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writing for godot

Exodus: The European Refugee Crisis

Written by Madeleine Kando   
Saturday, 12 September 2015 04:31
The world is facing a refugee crisis of biblical proportions. Although the press is full of images and stories of refugees trying to reach Europe on dinghy boats, or trek through the 'Balkan corridor', they are but a small fraction of the millions of people who have fled war zones in the Middle East

Most of them end up in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon, but living there year in year out, is a pretty bleak affair without prospects for a better future. So the logical next step is to go further afield, to Europe. America would be another option, were the Atlantic a little narrower.

The bulk of these refugees are from Syria, where a war has been raging since 2011. It is estimated that 60 million people have been displaced worldwide, which is approximately the entire population of France. The last time the world saw such a large displacement, was during the Völksverwanderung in the late Roman period, which destroyed an entire civilization and replaced it with the 'Dark Ages', setting Europe back a millennium.

Germany's latest magnanimous gesture to offer asylum to 800,000 refugees has had the effect of shaming more reactionary responses to the crisis, in particular Hungary's. But it also creates a problem for Germany itself, and might eventually kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Although Berlin wants to create a quota system to share the refugee burden, once you are in Europe, there are no borders to stop you from going where the jobs are, and the bulk of the jobs are in Germany... until they are all taken.

I myself, am a post World War 2 refugee, part of a human wave that tried to escape the newly established Communist regime in Hungary and other 'satellite' countries. It took decades to implement a system that could handle the refugee crisis during that time. It was also a time when everything had to be rebuilt and economic growth was enormous.

Now we are seeing a Europe that is overwhelmed, unprepared and in discord. Although Mama Merkel's intentions are laudable, it will not be enough. The Dublin Regulation, which requires refugees to stay in the first European country they arrive in until their asylum claims are processed, has been thrown out of the window, without anything tangible to replace it.

America is used to accepting large groups of immigrants. It had a gateway for millions of immigrants called Ellis Island, it is a unified country. In Europe, immigration rules are vague and unenforced. There are no ID cards, no requirement to learn the language of the host country, no particularly strong incentives to integrate. We are seeing a continent trying to make decisions very quickly, without democratic accountability, a Europe that has not yet been able to go beyond its national identities. It is trying to adhere to basic human values, but without a less sentimental response to the situation, Europe might have to return to a pre-Schengen agreement time, a time of fences and borders.

Brett Stephens, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, says what no one else has so far admitted: that this is basically all about security. Europe has been taking it easy, since the Second World War, letting others (read the US) take care of the unpleasant business of keeping it secure from those who might want to cause it harm. 'Europe's openness rests on America's strength', says Stephens.

Now that America is choosing more and more to emulate Europe's 'sitting on the sidelines' attitude, the tolerance and generosity that Germany is exhibiting will soon evaporate, like the mirage that it is. Europe cannot have it both ways: it can not remain open and borderless without someone protecting that openness, 'a virtue purchased through strength'.

Then, there is the question of the 'clash of civilizations'. In an article entitled: 'It's the beginning of the end of Europe', Israeli journalist Noah Klieger writes: 'The Europeans are failing to realize that Muslim refugees will lead to the complete disappearance of their countries' tradition, culture and progress and to the establishment of an Islamic rule across the entire continent.'

There are fears that the refugees' religious beliefs will affect our western values and will change them for the worst: women's rights, religious intolerance etc. Who will influence the hundreds of thousand of refugee children who will settle in the West? Our values or theirs? Is this paranoia or are those legitimate questions?

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