Recently the world woke to the horrific sight of little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed ashore on a beach in Hungary. The unfortunate child was part of a Syrian family trying to escape the war in his country, in order to seek a better life abroad. The toddler’s fate pricked the collective conscience of the world, in particular that of Europe and we saw a sudden gush of emotion from EU member states, each scrambling to assuage their guilty feelings by opening doors wide.
At last count, Austria and Germany were ready to take in nearly 10000 refugees, while Scotland had offered a figure of 1000. The Finnish PM is reported to have offered his spare house to refugees while other European nations were still dragging their feet. The others would eventually, albeit grudgingly, take in refugees. But after that what?
The fact is, refugees or asylum seekers and immigrants have been trying to get into Europe for several months, even years, only the flow has increased of late. The writing on the wall was clear, however, other than seeking more funds and resources for Naval and Coast Guard patrols, there did not appear to have been a serious discussion on how to deal with the refugee problem. As it stands, the EU’s actions have now been overtaken by events and they have no option but to deal with the streams of humanity.
Under European Law, an immigrant has only to reach the shores of Europe after which he or she can apply for asylum from persecution at home. In fact, the Coast Guards of the EU’s Mediterranean countries are duty bound to rush to the rescue of a boat in distress. Greek Coast Guards have reported that boatloads of immigrants often take advantage of these laws by jettisoning the outboard motors of their small boats when within sight of Europe’s coast, knowing that sooner or later they would be spotted by patrols and towed to port after which they can commence the process of seeking asylum. Due to the ease with which movement can take place across EU states, it will be extremely difficult to keep track of the people once they enter Europe.
Germany and Austria have tried hard to project a secular and tolerant image through an effusive display of welcome and inclusion. On the other hand, it is well known that ethnic Europeans have long had a reputation for forming exclusive groups and perhaps even racist tendencies. That they are not particularly welcoming to non-EU immigrants is now established, according to a recent survey by Eurostat – the EU’s official statistics agency. According to reports, there have been large-scale conversions of Muslims to Christianity in Europe, which though voluntary, are being done to further strengthen their claims to EU citizenship, on the grounds that they would face persecution if sent home. In some countries, conversion by a Muslim to Christianity is punishable by death.
It would certainly be incorrect and unfair to doubt the good intentions of most European nations, who have indeed striven hard to help those in distress. Besides, those who have reached Europe must surely thank their Gods for the security and shelter provided them. However the reality of the future is yet to strike both immigrants and Europeans. According to Eurostat, unemployment figures in the EU and EA are around 9.6% and 11.1% respectively. These figures could change for the worse with large numbers of migrants entering various countries within short periods before European economies have a chance to correct themselves.
Already, the EU is showing signs of strain with various countries closing their borders to stem the flow of refugees, the largest since World War II. Hungary has closed her borders with Serbia, followed by Croatia’s closure of the Serbian border. Germany who till recently was striving to welcome refugees, has cut back on cash benefits, hastened plans for deportation and instead of housing benefits, a ticket back to the first country the refugees entered in Europe. The country of 81 million is expecting a refugee inflow of 800000. In other places, refugees are being interned in barbed wire enclosed camps designated for “aliens”.
The closure of Serbia’s borders with Hungary and Croatia has forced refugees into the forested areas of Bosnia where many uncleared landmines from the war remain, thereby increasing the risk for people fleeing from wars. Refugees are understandably reluctant to remain in Serbia, given the high unemployment figures in that part of Europe.
It does not take a great deal of intellect to see that there is a problem waiting to happen if this migration process remains unchecked. Will the host countries send the refugees back should peace return to their homelands? It is unlikely that any of the refugees would return even if asked to. Given the fact that Europe’s ethnic population is on the decline and that the two cultures are vastly different, two things could happen – the demographics of Europe stands to get altered and the possibility of clashes between the distinct ethnic groups becomes high.
As more and more refugees move into new towns and cities in Europe, adjustment problems of religion, language, food and cultures are bound to surface. Given the unemployment figures, it will be difficult for the new residents to find jobs immediately, leading to a feeling of disparity among the newcomers and resentment among the local population on account of the additional financial burden that is bound to be imposed on them from increased taxes. Civic amenities like hospitals and law enforcement agencies will immediately feel the strain with the sudden increase in population. The possibility of terrorists sneaking in, under the garb of asylum seekers, also increases exponentially, another reason for the host nations to view applications for asylum under a magnifying lens, leading to a further feeling of alienation.
If one looks at the motivating factors for migration, the most common ones are: poverty, lack of jobs / opportunity, persecution on religious / ethnic grounds and war. It would not be incorrect to say that the worst sufferers are usually the poorest. As an extension, one can assume that poverty is possibly the chief factor of migration, for it is this that is compelling thousands of Syrians, Somalis, Libyans, Ethiopians, Senegalese, Bangla Deshis and others to leave their homes in search of a better way of life. If this could be addressed by giving migrants the possibility of reasonably well paying jobs and a decent quality of life in other countries, the stream of refugees into Europe could well be stemmed.
It is here that the prosperous Islamic nations have to play their part in improving the socio-economic conditions of poorer nations in Asia and Africa. It is time that the wealthier Islamic nations reached out to the impoverished and war torn countries of Africa and the Middle East with schemes of employment. Consider that there is a nearly year round requirement of construction workers in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and other Gulf countries, as well as, a requirement of skilled tradesmen like carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, drivers etc. With Qatar making a bid for the Olympics, there is a great deal of construction and related activity that would require large amounts of manpower. The Arab nations need to consider helping out by employing their poor brethren on these sites.
The European nations, could play a complementary role by setting up technical training and educational institutes in the Mediterranean littoral states of Africa and Asia in order to train personnel for employment in the Gulf and other Arab nations. The money earned could be plowed back to their home countries where it would raise the standard of living in much the same way as the Gulf boom helped thousands of Indians and other workers. The EU could even consider employing people from their former colonies as contract policemen and soldiers in much the same way as Britain employs Gurkhas from Nepal.
It is nobody’s case that this is an ideal or even the only solution, however unless European leaders start thinking out of the box on methods to resolve the current crisis and prevent future ones, the world is likely to see greater problems developing. Europe and the wealthy Arab nations have to work together to resolve each other’s problems.