Tag Archives: Europe

Doing a Better Job

This is an expanded version of a letter to the editor I sent to The New York Times back in July which they didn’t print, so it’s fair game for a blog post. It has to do with a linguistic turn of events which we in the Global North – that is, countries with net inflows of immigrants – have come to think of as normative. That has to do with the value judgment implicit in the notion of what constitutes a “better” job of immigration enforcement, indeed, and by extension, in the question of provision of human services to immigrants, and especially to refugees. Under international law, as I have pointed out in this blog in the past, refugees are a special class of immigrants, and they are not to be penalized by national laws for exercising their human right to seek asylum in other countries, even if that means crossing borders without inspection or even valid documents. The logic behind this, as developed in the first Geneva Convention on Refugees, is that in a chaotic situation of war and violence, or the sudden threat of death or persecution from the state, it’s not just to expect people to have the time to obtain legal passports from their own governments (which may be unwilling to let them leave), exit visas from those countries that require them of their nationals, or entry visas from other governments (who may want to restrict entry for a variety of reasons).

But what has happened in the misnamed “European refugee crisis” of 2014-to-now (misnamed both because the refugees are not Europeans, and because Europe is only seeing 15% of the refugees from Syria, while the vast majority of Syrians and Afghans are still in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, and Pakistan), is that enforcement, not protection, has become the standard by which governments measure success – and the press, who come from the same countries and the same class bias with fears of having to share their resources, have followed suit.

Here’s what I wrote to the Times:

In their article, “Austria’s Far Right Presents the E.U. With a New Test at the Polls” (July 1), Alison Smale and James Kanter observe thatCentral and Eastern European nations are demanding that the European Union do a better job of dealing with migration.” This is actually not the case. Under international law, namely the Geneva Convention and Protocol, “a better job” would be upholding the right of refugees to make claims of asylum in signatory countries. A more accurate statement would have been, “Central and Eastern European nations are demanding that the European Union do a better job of flouting the rule of law.”  The United Nations as well as every major human rights NGO have been quite clear that the EU, and particularly Central and Eastern European countries, have been illegally preventing migrants from exercising their legal rights, as well as providing the kind of humanitarian protection afforded to refugees throughout the world. What your reporters are calling “a better job” is actually code for greater enforcement and curtailment of migrants’ rights, which is what the governments of Austria, Hungary, Poland, Macedonia, and others are advocating. “A better job” would also require greater humanitarian conditions all along their route, as well as greater legal representation for asylum-seekers in Greece and other frontline EU states so that bona fide refugees can be recognized as quickly as possible. The EU, but even more, those very Central and Eastern European nations themselves, have been the ones responsible for not doing a better job according to the laws and treaties they themselves pledged to uphold when it pertained to European refugees. It would be great for New York Times reporters to actually report on the context of existing international law, rather than accept as “better” the flagrant violations of law these governments espouse.

Since I wrote that, I’ve become more aware of the rhetoric of complicity. A more egregious example comes from Greece, especially in light of the recent confirmation that the Greek Coast Guard has fired on refugee boats coming from Turkey. The German government was reported to have complained that Greece needs to do a better job of enforcement, in order to stem the flow of refugees eventually ending up in Greece. (Setting aside the gauntlet that refugees already have to run just trying to get from Greece through the former Yugoslavian countries and/or Hungary, and Austria, each of which have choked off border crossings or tried to influence other countries further down the chain to do the same.)

But what is so easy to overlook, given the clarity of international law and its proscriptions against blocking refugees from exercising their rights, is that what Germany is asking Greece to do is to violate international law more thoroughly and effectively. Germany is not saying “you need to provide a greater level of humanitarian service,” but instead is saying, “you need to violate established international law against innocent civilians more effectively so we won’t have to recognize (or subsidize) their rights when they get here.” In the most simple terms, “doing a better job” now means, in this upside-down world (to use Eduardo Galeano’s phrase) committing greater and more effective state-sponsored illegal activity.

That is to say, this is completely contrary not only to humanitarian standards of justice and ethical behavior, but to law that has been affirmed and recognized by every European country for the past sixty years. I cannot recall a time when the press and popular discourse accepted and encouraged the idea that government should do a better job at committing illegal activities.

