With my trek last summer I sought to support the rights of refugees and migrants to travel, and financially supported three organisations working for the cause. I explicitly advocate an unconditional Right to Migrate. But I’ve found the right of refugees to seek asylum is easier to communicate, so I feel a small duty to comment briefly on the present European refugee crisis (one overview here).
The “jungle” at Calais near the Channel Tunnel; the chaos on the Greek island of Kos; the new Hungarian border fence (reminiscent of the Iron Curtain); the numbingly-repetitive numbers of drowning or suffocating people on boats; the tent camps growing in German cities – these are all part of the same crisis. Europeans need to face two realities:
- One, the gates of hell have opened nearby. The world outside of Europe is much worse than a few years ago. Syria, Iraq and Libya are in full-scale civil wars. And the régimes of countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Iran are (in different ways) doing their best to make life unbearable for their opponents. Not to mention the “Islamic State”.
- Two, the countries of northern and western Europe are politically stable and wealthy, and they are vocal proponents of peace and democracy (their deeds, of course, may vary).
The present strategy – pursued more tacitly by many countries, and more openly by some others like Hungary and the United Kingdom – of making migrants’ quest for asylum as difficult as possible through various hindrances, and using countries like Italy and Greece as buffers, is proving ineffective. People fleeing for their lives and seeking to protect and help their families won’t be stopped by this. To really prevent people from seeking asylum in northern and western Europe, as granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would only be possible (if at all) at an immense human cost.
European countries must create safe and legal ways for refugees to migrate to and claim asylum – here, now. These refugees will, for a time, be a (fairly insignificant) financial drain. Over time, when the situation in Syria etc. stabilises, many will return. Those who stay will enrich the countries which granted them asylum and to which they are grateful.
To resolve the present crisis will require Europe-wide coordination and effort of the type which evidently is only feasible when the objective is to bail out banks and punish southern European debtor states. The present refugee crisis could be an opportunity to humanise Europe again. What better way to restore confidence in the European Union as a humane and worthy project, than to work together to guarantee their human rights and ensure the social burden is distributed fairly?
Meanwhile: throughout Germany over the past months arsonists have burnt down multiple refugee accommodation buildings (and one can hardly escape the impression that some local authorities didn’t mind all too much). A simple and poetically-just suggestion for dealing with the perpetrators, if caught, would be to deport them to Syria without a passport. Does that seem like harsh punishment? If so, it clarifies what it is like, right now, to be in Syria without a European passport.