© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU
The Grexit crisis has blown hot and cold many times in recent years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, by common agreement, there is now an even greater crisis affecting the European Union (EU) and its future, namely the current refugee and asylum seeker crisis. It is not about economic migration; it is a humanitarian crisis.
A Refugee Crisis of Mega Proportions
I have been commenting on the issue of migration on the AngloDeutsch.EU Blog so I cannot but discuss this crisis of mega proportions. I would like to briefly summarize the points of the current situation before presenting a personal perspective below:
- There is a variety of different types of migrants. The two main categories are “asylum seekers / refugees” who are fleeing something which makes them fear for their lives/safety and “economic migrants” who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families;
- The difference is fundamental. Each EU member state makes its own decisions in relation to the issue of asylum seekers/refugees within the framework of broad international agreements which appear to be difficult or impossible to enforce. The same applies to economic migrants from outside the EU. Within the EU, a fundamental principle is that of “freedom of movement” of capital, goods, services and people. Consequently, there is no restriction of migration within the EU, except for recently joining countries, such as Croatia. Restrictions remain during a „transition“ period for some countries such as the UK, but other, such as Germany, have chosen to abolish such restrictions even before the transition period lapses;
- Many politicians and some mainstream media, especially those with an ax to grind, deliberately or otherwise, lump the refugees/asylum seekers, economic migrants and freedom of movement into one giant, emotive issue: this is spurious, confusing and contributes to a heated debate in the EU and elsewhere. In an atmosphere of anxiety about migration in general, this is not helpful;
- Most EU citizens, British and Germans included, make a clear distinction between economic migrants (there is concern about the level of migration in some countries) and genuine refugees / asylum seekers, where there is generally a good deal of sympathy;
- The current levels of refugees / asylum seekers must be put into context: it is the highest level since World War II and is the direct result of various conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, not least in Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia, etc. This is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis. For the first time since World War II, there are more than 50 million refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide;
- Some of the people joining this wave of desperate humanity are taking advantage of the situation. Having worked in Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, etc., all of which are making strides to join the EU, there is little doubt that the vast majority of these applicants are being opportunistic. If this sort of thing is allowed to continue, it may discredit the overall refugees/asylum situation and undermine the willingness to help others;
- The latest development, since this blog focuses mainly on Britain and Germany, is that the German government has issued what is nothing less than an unprecedented commitment of take in at least 800,000 and possibly a million refugees/asylum seekers this year, not counting other forms of migration, which has been running at very high levels in recent years. By contrast Britain has taken 5,000 Syrians since 2011 and there is a major political debate about whether a target of 10,000 refugees / asylum seekers would be acceptable. The British government, under increasing pressure from ordinary citizens, has just announced that it will accept 20,000 refugees/asylum seekers over five-years (4,000 per year);
- The main political explanations for this imbalance is that one (Germany) has a shrinking population and therefore needs to take in people but that the other (UK) is an overcrowded island that cannot absorb any more than are already coming in. There is a prominent political view that taking in refugees would not solve the problems in the relevant countries and would simply encourage even larger numbers to come to the EU;
It is up to each person to reflect on whether their respective governments’ policies are appropriate in the face of this human catastrophe, bearing in mind the costs involved as well as the potential knock-on effects on social, health, housing and other services, including the downstream integration issues. There will certainly be implications in the short-, medium- and long-term, since most refugees/asylum seekers that are accepted are likely to remain, even when the crisis is over.
A personal perspective
In the rest of this post, for a change, I shall not focus on the definitions, statistics and policy responses, etc. but the human element using my own migration experiences and those of my family. The point has been reached in this humanitarian crisis where everyone must pin their colours to the mast.
I was born in Mozambique. When I was nine years old, the civil war that quickly followed the war of independence reached stage where by parents finally decided that they had no choice but to abandon the country. There were a series of issues leading to this decision, but the straw that broke the camel´s back was a bomb that blew out the windows in the surrounding buildings. Fear for our safety, combined with a sense of growing injustice, led to a decision to leave everything behind, except for our lives and the clothes on our back. This is the “refugee / asylum seeker drive“ and it is this which is at the bottom of the crisis we are witnessing.
By the time I was 11, my parents had decided that living in Portugal was not for them and that they preferred to leave for the UK, where they felt they could rebuild their lives and offer their children better prospects. This is the „economic migration“ drive, which I shall leave for another day. My family and I have experience of both the “push” drive to get out of a country, as well as the “pull” element of a prosperous country like the UK (Portugal was not a EU member in 1977). As such, I can sympathize with the stream of people heading towards the EU.
Each of these families seeking the safety of Europe will have their own catalyst, but they are generally similar: fear of safety/life/well-being reaches a point where the extremely high barriers to leaving are overcome. Those barriers include family and friends (you leave the people you grew up with behind, probably for ever), possessions (home, furniture, mementos of life, etc.) and communities, traditions and all the other things that make-up everyday life. Only the bare minimum can be taken: people, clothes, food and money.
The decision amounts to rolling the dice that will determine their fate. They know that they may be turned back at any of numerous borders. They are only too aware that they will experience all sorts of privations. They come to terms the stark fact they or members of their family may perish on the way. Yet they are determined to head for Europe and more specifically the EU. Most will do what they are allowed to do, not least where women and children are involved. Some, especially single young men, may do whatever it takes to reach their goal, as the scenes in and around the Channel Tunnel prove.
But even if their drive, courage and determination (for that is exactly what is involved) is rewarded with success and they end-up in the EU and preferably in countries with the resources to successfully absorb them, they also know that it may all be in vain. After all, there is a high chance of being put on an aeroplane and sent home sooner or later, once the crisis is over.
And still they roll the dice, often taking their young children on this incredibly arduous and sometimes lethal journey. Imagine this, if you will, and reflect on what it would take for you to reach such momentous life and death decisions. I ask you:
- Would you take these sorts of decisions without a very good reason?
- Are the people who manage to reach Europe´s shores worthy of sanctuary?
- And if so, are such people likely to have the drive to integrate and thrive in the EU?
Follow your instinct. Form your own opinion.
I am not just a migrant to the EU, I am a serial migrant within the EU. This is not a source of shame. On the contrary, it is a source of great pride which has given meaning to my life. Every country I have lived in had enriched me and, for my part, I have contributed to every country I have had the good fortune to experience. Migration has been and remains a constant feature of humanity.
There may be some seeking to reach the borders of the EU purely for economic reasons, rather than being driven by misfortune not of their own making. It is not so easy to separate out the genuine cases from the bogus ones. But the sheer scale of the crisis, the types of people involved and the risks that they are taking demonstrate that these are, in the main, fellow human beings in desperate need of our help. For them the EU is a beacon for all the things that we take for granted. There can and there will be a win-win situation for them and for the countries taking them in. Europe has absorbed countless waves of immigration in the past and benefited from them; it will continue to do so in the future.
Let us be humane and thereby reaffirm the fundamental values that EU countries are right to be proud of. You helped me. Now, let’s help the others.