“Put yourself in their shoes, see things from their perspective.”
A principle long upheld, and often overused, by adults all over the world is taken to a new, melodramatic, and exaggerated level on a T.V. show on the Polish television station TVN. The reality show, aptly titled “Go Back to Where You Came From,” follows a group of six Polish citizens as they retrace the passage (backwards) that many refugees take to escape violence in their countries.
Starting in Berlin with only their passports, phones, and some money, the participants travel through Germany, Hungary, Serbia, and eventually cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Iraq. While the show attempts to engender support for these struggles and depict the difficulty of them, the concept inevitably falls short of truly describing the conditions of refugee resettlement. At best, the idea for the show is a crude view of what it is truly like to escape one’s own country in search of safety. At worst, it could be a deplorable and exploitative misrepresentation of the current political issues of an area of the world that is not well understood, and it may serve to reinforce negative stereotypes of immigrants in a country that is already plagued with anti-immigrant sentiment.
Europe is facing a migrant crisis: with more than 45,000 people making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in the first half of 2018, some countries are facing difficult choices about their responsibility to asylum seekers and their own citizens. The influx of immigrants has contributed to the rise of populist, anti-immigrant groups such as the Alternative for Germany party and the National Rally party in France, both of which argue that their country’s objectives should be to protect their citizens from the flood of refugees.
Poland has largely resisted taking in immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, but they are not immune to the populism surrounding the issue. NBC reported that, according to a poll conducted by the Polish Center for Research on Public Opinion, 60 percent of people in Poland believe that refugees fleeing conflict should not be allowed to settle in their country. Additionally, the ruling party in Poland, Law and Justice, based its 2015 election campaign entirely on opposition to admitting refugees from majority Muslim countries. The party continues to have large support from the Polish people, holding over half of the seats in Polish Parliament.
According to The Guardian, over 34,000 people have died trying to enter Europe through dangerous passageways and with the help of suspicious organizations since the early 1990s. The exploitative nature of recreating this journey for a T.V. audience is self-evident and unapologetically unsympathetic. By using the story of immigrants as a way to garner attention from the press and television audiences, “Go Back To Where You Came From” is profiting from the struggles of refugee families and turning their plight into a money-making venture. While it is true that audiences should be exposed and informed about the stories of hardship that refugees face, a reality T.V. show does little more than trivialize and make light of their stories.
The show’s unethical nature and moral ambiguity is further evidenced by the reaction of Polish aid groups Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH) and Polish Medical Mission (PMM), both of which refused to help the producers of the show. PAH even went a step further when one of their spokespeople likened the show to “poverty porn.” It is clear that the producers of the show haven’t sincerely listened to this criticism, as their response was that the show is meant to be a documentary. This rebuttal not only avoids answering the “poverty porn” accusation but actually serves to demean the experience of refugees around the world. Following six Poles through an airbrushed, reality T.V. style travel show is not the equivalent of living such an experience and will never do it justice.
However, “Go Back To Where You Came From” is just one part of a disturbing pattern of media that makes light of the hardship that refugees face both at home and abroad. These T.V. shows and movies do little more than bolster and profit off of preconceived notions and stereotypes about refugees, and are hardly appropriate for a crisis in which lives are lost on a daily basis.