In the U.S., the explicitness of this position has reached absurd levels under the proposals of candidate Trump, acknowledging that he is not just talking about refugees. Still, his idea that the U.S. needs to “create a deportation force” ignores the existence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which was created under the Homeland Security Act as a separate entity from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which was divided into three agencies in 2003. I’m still waiting to hear anyone from the press pointing this out to him and asking him what about “the deportation force” we already have. (This has even been echoed by Governor Christie of New Jersey who certainly knows better given his known awareness of the increase in immigration detainees in county jails in New Jersey.) Trump’s claims that we need to deport people who are in the U.S. illegally, especially criminals, overlooks the fact that this has already been going on for years, and even at an accelerated rate under President Obama, under whom deportations have increased 25% over the George W. Bush administration. Trump of course cannot admit that, from his perspective, the Obama Administration has been “doing a better job” at what he wants than the Bush Administration.

The idea that any deportation can be done “humanely” is absurd on its face as well. Since by definition deportation is the forced removal of someone from a country, that has to be done against the wishes of the defendant, as well as, in most cases, that person’s family. It usually involves at the very least a court order, police (or ICE) capture or arrest, physical removal to a jail or detention center, and putting someone on a plane (which, actually, several German pilots have been refusing to honor). It also has to involve in the U.S. “due process of law” under the 14th Amendment, though only 37% of those coming before immigration judges have benefit of counsel (to which they are entitled, but not guaranteed, under the law – a subtle distinction most Americans are unaware of), and far fewer among those already detained and facing deportation. I am not arguing here that all deportation is wrong – that’s a separate discussion – only that the idea of more deportations is only “better” depending on where you stand, and that the question of “humaneness” in deportation (which also usually involves splitting families or forcing them in the name of staying unified to leave the country of whom some are legal nationals) is a nonsensical argument in a world in which bona fide refugees are denied due process and legal counsel, held in jails and detention centers (including mothers and their infant children), housed in concentration camps, shot at, and prevented from exercising their human right to seek asylum.

The “better job” we need to do is the very antithesis of what the governments of the world – whether persecutors or would-be protectors – are trying to do. It is up to an independent press to point that out, especially those whose beat it is to cover law and human rights, rather than adopt the value-drenched rhetoric of the wealthiest and most privileged nations who show their willingness to enforce walls rather than, ironically, their own laws, treaties, and constitutions. It’s the press that needs to do a better job, not accepting governmental self-interest, while governments need to do a better job of protecting the most vulnerable as they are instructed to do under the United Nations and the Conventions on the protection of refugees.

Two very interesting endnotes to this.  First, the Australian government has just announced it is closing the refugee detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.  Meanwhile, the Italian Coast Guard has just been involved in rescuing some 6,500 migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Following through on these promises of hope is essential.

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Filed under Greece, Human rights, international law, Militarism, Policy, Syrians, Turkey, U.S.

A Place in the World

Their number is now 65.3 million, according to the UNHCR report released on Monday. That’s a 10% increase in one year, and the highest number ever recorded. Every minute, 24 people are displaced around the world. More than half are children. They include refugees, asylum-seekers awaiting decisions, and people displaced within their own countries. Half of the world’s refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, although as I have noted before, according to the EU which is doing everything it can to keep refugees out, Afghans can now only be considered economic migrants, purely for reasons of expediency. The U.N. says something quite different (as does every NGO). In the world population, 1 in 113 people is currently displaced. Among people displaced within their own borders, even though 6.6 million of them are from Syria, that country only comes in second place, behind Colombia which still has an astonishing 6.9 million internally displaced. Despite what one might think listening to the world news, only 14% are in wealthy countries, with 86% in low- and moderate-income countries. Lebanon has the highest refugee percentage of the population: nearly 1 in 5, while Turkey has the largest absolute number with 2.5 million, followed by Pakistan at 1.6 million, Lebanon at 1.1 million, then Iran at nearly a million. A footnote in the U.N. report tells us this does not even include 1.5 to 2 million undocumented Afghans in Iran, and another million in Pakistan. (That means the 65.3 million figure is undercounts Afghans by 2.5-3 million that the U.N. knows of.) In fact, there are more refugees in Pakistan or Iran than in all of Europe. Germany does not even crack the top ten, though Germany did receive around 442,000 asylum applications in 2015 alone.

And none of these numbers, by the way, include climate migrants. Not yet, anyway.

Just over one million arrived in Europe by sea, while 3,771 people are known to have drowned in the attempt in 2015.

And in other news, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has stopped accepting donations from European governments to protest their hypocritical actions. Also the EU-Turkey deal is already showing signs of collapse, given that a Greek court ruled Turkey is not a safe third country, not all asylum applicants in Greece are getting representation – but more on this in a later post.

