Standpoint: Migrant Crisis? Europe Hasn’t Seen Anything Yet

Drowned boy
The Associated Press

From Douglas Murray writing in Standpoint Magazine:

What is now being called Europe’s “migrant crisis” is far more than that. It is in fact a crisis of European thought and of political leadership. At the heart of this crisis are the irreconcilable feelings of the European publics, the problems of a European political class trying to found policies based on those contradictions and a continent-wide unwillingness to think this crisis through beyond short-term emotionalism to any of its logical endpoints.

The first of those problems — the contradictions of the public — has been most evident in recent weeks. In late August, in the eastern German town of Heidenau, there were protests outside a refugee centre and an arson attack on a facility to be used by migrants. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced that Germany would accept around 800,000 refugees (about 1 per cent of the current German population) this year. When she subsequently appeared in Heidenau, Merkel was roundly booed and heckled by the crowds. This was, understandably, not the image that many other Germans wished to give to the world. Only days later, as refugees flowed across the borders of Germany, there were almost euphoric scenes as people lined the way, clapping, doling out toys and in some places throwing what appeared to be a carnival for their new arrivals. Yet these two groups of people are not wholly separate entities but rather represent a confusion which goes through the heart of many Europeans.

Because of course when we in Europe see people fleeing across borders we think of those who fled from country to country as refugees from Nazi Germany and scoured the globe for anyone to take them in. Our immediate instinct is compassion and, in some cases, guilt. Yet emotion is not enough and little enough, and while journalists compete to find the worst horror stories from those escaping from Syria few people if any are asking the questions behind the emotions.

Here are just a few of the questions we still cannot answer. Is Syria really like Nazi Germany? To date Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan — among other countries — have grudgingly taken in many refugees, but is the choice for Syria’s exiled populations really Europe or death? Even if it was, would Europe be able to take in millions of Syrian refugees? What will we do once they are here? Do we have any jobs for them or places for them to live? If they come here will they ever return to their country, once the war is over? Could “temporary asylum” even exist, given that most people will enter the welfare system and their children access schooling and other undoable provisions? In truth, these questions are the simplest of all. Because that is not the problem in full, but only a portion of it. We are failing to deal with even a portion of the problem.

Of the migrants who now form the largest inflow of migrants into Europe in recent history, only around 40 per cent are Syrians. We have lasered-in on the Syria portion of this problem. But it is only part of the problem. Most of those currently coming into Europe — as I saw on a recent trip to the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa — are from elsewhere in the world, including sub-Saharan Africa and in particular Eritrea. Even if it were in Britain or Europe’s gift to bring peace to Syria, what is the plan to bring stability and prosperity to Eritrea? Has anybody, anywhere got any idea? The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, recently said that Britain and other countries must try to improve living standards in such countries to prevent people coming here. But the truth is — as many studies have shown — it is only when living standards rise (though hardly to luxurious levels) that the migration truly begins. Truly poor people do not have the money to bribe the smugglers.

Even here we are far beyond the current acceptable political discussion, yet barely scratching the surface of the problem. But the questions have to be asked. What system does Europe have in place to discern who is a legitimate refugee and who is an economic migrant? Is it fit for purpose? In Italy I asked every aid worker I could find if they knew of anybody being sent back home after arriving in European waters. Nobody could think of such a case. The truth is that once someone is here they stay because Europe cannot work out who is who (most people having deliberately come without papers) and even if they are clearly economic migrants they are never sent home. Europe had no workable system to do this when the movement was at a low-point. Now that it is at a historic high Europe has less than no system.

And then there is the question of the composition of the migrants. If this movement is indeed a movement of the genuinely dispossessed then why are almost all of them young men? In recent weeks the media has zoomed its cameras in on the occasional woman or child. But they are the rarities. On Lampedusa I saw only young men from sub-Saharan Africa. I saw no women. One of the first things that many of the arrivals did on getting to the island was to buy a SIM card and call home to tell their families that they had made it: families they will end up sending money to if they make any (largely in the underground economy) and whom they will often aim to bring over to join them.

And of course there is the question of integration. Does anybody, anywhere in Europe still think integration has happened to date? Almost every government, currently opening its borders to further migrants, has in fact accepted that it has not. Chancellor Merkel said as much in a speech five years ago, as David Cameron did four years ago. So why would integration happen when immigration is at the current historic highs, if it didn’t happen when immigration was at — remarkably — a comparative low? Some politicians want to blame the public for a lack of enthusiasm about importing millions more people into Europe. If they are looking for someone to blame for that attitude they could do worse than looking to the citizens of Dewsbury, Gennevilliers, Malmö and many other places in Europe anyone can name.

All of this, again, barely touches the beginning of the debate which our continent is so far away from having. But perhaps it brings me to the most crucial question of all. Assuming that the majority of the arrivals are economic migrants and that we are going to do little or nothing to prevent them coming, ought not Europeans to try to start thinking their way through the first-principles questions? Such as: “Is it the job of Europeans to give a better standard of living in our continent to anybody in the world who wants it?’

Read the rest here