It took a body of a child, washed up on a Turkish beach and worldwide shock for us to realise that people were fleeing war torn areas in the Middle East. But why was and is most of Europe refusing to accept these poor, lost, scared and starving souls into their nations? On the other hand, do European nations have anything but a moral duty to accept people who have left behind their homes, and should thus be allowed to turn them away if they believe that letting them in would do more harm than good?
Europe has always been a port of call for those fleeing from the war ravaged regions of the Middle East. A prosperous area, rich in resources and wealthy individuals, it has been the promise land for weary Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians fleeing for their lives. Nearly four million people have left Syria for pastures safer, though not necessarily greener. In addition, refugees have been streaming across the Mediterranean ever since the Arab Spring began and Somali piracy, hunger and starvation and terrorism have contributed to a rising number of displaced individuals. This is, sadly, only one side of the story.
The EU, which due to the Schengen Agreement results in considerably more lenient border controls has allowed for the movement of migrants and refugees around the continent, thus creating discontent amongst populations who already have an anti-immigrant pro-nationalist stance. Britain has been calling for stricter border control and anti-immigration laws for a while now and fiercely nationalist and homogenous populations of Eastern Europe have not been particularly welcoming of people from different ethnicities and cultures for a while. Surprising then was Germany’s and the Czech Republic’s suspension of the Dublin Regulation, which states that asylum seekers are to have their applications processed in the country of their arrival and are to return to said country if they illegally cross the border to another EU nation. The suspension was a result of Hungary being overburdened with applicants and refusing to take back those who had crossed over to other countries.
In addition to the fact that most of the EU has signed the Refugee Convention, which binds them into taking people who fall under the definition of ‘refugees’, accepting asylum seekers might be beneficial for European countries. Germany and France both have declining populations, with a vast majority of their workforce nearing the end of their careers and numbers in their old age. There exists a vacuum in Western European societies which can easily be filled by fleeing asylum seekers.
Appealing to the more basic notions of humanity, it would be something that developed nations should do, simply because they can do. Rich countries with resources and small populations have the capability to support such people with nowhere to go and should uphold the tenets of the UNHCR, and the EU Declaration as well as judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, all of which call for nations to take in asylum seekers should they show ‘sufficient cause’. If having people from three sides trying to bomb you, starve you and rape you on a daily basis does not show sufficient cause, it would be interesting to see what does.
Interestingly, if people had left Syria due to the root cause of the conflict, which was a drought, the worst the country had seen in a while, then the same people, who would fall under the ambit of ‘climate change refugees’ would have been turned back to their nations as such asylum seekers are not recognised by the Refugee Convention.
Some countries do not want to shoulder their share of the burden. In some cases it is understandable. Eastern European nations have seen decades of strife between different ethnic groups (remember Yugoslavia?), and have maintained peace for a while simply because of homogenous populations with similar outlooks. Moreover, there is the fear that an influx of a different group of people would adversely affect the established cultural norms and create conflict. Furthermore, countries seem to want to pass of the burden. Britain wants France to strengthen its border control so as to ensure Britain does not have to entertain refugees, France wants Austria to do the same (which Austria has done) and Austria wants Italy, Greece and Turkey (which already has the highest number of refugees) to ensure they don’t leave. It isn’t surprising, considering these are the three countries most easily approachable for people fleeing the Middle East and sub Saharan Africa. Finally, countries argue that jobs would be taken up by such an influx.
To answer the concern that cultures will change, we must remember that cultures have never been homogenous but have been consistently shaped and modified through interaction in society. Culture may seem static, however it is exceptionally dynamic, changing slowly, but changing nonetheless when societies and people with different ideas intermix and it is this very trade that leads to the development of a rich and vibrant culture that creates a cosmopolitan atmosphere in developed countries. The passing of the burden seems to be in a state of flux, with Angela Merkel setting an example. Anti immigrant politics, coupled with slowing economies has resulted in rising concerns. However, refugees are unlikely to enter the workforce anytime soon, as the first step of survival needs to be sorted out. Furthermore, most of Europe is in the clutches of population deflation and needs an influx of skilled and unskilled labour to provide for certain basic facilities.
Europe has turned a blind eye to the crisis in the Middle East and it is now turning a blind eye to the fallout from the issues that it let grow at its doorstep. It is time that the continent as a whole followed its de facto leader Chancellor Merkel as it has been more than willing to do throughout the economic crisis. Europe must do so, not only for the sake of others, but for its own sake as well.