The grave situation facing refugees and economic migrants in Europe can only be resolved through the concerted actions of the very countries – and others – that precipitated the crisis.
It is deliberately provocative and politically disingenuous of the President of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, to blame everyone else for the situation European countries are currently experiencing with thousands of people seeking asylum and better living conditions for themselves and their families. Invoking the historical spectre of Muslims posing a “threat to Europe’s Christian identity” and insinuating a kind of collective madness – as he did in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – indicates both a lack of humanity and a disdain for human rights that most European countries have struggled to come to terms with over the past 70 years:
“Irresponsibility is the mark of every European politician who holds out the promise of a better life to immigrants and encourages them to leave everything behind and risk their lives in setting out for Europe. If Europe does not return to the path of common sense, it will find itself laid low in a battle for its fate,” he wrote.
Hungary lives in its own glasshouse of xenophobia and fascism, which it needs to address before throwing stones. That will not happen under Orbán, although he is right in one respect: Europe must return to the path of common sense. If blame is to be apportioned, we need to reflect on the root causes of the crisis: the wars in and on and the subsequent disintegration of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the horrendous failures attendant upon military intervention and a lack of post-conflict planning; the colonial legacies and duties of European countries; and a global economy that fails the world’s poor.
There are remedies, but they demand a policy that is something other than “humanitarian aid”, something more akin to moral responsibility with a smile. They also demand concerted political and economic action by the USA, Russia, and China (never suppose that migration is not an issue for them as well) alongside that of the countries of Europe to solve what is not a European “problem”, but a consequence of global geopolitics.
Refugees and migrants must be helped in very practical ways – not herded into “camps” or “processing centres” but given temporary living conditions and health facilities that address their immediate needs.
Refugees and migrants must be listened to and their individual cases addressed efficiently and in a way that treats them as human beings, not as the residual dross of someone else’s conflict. European countries have asylum policies, but they seem to be enmeshed in covert racism and overt bureaucratic procedures.
Economic migrants must be treated with sympathy. Resolving the conflicts in their countries of origin, rebuilding those countries’ infrastructures, investing in their futures are the real long-term solution. More immediate would be to offer stability and work that enables families to survive and children to be educated. At some point in the future, they could be offered the opportunity of returning to their own countries or of becoming citizens in the countries that welcomed them in the first place. If the welcome were genuine, they might wish to stay and to contribute to the common good.
Utopian? Of course. Moral? Absolutely. Expensive? You bet! Governments would have to create a global fund of billions – they can save it from their national defence budgets – spread over decades. But such an investment would pay dividends in terms of security and peace at every level. Solidarity and development would replace exploitation.
But there is more. To bring any of this about would require an overhaul of global politics and finances based on moral and ethical principles that are only ever paid lip service by the powers that be. It would require an unrelenting, consolidated plan of action. It would require a worldview made famous by John Donne after an outbreak of bubonic plague in London in 1623 when he thought he was dying and that the nearby church bell was tolling for him: “No man is an island…”
In other words, people – that’s all of us – only exist and survive through human relationships as individuals, families, communities, and nations. And, by extension, the Blue Planet itself can only survive if people act in the best interests of everyone on board. This is the worldview of the southern African concept of ubuntu: “A person is a person through other people”, an affirmation of a shared humanity that sees others in all their uniqueness and difference.
The current crisis in Europe is of our own making, not of those who seek asylum or economic stability. It is not someone else’s “problem” and it can only be resolved in ways that recognize equality, dignity, and genuine need.