I saw them with my own eyes. We were on the highway between Athens in the south and Thessaloniki to the north. At one point, we stopped to have a break.
And there we saw them: They were milling around the Greek rest stop for buses: standing, sitting, smoking, and eating. Though there were families present, many were young men. Everyone had a cell phone. Arabic was often heard, though a South Asian language may have been detected, too. They had come from the Greek islands to Athens, now they paid 50 euros per person to be driven from the Greek capital to the northern border. From there, they planned to make their way to the rest of Europe.
Who were these people? They are part of the biggest news story of the year. Hundreds of thousands of migrants are flooding into Europe, with many having Germany and Scandinavia in mind. What does this mean for the continent and the world?
Before proceeding, the word ‘migrant’ is being used to denote someone on the move, be they a refugee, asylum-seeker, or someone looking for a better life. ‘Refugee’ speaks of someone fleeing their homeland because of trouble, war, and/or persecution. A person deemed to be a refugee cannot be deported against their will back to their homeland.
For our purposes, we will use the word ‘migrant’ as the umbrella term for all the above categories.
First, it should be remembered that Europe has been visited with mass migration throughout the centuries. With no natural barriers, it has happened on several occasions that migrants and armies from the East have poured into Europe. With 60 million people worldwide in search of a new home, Europe’s prestige, prosperity, and proximity to Asia and Africa make it a tempting target.
Why is there a mass of migration today from the Middle East? Simple: Jihad is alive and well in the Muslim world. From Nigeria to Pakistan, a low-level intra-Muslim world war is raging. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya, and Mali. These places are in great turmoil and this is sending migrants northward or westward. The worse place of all is Syria, and its humanitarian tragedy has given Europe the incentive to open its doors wide - if only for a moment.
The migrant river towards Europe began to flood in mid-2015. Turkey has been housing the majority of Syrian refugees, estimated to be 1.9 million. Neighbouring Greece has been an iron door; erecting a fence and sending would-be migrants to camps for processing. Then circumstances began to change:
1. Syria: With 250,000 killed, 10 million internally displaced and 4 million externally, the chances of a peaceful, united, democratic Syria in the near future is hopeless. With no end of the war in sight, this war is the single-greatest impetus of the refugee crisis;
2. The Turkish Economy: The Turks do not allow Syrian refugees to work legally; so when its economy began to decline, this pushed migrants westward;
3. Greece: The rise of the ultra-left wing Syria Party of Alexis Tsipras closed down the internment camps and released detainees; This means Greece is no longer a stumbling block, but a stepping stone towards Europe;
4. Angela Merkel: The German Chancellor offered temporary asylum to Syrian refugees and said in general that migrants would be welcome. This was viewed as an open invitation and many migrants have been crashing the doors down to get in;
5. People smugglers: Up to 30,000 are involved in this ultra-lucrative practice. They have a callous tract record of not caring about the safety of those who pay for their services; this has led to many people drowning while in transit;
6. Ayaan Kurdi: The heart-breaking photo in September 2015 of 3 year old Syrian Kurdish boy Ayaan Kurdi, whose lifeless body was laying on the beach, created a torrent of emotion, putting pressure on besieged European governments to ‘do something’ about more migrants. Never mind that little thought was given about the cost or ability to do so.
All these factors mean that anywhere from 800,000 to 1,000,000 migrants could be heading to Germany in 2015. Many are Syrians but Pakistanis, Afghanis, Eritreans, are part of the mix.
In our next blog, we will look at how we should respond to this headline-making phenomena.
In our first part, we saw that a flood of migrants is pouring into Europe and learned some of the reasons. Here, we want to consider how we should respond.
As a migrant myself, the son of a migrant father, grandson of four migrant grandparents, and with some of our family as former refugees, this topic is of great important to me personally. Here are some thing to consider:
1. Orderly & sustainable: There are those in the West who want unlimited immigration, replete with immigration services and welfare benefits. This is simply unsustainable: No country can take in everyone who wants refuge, not even the United States, which is the Number One favoured haven of migrants worldwide. Healthy realism, not ‘feel good’ rhetoric, is sorely needed;
2. Economic opportunists Though no statistics are currently available, many of the would-be migrants are young men, equipped with the best cell phones and money in the bank. They are not refugees; they are migrants looking for a better opportunity. Nevertheless, they are joining the flow of refugees while the door to Europe is open. This is not necessarily bad in itself, however, when there are limited ‘seats at the dinner table,’ economic opportunists are taking the places of those who are truly needy;
3. Minorities: In the Middle East, minorities like Christians and Yazidis are the neediest of all; yes, there are Muslim suffering in the Muslim world war. Yet you can be sure if a Syrian or Iraqi Christian or Yazidi shows up on a Greek island, they are genuine refugees in need of asylum; they have a valid reason for protection and should be made a top priority. They will also be the quickest to assess;
4. National sovereignty: Every nation has the right to screen migrants and turf out terrorists or even opportunists, if they don’t meet the criteria as set out by the individual nation; while national sovereignty still means anything, we need to respect this;
5. Take another look at multiculturalism: This dominant philosophy says that all cultures are equally valid, benign, and beneficial; no one culture is better than another. If this is the case, why do many migrants leave their own culture to embrace the western version? Multiculturalism discourages assimilation of migrants into the mainstream and views the prevailing Judeo-Christian culture with contempt. On the other hand, America was renowned for its ‘melting pot’ concept, where migrants from China, Poland, Argentina, or wherever, blended int and became ‘Americans.’ Don’t mix up multiculturalism with immigration - the point being that genuine refugees and approved migrants should want to blend into their new country, not build an impregnable enclave of the one they left?
6. West is Best? Whenever possible, it is best to keep refugees in their own culture zone; the differences of an alien culture can be overwhelming. Many refugees would prefer to return home if it were stable. The ever-increasing coarseness of western culture could be grievously offensive to migrants from strongly family-orientated and religious backgrounds, and nothing short of a revival can stop this.
Handled properly, migrants can help fuel economic growth and lift up sagging population figures. Handled poorly, it can lead to social disunity and dysfunction.
It’s important to ‘get it right,’ especially now.