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Clay: I recently had the good fortune to be interviewed by the Northern Express, a local paper in my home town of Traverse City, about the Syrian refugee crisis that I saw while I was living in Scotland and traveling across Europe. The article was written by Patrick Sullivan and can be found below:
A passion for travel writing sent Clay Winowiecki to Europe, a trip highlighted by seeing the European refugee crisis up close.
Winowiecki, a Kingsley High School graduate, travels and writes about traveling on his blog, headedabroad.com, whenever he can; he’s also a student at Lake Superior State University, where he majors in creative writing and marketing. Last fall, the 21-year-old came face-to-face with desperate Syrian refugees and he found it heartbreaking. The Express recently chatted with him about his adventures, his blog and his concern for the displaced.
Northern Express: How did you get into travel writing?
Winowiecki: I went to a technical school in high school called the Career Tech Center and for about three years I studied to become a police officer, and three months before I graduated and went on to college I thought, ‘Is this really what I want to do with my life? Being a police officer?’ And I just decided that I wanted to travel the world. And I was always told that I was a decent writer and I just took that plunge my first year of university; I became a journalist at the university newspaper.
NE: And you eventually started a travel blog?
Winowiecki: Over the summer, I started Headed Abroad, which is my travel website, and I started writing budget travel articles for sites like Thought Catalog and Lifehack. In August, so about 2 1/2 months in, I wrote an article for Elite Daily about budget destinations for college students and that went viral, the first time it was read by over a million people, and controlled basically Facebook for a weekend, and the second time it went viral, the following January, it was read by about two million more people.
NE: Was this past summer the first time you went to Europe?
Winowiecki: Yeah. I left for Europe, I think it was Aug. 10, and I came back from Europe Nov. 24. I was studying over there and I was also working on developing a new company that I just started and I was also focusing on my travel writing. So I was doing a bunch of different stuff.
NE: What did you find in Europe that surprised you?
Winowiecki: The first thing I noticed was that in Edinburgh, which is this gorgeous, young, kind of sooty city — it’s not young in age but it has this young feel to it — there’s all these people on the streets that are homeless. I mean that’s traditional for any decent-sized city that you go to, but about half of them, I noticed, looked like they were from the Middle East and they all had the same cookie cutter signs — it was a basic cardboard, about one-foot-by-one-foot, with a printed note saying that they are from Syria, that they had excellent kids at home. And I also noticed that most of the people that were begging on the streets that looked they were from the Middle East were middle-aged woman in traditional dress. They always had very stoic looks on their face, it seemed like they weren’t trying to show any pain or fear, but it’s something that is hard to hide, especially in the eyes, and you feel really bad for them, because you want to help them, but it’s so hard because there are so many and you don’t know how. You’re trying to figure out what you can do for these people, but as an individual it’s hard, you know? Especially for me. You know, you can give them coins, but coins, they only buy one meal and that doesn’t seem like it helps the issue at all.
NE: Does what you saw differ from what we hear is happening?
Winowiecki: That’s a good question. I think there’s the same fears among the people, in the U.S. and in Europe, but I feel like it’s more radicalized in the United States thanks to people who are perpetuating the issue like Donald Trump. There are people in Europe who feel that terrorist attacks are going to happen because of it or that it’s going to become a Muslim continent. But what people don’t understand is that Europe right now is four percent Muslim. If every refugee of the 10 and a half million were to come in and they were all Muslim, which they are not all Muslim, it would only raise the Muslim population to five percent. So I think there is this blowup of misreported facts that a lot of people believe and they think it’s going to change the economy, but in actuality, it’s probably only going to better the economy in the long run if they stay.
NE: Do you believe that people in the U.S. should be more open to accepting refugees?
Winowiecki: Completely. I think they should. I mean, we’re only letting in 10,000 people in 2016. We’ve only let in 1,500 to 1,800 this year, and it’s hardly been scratching the surface. More needs to be done. There’s only been two and a half million refugees that have been resettled places.
NE: What can a person do to help the refugees?
Winowiecki: For someone like me, I think the best thing a person can do is if you look at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they are severely underfunded. Most of the people who are in Syria who are escaping the civil war, all the people who have left, most of them are in the surrounding countries, these are countries like Iraq that have 250,000 refugees, Jordan has 650,000, Egypt has 130,000, Lebanon has 1.2 million and Turkey has 1.9 million. This all started in 2011. This kind of happened unexpectedly for the United Nations. They all of a sudden have to build all of these camps in all of these countries. So they are running out of resources now; refugees are living in essentially cities of tents. So if anyone can do anything, if you can’t go over there and volunteer while you’re taking a break from college, you can at least toss five dollars over there to maybe help build a new tent or take care of a family for a day.
For more information go to you go: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home
Link to the original: A Drifter Out To See The World