spite of the fact that the Germans have welcomed over a million refugees over the last several years from countries like Syria and Iraq. They stated that they would accept anyone coming from Ukraine, even if they were not Ukrainian nationals. 

I then took a train to Krakow, Poland, and was able to see an even greater number of refugees at the train station there. Volunteers who looked like they were high school age were handing out food. Refugees had their few supplies and their pets, and many women and children were alone. On the flight out of Poland, I talked to a young Polish woman who described the reason the people of Poland were largely accepting of already over a million refugees and likely many more in the days ahead. It is, she said, because the Polish people remember what it was like to be on the other side of the situation-a country under attack. 

Refuges in the Krakaw train station | Photo by Will McCorkle.

What I saw in Europe really impressed me as I do a great deal of work with asylum seekers at the Mexican-American border, and I have seen the restrictions, fear and disregard that our government has had for people fleeing from horrific situations in places like Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. It was a national “scandal” when 10,000 Haitians were at the border seeking refuge. After seeing a country like Poland with a population of 40 million accept over a million refugees in a few weeks, it makes our anti-asylum-seeking and refugee measures look particularly illegitimate and even cowardly. 

The United States is sending significant military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but we should also be opening our borders to Ukrainian refugees like Europe has done. We should also reexamine our current immigration policies overall, including our continuation of an illegitimate Title 42 policy, which is still banning asylum seekers due to “COVID concerns.” This co-opting of COVID for anti-immigrant aims is shameful, and something that President Biden should end immediately. 

As the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth, we can do a lot more for refugees and asylum seekers than we are currently doing, and the people and nations of Europe are showing us how. One of the greatest ways we combat the evil that Russia’s Vladimir Putin represents is to open our arms to those fleeing the chaos he has created. 

Assistant Professor Will McCorkle teaches in the Department of Teacher Education at the College of Charleston.

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