There is no migrant crisis. Of course, there has been a significant increase in immigration to Europe. But there is no migrant ‘crisis’. First of all, what we are experiencing in Europe is not an influx of migrants, but of refugees. The rise in number of applications to European countries are not from those looking for work, but from those fleeing conflict. They are primarily coming from Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and Afghanistan, countries which you will recognise as currently or recently war torn. The people you see on your television screens, and read about in your papers; visible enough to count but clearly inconspicuous enough that we momentarily forget the fact that they are indeed people, are fleeing a thoroughly desperate situation for their lives. Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, signed and ratified by every European State, defines a refugee as such:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”
The thousands of men, women and children fleeing these regions are doing so out of a very real and legitimate fear that they might be killed should they stay. A migrant, such as myself, will choose to move countries, for whatever reasons. A refugee is driven to do so by circumstances beyond their control. The distinction is clear. These people did not choose to uproot, abandon their friends and, in some cases, their families in order to arrive in a continent that is wrought with profound xenophobic sentiment. The internet exists in Syria. Many people are aware of how they are perceived and stigmatised by the privileged Europeans. And yet they go anyway.
Keen observers might also be able to recognise that Europe and, more broadly, the ‘West’, have had a significant part to play in the beginnings of some of these conflicts. By now it should be common knowledge that the West have a long and gruesome history of displacing legitimate governments (amongst other deplorable act) in exchange for Western-puppet dictators, to the detriment of the affected populations. By now, one should at least have a rudimentary grasp of the conditions which gave rise to ISIS, and who is (are) responsible for the setting of these conditions, so there is no need for me to defend these claims.
The West’s proud history of imperialism, the brutal and systematic raping of culture and resources in these ‘other’ countries, has brought us directly to the horrific scenes we read about today, from the comforts of our considerably intact homes, and our functional, distinctly non-ruinous cities. And yet we reel back in anger and disgust at the anguished faces we have produced. And I continue to use the word we, because ‘we’, despite not having actively participated in the destabilisation of these regions, are complicit in the sense that we have directly benefitted from these decisions. Our ivory towers are stained with the blood of innocents.
And so we turn now to what we now all agree is a refugee crisis. There is certainly a ‘crisis’, but we are not suffering from it. Yes, there has been a significant increase in net migration to European countries and, yes, it is a considerable issue to confront. But the people who are suffering from the crisis are the refugees: it is why they are here. The real crisis in my view, then, is one of our humanity. Or, rather, the lack thereof.
I am appalled by the hatred and derision with which we have greeted these human beings. We have a long, well documented history, of lacking basic human empathy for those most in need of it (the stigmatisation of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany is quite a pertinent example). At the very least, we can say that we are consistent. When people who speak, eat, pray and look differently than us are in dire need of our help, we turn our noses up and, even in the face of the facts, complain that they ‘refuse to assimilate’ or some other equally trivial comment, when the real issue for many seem to be that they refuse to die in their homes.
What the EU, and the rest of the West, could (should) be doing, is creating temporary housing in European countries, as well as using military personnel to create safe-havens within the destabilised regions to slow the arrival of refugees into Europe. Rhetoric concerning means, about lack of space, is irrelevant (if not baseless to begin with) in light of the current situation. Economics should not be a reason to deny thousands of human beings the right to life guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. And yes, again, every European nation is a signatory to these treaties.
The migrant ‘crisis’ has shown Europe to be incapable of adhering to its duties prescribed by international law. Certainly there are tremendous logistical obstacles we need to tackle in order to provide for the refugees, and I make no attempt to suggest otherwise. But it is the stigmatisation and rejection of our fellow beings that I cannot fathom. It is apparently all too easy to talk about refugees like they are just statistics, but consider this an urgent reminder that they are much, much more than that.