The more I read about the worldwide refugee crisis, and especially its impact on Europe, the more certain I become that while the circumstances that force people to flee make a safe life impossible for them in their homelands, the response about how to handle their arrival is a matter of moral choices. We know these are choices that can in many cases be reversed, that accommodations can be made, and that the peoples of the world could band together to solve these problems, if only the will and the generosity were there. How do I know this? Because history has shown us that even at times of far worse crises – namely the Second World War – people did what they could especially when there was no risk to their own safety and security. Iran and Syria, for example, welcomed Polish and other European refugees at that time, and the Western European countries, when they wanted to, welcomed Hungarian an other Eastern European refugees during the Cold War. There were some 60 million displaced people after the Second World War. And similarly, despite great numbers, and poverty, the Greeks welcomed a million ethnic Greek refugees back from Turkey after 1922 and the Treaty of Lausanne, when it was a far significantly higher percentage of the population. Greece’s population was 5.5 million at the time (it is just under 11 million now) and they experienced a net gain of nearly 700,000 in eight years (many ethnic Turks left at the same time). This was a 12% increase in the population. But they made the choice that it was ok, because of the ethnic, linguistic, and religious ties with the refugees.

The equivalent today would be an increase of 1.3 million refugees – which is closer to the number in all of Europe, not just in Greece. So these protestations today that Europe can’t handle this influx have no basis in truth, if history is any guide – and Europe is a lot wealthier and more adaptable than Greece was in the 1920s. And look again at those hosting numbers coming out of Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan that I cited in the opening paragraph. But sixty years ago, almost all the refugees mentioned above were white, Europeans. We must not overlook the fact that the original Geneva Convention on refugees, in 1951, only pertained to European refugees even though it was a globally ratified U.N. document. Refugees from other parts of the world weren’t even included until 1967.

I have just learned that in Lebanon – where there really is a crisis (around one million Syrians, and that’s not counting the Palestinians who are already there), and nearly one in five people is a refugee, the response has been very different. With public and private funding from Europe, there are now increasing numbers of “double-shift” schools, so that refugee children can be educated along with citizen Lebanese, according to this article by former British PM Gordon Brown. Not only that, but Syrian refugee teachers can be employed to teach in the classrooms. Whose choice this is – whether it was the Lebanese government, the U.N., or the E.U. – can be analyzed later, but what this shows is that with determination, the problem of dehumanization can be addressed even in countries that are not wealthy. And it’s not that radical an idea, if even a moderate Labour politician like Mr. Brown can get behind it with such enthusiasm. (It was Brown whose biggest campaign gaffe, ironically, was referring to a constituent, when he thought his mic was off, as “a bigoted woman” because she had confronted him about her fears of increasing Eastern European immigration to England.)

Which raises the question: if this can be done in Lebanon (and with Jordan and, the article suggests, Turkey to follow), why is it such a hardship to do the same in Germany or the Netherlands or Norway? Not that they are not educating children, but they are dealing with significantly smaller numbers distributed among a much larger population and geographic area, and far more economic resources to work with. Granted, part of the appeal for Europe in such a local education program is that is makes it less likely for people to travel to Europe, which for many Europeans is their primary objective. Then again, if refugees can live a safe and decent life in a neighboring country, where they don’t have to learn a new language and way of life, and don’t have to risk their lives or lose everything they have in a perilous journey, no one can have any objection as long as they are not being warehoused and the local population isn’t being impoverished by the situation (a problem that has been solved elsewhere when the will of the international community was there). Obviously the chief goal is to prevent the kinds of crises that produce refugees and to reach peace settlements so people can return home – peacemaking is something that several commentators have pointed out governments show little interest in these days – but short of that, if local humane spaces can exist for people to flee to, where they not only are safe but won’t be living in stagnation as their lives waste away, then they shouldn’t have to flee so far to survive. Even if you are safe, but you can’t provide for your family and young people can’t get an education – for themselves but also to benefit the rebuilding of their country – you can’t blame anyone for trying to do what they must to find the opportunities they need. With no opportunity to transcend the confines of a refugee camp, it becomes a prison.

For the host countries, if anything, the problem is one of culture and psychology: the tendency of many people towards xenophobia – and some towards outright racism – coupled with real (but in this case irrational and often unwarranted) fears of economic loss. That and, as I have written previously the lack of will on the part of Europe’s leaders to educate their people about the undeniable long-term economic benefits of migration and to set a tone that recognizes that even supposedly monocultural states are and have historically been filed with diverse ethnic populations: Roma, Jews, Basques, Celtic minorities, Muslims, Kurds, while states like Switzerland and Belgium have never claimed to be monocultural. But leaders and parties that have done a poor job of promoting and defending what we in the U.S. call “cultural diversity” (flawed as it may be) start from a position of weakness when their nationalistic political opponents do all they can to whip up fear, anxiety, and the easy defaults of distrust, suspicion, and hatred. At the same time, contributing to a culture of fear and reinforcing often false stereotypes is an easy path to power as well.

