Last week’s terror attacks in Paris have brought issues of immigration and xenophobia to the forefront. These topics are also tackled by a UBC project called Strangers at Home, which used a crowdfunding effort to commission a series of videos on the challenges faced by Europe’s most marginalized groups. Now, the goal is to develop some of these into a feature documentary.
In this Q&A, Peter Klein – an associate professor at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism and director of the Global Reporting Centre – discusses the project’s purpose, reflects on the recent attacks in Paris and offers his thoughts on the challenges ahead.
What do you hope to achieve with Strangers at Home?
We want to give voice to people throughout the continent who are increasingly feeling like “strangers” in their own countries – whether they are Roma who have lived in Europe for generations, or new immigrants who are being targeted, or religious groups like Jews and Muslims who have come increasingly under attack. These voices are often simplified and caricatured.
Our goal is to hand the power over to the storytellers. In one of the videos, a group of journalists in Germany with “Muslim-sounding” last names gather regularly to read their racist hate mail in a café, a new form of poetry slam. These and many other stories offer a snapshot of the complexity around xenophobia in Europe.
Has the project’s role changed in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris?
The tragic shootings and bombing in Paris underscore how important it is to understand what is going on throughout that continent. Those terrorists were homegrown, in France and Belgium. What are the conditions that led to their marginalization? And how will these attacks and others perpetrated by Muslim extremists affect the roughly 45 million Muslims living in Europe? Then there’s the question of how this will all play out with immigration policies, as so many Syrian refugees are pouring into Europe.
What’s the outlook for immigration and xenophobia in Europe and elsewhere moving forward?
Our project’s focus has been on how these so-called “strangers are home” are being increasingly targeted by both people on the street and extremist politicians. Some of this grew out of the economic crisis. Some of it was from growing immigration. And the Syrian refugee influx has ramped up everything.
It’s clear to me – and I’ve written about it recently – that the terrorists want to cast suspicion on Syrian refugees, to make this journey as difficult as possible for them. The recent terrorist attacks are bound to instill fear in many Europeans about refugees, and I fear that we will only see an increase in xenophobia. That’s why I think it’s important to have these conversations out in the open, and empower people from all sides of these issues to make their voices heard.