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International students in Leiden to discuss refugee crisis

Students from no fewer than 26 different countries are visiting Leiden from 25-28 February to discuss the refugee crisis and European integration.

Leiden has an extra 320 temporary residents from 25 to 28 February. Students from Portugal to Azerbaijan have come to the European Planning Meeting (EPM) of the European student association AEGEE. The meeting has been organised by AEGEE-Leiden, one of the 200 or so local groups spread throughout Europe.

Refugee crisis

During the four-day meeting the students discuss current European themes. This year the key theme is the refugee crisis. Is there still room for solidarity in Europe? How do you stimulate the integration of newcomers? And why is the West so afraid of Islam? These and other questions are on the agenda of workshops and panel discussions.  

'Europa is built on cooperation and understanding' - AEGEE Europe chair Aleksandra Kluczka

‘Europa is built on cooperation and understanding. The refugee crisis reminds us that the European ideal is under pressure,’ commented the president of AEGEE-Europe,  Aleksandra Kluczka, during her opening speech. ‘This weekend we are discussing possible solutions. It is up to us – the young people in society – to bridge the differences of opinion. We are in fact a microcosm of the Europe for which we are striving: united and without borders.’

Right to asylum

During his speech, Peter Rodrigues – Professor of Immigration Law in Leiden – stressed the importance of a solid solution to the present refugee issue. ‘The European Union is in favour of refugees being received within the region.  But if we look at the figures, we see that countries such as Turkey and Lebanon are already looking after many more refugees than the EU.  Not only that, asylum seekers cannot apply for asylum in Turkey. Sending asylum seekers back contravenes European asylum rights.’  

Academics

According to Rodrigues, the European Union has to pay greater attention to the underlying problem. ‘Half of all refugees come from such hotbeds as Syria,  Afghanistan or Somalia. That means you can’t separate the refugee issue from the geopolitical interests that are playing in the background.’  He sees this as another challenge for the AEGEE members who have gathered in Leiden this weekend. According to  Rogrigues, they are ‘the academics of the future’, who will have to find a solution for these kinds of problems.  

Similarities

Boudewijn Steenhof – chairman of the organising committee of AEGEE-Leiden – is pleased that the large group of international students have come to ‘his’ city to discuss this important issue. ‘Cultural exchange is an important theme for AEGEE. Young people look for similarities, not differences. We look beyond everyday politics.’ It goes without saying, the students are also making time for social activities.  They will be taking a tour of the city and of course there will be some partying.  

Action agenda

The students also put together the Action Agenda for the 2016-2017 academic year. This agenda sets out AEGEE’s themes and objectives for the coming year.  

Profile of two participants

‘The refugee crisis is causing concern even in Letland,’ according to Sintijav and Valters. These two young students are the hard core of AEGEE-Riga. ‘When the government proposed to take in 250 asylum seekers, it led to a great protest, even though on a European scale the number is minimal.' They are happy to be taking part in the EPM.  The positive and international way the discussion is conducted makes them proud of the association.  

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