Expectations and reality of Europe


How do refugees imagine Europe? What do they expect to see, find, experience? Is Europe a fairy tale, a promissed land? What are their experiences and first impressions?


The interviews taken in four European cities during the Specially Unknown project reveal the expectations the refugees have of Europe, a preconceived picture of what it is, how is it to live in Europe, very often an utopian image of Europe as a promised land, only to find out that that’s not the reality, that Europe isn’t a fairy-tale where everything is nice, shining and ideally functioning. Here are some examples from the interviews taken in Antwerp, Belgium.


“No homeless people, no garbage on the streets – that was my picture of Europe before I came. Also, that Europe is a place of human rights”, says a 23 years old Syrian refugee.


“But when I came here, I was shocked”, “They locked me in one room. When I asked something, they told me “sit and shut up”. After 6 hours they gave me a paper to sign. I rejected, it was in French, I spoke only English, there was no interpreter and I didn’t want to sign something I didn’t understand. They forced me to sign and released me, told me that I was free to go wherever I want. I asked if they could show me a way, but they said: ”It is not our task”. That was my first experience in Belgium”.


Somehow he reached the Brussels North train station. It was his 2nd shock: “There was a lot of garbage in the streets around the station, many homeless slept on the pavements. I didn’t believe that I was in Europe.”


Another refugee, also from Syria, a girl of 21, was shocked by the reactions on her headscarf. “People here look at the girls with headscarf as uneducated and ignorant. A lot of girls stopped wearing headscarf because of social pressures and the manner people look at them: as if they are stupid and ignorant. Does taking off a headscarf mean that they have become smarter? If people abandon their beliefs, do they become smarter? Why do we connect our beliefs with our common sense?”


And last, but not least: “I totally didn’t expect it. I thought that here nobody interferes/meddles with other people’s lives, that nobody would care if I wore a headscarf. I thought that they would be interested in who I was, in my knowledge, my culture, the level of my education. It was a big problem for me, I was very confused: how can it be that here in Europe people judge others by their looks and appearances, here in a modern and civilized society?”


Is it the same in Paris, Turin and Bochum? Interviews from these cities are being translated now, and fragments of them will be uploaded on the Specially Unknown website in the coming months.


You can watch the interviews here


You can read the other articles of the 2nd newsletter here: