The Migrant Crisis
The unspeakable disaster that has hit Syria and has continued to hit Syria over the past five years has forced millions to flee their homes – what’s left of them. And millions more are fleeing from Afghanistan, Somalia, various parts of North Africa… and according to certain reports they’re all coming to Europe to seek asylum, usually taking dangerous travel options (thousands have died en route) and facing serious privation. And as a result, Europe is being overwhelmed. In particular, the U.K. is threatened with population overload and needs to ensure the migrants don’t come here, except for the token numbers we’re nobly agreed to accept.
This single-paragraph summary encapsulates what a lot of my fellow-citizens believe. Not many of us are looking more deeply and seeing the complexities that lurk beneath the surface of this view. And such limited vision and failure of joined-up thinking is dangerous.
First, let’s look at numbers. Last year (2015), approximately one million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa entered Europe. The European Union (EU) has a population of about five hundred million. Therefore, last year’s migrant intake increased the European population by around 0.2%. Overwhelming? Well, not if you compare Europe with tiny Lebanon or little Jordan. Lebanon has an indigenous population of about five million and is now housing around one and a half million refugees: a country with one percent of the population of Europe has taken in more refugees than the whole of the European continent, relative increase 30%, not 0.2%. Similar figures apply in Jordan. And yet we hear people in western Europe wondering why Syria’s neighbours don’t accept their fellow-Muslims instead of sending them all to us. Of course. Why let simple facts get in the way of good solid prejudice?
Second, while this reflection seems to cast doubt on the whole “migrant crisis” narrative, another level of illusion lies beneath it. The distribution of the migrants across Europe is massively uneven. Britain has taken hundreds. Germany has taken about a hundred thousand. And Greece is genuinely overloaded because almost all the migrants making the hazardous sea crossing, mostly from Turkey, enter Europe via Greece; and when Greece’s neighbours, and their neighbours, decide to close their borders – borders through which there was free travel until very recently, when EU member countries all began to panic – Greece has cause to fear that she’s becoming “the Lebanon of Europe”. Greece needs help. Who’s providing it? The answer is an embarrassed murmur.
Third, why is the distribution so uneven, when European leaders have met and discussed equitable allocations of migrants? Positive and negative factors have synergised. On the negative side, some countries have more or less refused to take in any migrants at all, EU agreements notwithstanding – within the past few days, the Slovakian prime minister has declared that his country will admit “not a single Muslim”, and I’ve already mentioned Britain’s reluctance to accept her fair share. (Population seventy million; o.2% of seventy million is 140,000… But our political leaders aren’t always skilled in arithmentic.) On the positive side, Germany was initially glad to take in healthy young people, particularly young men, to help solve her demographic crisis – a high percentage of her population was above retirement age. Because of social upheaval in some German towns and cities since the hundred thousand were accepted, Frau Merkel’s government is now having second thoughts.
Fourth, implicit in this last point is another important consideration: just who are these migrants and why are they migrating? Television news cameras focus on young families, beleagured women with infants in their care, but look more carefully at the pictures and you’ll see that the large majority of the migrants are adult men, predominantly young men. This is the point on which Germany cashed in, perhaps too enthusiastically. Yes, many people fleeing their native lands are genuine asylum seekers, people uprooted by war and all its evil consequences, but many more are so-called “economic migrants”, i.e. those who are travelling to seek better lives for themselves. (Why shouldn’t they? Some of my fellow-citizens are appalled by it. Imagine, people moving to other countries because they want better lives for themselves and their families! Shocking! How dare they?) And of course there will be a few evil-doers among the massive hordes, terrorists awaiting opportunities to commit mayhem in countries willing to give them safe homes. There’s never been any shortage of nasty people at any time in history, in any part of the human-occupied world. And the mere suspicion that the present flood of migrants probably includes a handful of them is enough to scare many citizens of Europe into rejecting them all.
Fifth, the impact of “the biggest human migration in Europe since the Second World War” on the migrants themselves is appalling. Quite apart from the loss of life during sea crossings organized by mercenary people-smugglers using unseaworthy boats, the long exhausting treks from country to country through the Balkans, the delays at borders, the rioting, the suppression of rioting by police forces, the hunger, the bitter cold, the disease, all combine to make the migrants’ lives scarcely less miserable than they had been in the countries from which they’ve fled. There are caring people, doctors and nurses, who go to help, but they’re overwhelmed, they lack the requisite medical facilities, and the only others who help them are a rag-tag coterie of well-meaning but largely untrained volunteers. And what are the EU governments doing to help these beleagured supplicants at their gates? To put it politely – nothing.
Sixth, there’s also the impact on the EU as an institution. A great deal can be said in favour of the EU, which has done – and continues to do – much good for its citizens, socially and economically. It’s also done harm, because the dissimilarities among economic structures meant that the euro crisis of a few years ago (about to recur, so many people believe) brought financial catastrophe to some countries – Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain – while others continued to prosper, and a measure of stability was restored only at the expense of democracy in some of those countries. Add the asymmetrically distributed mass of migrants, add the closing of borders, add the disagreements about allocation of migrants, and there’s a fair chance that the EU will disintegrate. (In fact, some people have suggested that President Putin of Russia has deliberately organised the migration with the intention of fracturing the EU. This strikes me as a conspiracy theory too far, though I’ve no doubt Uncle Vladimir is chuckling to himself as he surveys the chaos beyond his western border.) The early symptoms of impending disintegration include the rise of extreme right-wing political parties more or less throughout Europe, from France to Hungary and beyond, and even in traditionally liberal nations such as Holland and Sweden. Some of these people are scary – Islamophobic, anti-Semitic – and they’re gaining power. They’re every bit as nasty as the terrorists who might be hiding among the masses of migrants.
Seventh, to pursue the same theme, the EU has grown much too big for it to have any hope of long-term stability. Dreamers in Brussels might imagine an increasingly unified assembly of nations, but when you have twenty-eight countries with different – in some cases very different – social and political histories, religions, cultures, levels of wealth, economies, etc., this will never be more than a dream, and the current threat to political stability is likely to cause a rude awakening, and a fall of the house of cards.
There’s much more I could write about “the migrant crisis”, but what I’ve said in this blog illustrates the extent to which both news reporting and popular opinion are distorting the multifaceted reality of the situation, and are failing to show us what’s likely to lie ahead. By the same token, the solutions being offered are half-baked, short-termist and unworkable.
Unless a proper analysis of the situation is conducted and used as the basis for serious discussion, we face real chaos.