Ever since the attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve — or even the attacks in Paris prior to that in November — mainstream media has deliberated on the dangers refugees may or may not pose to Western societies. People — including leading Republican presidential candidates — have thrown around labels like “terrorist” and “rapist” regarding Middle Eastern migrants, but the only label that the West can definitively apply to all of them beyond a shadow of a doubt is “refugee.”  In allowing fear and selfishness to dominate the discourse about the refugee crisis, Westerners have effectively missed the main issue: These migrants are refugees for a reason.

According to a Jan. 28 BBC article, “ongoing violence in Afghanistan, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo” contribute significantly to the displacement of these men, women and children, but the conflict in Syria continues to produce the greatest number of refugees. 

As of August of last year, the Syrian Civil War had resulted in over 250,000 deaths and 12 million displacements, according to an Aug. 17, 2015 report by the United Nations Security Council. As a result of their own civil war, Syrians have endured war crimes, chemical weapons and blocked access to food, water and health services, but to make matters worse, the violent Islamic State has capitalized on unrest in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq, according to a Jan. 27 BBC article.

Merriam-Webster defines a refugee as “a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution.” Considering the situation in Syria and the surrounding region, “danger or persecution” is putting it lightly.

As such, these men, women and children have become increasingly desperate to flee — so desperate, in fact, that they make the journey at their own peril. According to a Jan. 30 New York Times article, a boat accident on Saturday left 37 dead, including at least 10 children. The boat left the Turkish resort town of Ayvacik on Saturday morning and capsized along the Turkish coast soon thereafter. While passengers included people from Afghanistan and Myanmar, “most of them [were] believed to be Syrians fleeing war and trying to reach European shores,” according to the Times. 

This is not the first instance of the Aegean Sea — more dangerous in the winter — claiming refugee lives. 

According to a Jan. 29 report by the International Organization for Migration, in just the first 28 days of 2016, at least 218 migrants died at sea while trying to cross the Mediterranean for Greece, and another 26 died on the way to Italy. By contrast, the same report notes that the total deaths on the same routes in the past two years were 12 and 82 for 2014 and 2015, respectively. To put those numbers in perspective, a total of 94 people died crossing the Mediterranean in the past two years while at least 244 died in the first 28 days of this year alone. Note that these figures do not include Saturday’s tragedy.

Despite the well-documented danger of crossing to Greece or Italy, however, refugees still attempted the journey at a rate of nearly 2,000 per day during the first 28 days of 2016. It seems that many would rather risk dying on the treacherous Aegean Sea than remain in their homelands a moment longer, refusing to even wait for spring.

As such, many refugees must feel insurmountable relief if and when they safely arrive ashore, but even then, their ordeal is far from over. 

At best, they face the daunting task of completely starting over with very little to call their own except their lives and unimaginable emotional baggage. At worst — and this is too often the more common scenario — they face cruelty, prejudice and even violence in their new lands. 

On Jan. 26, the Danish government passed a law allowing authorities to confiscate the belongings of incoming refugees exceeding 10,000 Danish crowns — or approximately 1,450 U.S. dollars. According to a Jan. 26 Huffington Post article, Denmark originally wanted the limit to be 3,000 crowns but changed the sum only after human rights organizations objected. Although Denmark charitably conceded in this respect and also allowed refugees to cling to possessions of sentimental value, this callous, self-serving treatment by the Danish government perpetuates the victimization of people who have already endured so much.

Stealing from the refugees is bad enough, but too often, people in Western countries have gone as far as receiving the war-torn refugees with even more violence. Last week, in southwestern Germany, unidentified assailants threw a live hand grenade at a migrant hostel. Thankfully, the grenade failed to detonate, but Justice Minister Heiko Maas referred to it as increasing “hate and violence,” according to a Jan. 29 BBC article. 

Last year, such “hate and violence” resulted in at least 1,005 attacks on refugee homes in Germany alone, according to the same article. This marked a 500 percent increase from 2014, and given the ever-growing hostility towards refugees this year, 2016 will likely see even more attacks.

And Germany isn’t alone. On Friday, up to 100 masked men marched through the city center of Stockholm and handed out leaflets in which they threatened to attack “north African street children roaming,” according to a Jan. 30 Washington Post article. The march allegedly came in response to the fatal stabbing of 22-year-old asylum-center worker Alexandra Mezher by an unidentified 15-year-old refugee. Does that warrant the threats against all refugee children? If people answer yes, the human race doesn’t stand a chance — nor should it.

Each side has enacted violence against the other. Consequently, if one subscribes to the belief that all refugees pose a threat to Westerners because some refugees have launched attacks, then he or she must also believe that all Westerners pose a threat to refugees because some Westerners have launched attacks. Otherwise, hypocrisy has reached new extremes.

For months, people in the West have fixated on what refugees might do to them — but it seems refugees have reason to be afraid too.