MagazineFrom the Editor

Yearning for Home in Europe

Europeans and refugees alike are grappling with their new neighbors.

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Damascus-born Mariam Zaza, 55, and her son fled to Germany in fall 2015; her two daughters are still in Syria.
This story appears in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Amid talk in the United States about building walls and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, refugees keep streaming into Europe.

We see the pictures. A dead child washed up on a Turkish beach. Desperate people—most from the Middle East and Africa—adrift in European towns, warehoused in refugee camps, crowding train stations. In this magazine and on our website, photographs document the chaos as thousands flee civil war and ISIS in Syria to an unknown future elsewhere.

We study the numbers: Last year Germany took in 1.1 million refugees—many of them from Syria. To put that in context with its population of roughly 82 million, it would be as if 4.5 million refugees, in one year, entered the United States. (In fact, 70,000 refugees from all over the world legally came to America last year, including 2,192 Syrians.)

We know less about what happens to these people once they settle in a new place. How do they adapt? How are they accepted? We sent writer Rob Kunzig, an American who grew up in Europe, and photographer Robin Hammond, a New Zealander who lives in France, to find out. Each takes a different angle in our story, “The New Europeans.”

Kunzig tells the story from the German perspective. “Three-quarters of a century ago,” he writes, “Germans were dispatching trains full of Jews to concentration camps … Can Germans really grow out of their heavy past to become a Willkommenskultur—a culture that welcomes others?” Hammond visits several nations to chronicle successive waves of immigrants and refugees: Pakistanis and Indians in Britain, Algerians in France, Somalis in Sweden, Syrians and Turks in Germany. You can see his haunting video interviews here.

From many migrants, Hammond hears poignant refrains. Some are hopeful—“I came to Sweden to find peace, which is not in my country,” one young Somali man says—and others mournful. “The homeland is precious,” says a tearful, elderly Syrian man living in Germany. “We are doing fine here, and we were well received,” he says—but still, “we want to go back.”

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