If you have been paying any attention to the news at all recently, you will be aware of the staggering number of “migrants” currently overwhelming Europe seeking asylum. Naturally, the immediate effect of this has been a polarising of public and political opinion with some people (and countries) demanding that they be sent back and others imploring that the various countries in Europe work together to accommodate them.
Here is my two cents.
The very first thing to point out is that this whole issue has been misnamed, and misnamed in such a way that we see it as an immigration issue where a reasonable defence centred on economic and infrastructural capacity can be mounted. We can’t keep allowing anybody and everybody to immigrate to our country. We don’t have enough jobs for our own citizens let alone providing for those of other countries.
The fact is this crisis has absolutely nothing to do with immigration laws. Europe is not facing a migrant crisis; it’s facing a refugee crisis. The majority of these people are coming from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea; countries torn apart by some combination of war, religious extremism and dictatorial repression. They haven’t left comfortable homes, stable jobs, and decent standards of living for a comparatively better life. They want clean water, basic hygiene, a house that isn’t made of a dirty tarpaulin they have to share with two other families and they want to know where their next meal is coming from. This isn’t a case of the grass being greener on the other side; it’s a case of just having grass at all.
Considering this, what possible reason can there be to argue against helping these people, many of whom have already lost everything? The only truly defensible reason I can see is to argue that European countries just won’t be able to preserve their standard of living and social infrastructure if they have to absorb so many refugees.
On the face of it, this seems like it might be true. How can Europe handle millions of refugees? Well, there are two things to keep in mind. First, that number currently stands at 200,000, a far cry from the alarmist and equally nebulous “tens of millions” Hungary’s president, Viktor Orban, has spoken about. Of course, we won’t stay at 200,000 for long but let’s not forget that the population of Europe is more than 740 million. Even if, or when, the number of refugees climbs to 1 million, we are still only talking about a 0.1% increase. It borders on the unthinkable to say that the world’s wealthiest continent could not collectively find a way to handle an influx as tiny as this.
And just to keep things in perspective, it’s worth looking at a country that is undergoing a genuine refugee crisis. In Lebanon, with a population of 4.5 million, there are currently around 1.2 million Syrian refugees. That is to say, more than 25% of the country is now composed of refugees. It makes the European ‘crisis’, where they are currently trying to accommodate a mere 0.027% increase, look fairly petty by comparison.
But there is an even bigger point to be made here that goes beyond statistics, standards of living, and infrastructure. That is what kind of world do we want to live in? What stories do we want to tell our grandchildren one day? Do we want to tell them how we ‘fearlessly’ erected wire fences to keep mothers carrying their babies in their arms out of our country and how we ‘valiantly’ turned away families who had lost everything in a war that had nothing to do with them so that our countries wouldn’t be overrun by “marauding” migrants? Or do we want to say that we took these people in and made room for them even though there may not have been much room to spare in the first place?
It seems like a no-brainer to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying it won’t require a little, or a lot of, policy initiatives and careful planning. And I’m definitely not saying that it will be smooth sailing; it may even involve a little sacrifice here and there. But I am saying that Europe as a whole is not, by anyone’s measure, a poor or struggling continent. And I am saying that Europe’s leaders can rise to the occasion, band together, and create an asylum system worthy of the name that offers a decent standard of living to any and all refugees when they arrive. I’m also saying that if we can’t find a way to do this, to accommodate people in genuine, and in many cases desperate, need of assistance, then we have far bigger problems to worry about than the state of our respective economies. In that case, we might as well drop the pretence that we have any kind of moral integrity or compassion at all and go help Viktor Orban usher in his dystopian reality where the haves ruthlessly barricade themselves away from the have-nots who can then look forward to returning to their country and living with the permanent threat of having a barrel bomb dropped on them by their insane president.
 Some are also arguing that the fact that many of these refugees are Muslim is reason enough for us to turn them away at the border. This is an issue that deserves an article of its own and won’t be dealt with here.