Some of the latest thinking challenges whether the idea of the camp is the most desirable option. People such as David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, have suggested that a better alternative is to provide adequate living for refugees within a larger urban area, by providing housing, basic needs, and opportunities for work and education. Why keep people encamped if their needs (and more) can be met in a free urban existence? Of course, that does beg the question of how to also address the needs of the locals in the new country, especially if they are poor, including, for example, how to make enough housing available so that refugees don’t end up displacing locals who can’t afford housing. If people already have fears about competition for jobs, which research shows is short-term and limited to certain social classes, anyone who has been living in a tight or gentrifying real estate market is going to know that a large influx of new tenants is going to put pressure on the market (especially if landlords know that rents are being subsidized by the U.N. and NGOs). This new model that breaks down the walls of the refugee camp concept needs a lot of further research but the burden on the local population has to be taken into account, because the place of first refuge is usually not in a wealthy country – in fact, it is usually in a country where residents are already living precarious lives.

Which brings us to a study in contrasts. In May, the Kenyan government has, just like that, very publicly declared they will be closing down their refugee camps in November. Some 600,000 people in Dadaab and Kakuma camps stand to be displaced, the majority from Somalia (and by the way, less than 1% of the world population of refugees and displaced persons). While this appeared at first to be some kind of brinkmanship to force the international community to provide more support for the costs associated with having a population of the size of, roughly, the U.S. city of Baltimore, the official claim is that it’s a response to the security threat posed by the al-Shabab Islamist guerrillas. When the U.N. countered that that will actually further destabilize the security situation by trying to force the people back to Somalia, the Kenyan government has argued it will force the nations of the world to act more rapidly to stabilize Somalia after all these years of civil war. Aside from the fact that, taken on their face, these are two diametrically opposed predicted outcomes, the main questions in practical terms are: 1) How are they going to move 600,000 people who don’t want to be moved? and 2) Where are they going to go – to live and to work? These are not just able-bodied young adults who can move into fully furnished homes with all the means to support themselves. They are older people and many, many children, who have been living in camps for twenty years or more in some cases. It is not as if there are whole empty blocks in Mogadishu that are waiting for the arrival of a healthy and hale population that is returning from vacation. So how this can be “stabilizing” in any social sense – even if it led to a solution of the political conflict – ignores the reality of sheltering and feeding a massive, and displaced, population. There are also unacknowledged ways that Kenya actually benefits, according to this interesting analysis.

Not that this is any worse or impractical than when France decided it was ok to burn down part of “The Jungle,” the squatter community outside of Calais where refugees wait to find a way to get to England. People who have no safe place to go aren’t staying in refugee camps or squatter communities to be thorns in the side of their host countries. They really don’t have alternatives. Now, I have not been to Calais yet myself, so I am only writing about it based on what I have read and some extraordinary photos from a colleague who was just there (whom I will keep nameless for now out of respect for her privacy). What was most striking to defenders of The Jungle was that the residents, no matter how transient and short-term, had established small shops, restaurants, and other businesses. This is common to refugee camps and squatter settlements, more than you might think. I even saw a computer repair shop among the little vegetable stands in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. But why it should be such a threat that it needs to be destroyed or eradicated is, again, a moral choice, not a practical necessity. After all, there has always been development, and if the will is there, local government or national governments (and even NGOs and the UN) could provide the resources to help turn a dirty plot of land with poor drainage and unsafe health conditions (something I have also witnessed in a squatter camp in Greece in 2008) into a makeshift community. Plywood, latrines, solar cookers, electricity, bedding, medical clinics – these are not extraordinary challenges. After all, the major nations have shown repeatedly this can be done in a matter of weeks for invading and occupying armies. So why not for refugees whom we recognize meet the international legal criteria for protection?

At the same time, over fifty thousand refugees remain stranded in Greece, unable to move on because other countries such as Macedonia have closed their borders. Local Greeks have been helping out, not only as volunteers (especially on the island of Lesbos) but also in paid positions, since there can be jobs in humanitarian work. Locals can be hired to do the kind of work necessary in refugee protection and humanitarian relief. Again, there is the money – maybe not in Greece, but from Western Europe, especially if it’s in their interest to keep refugees in Greece – to pay for decent living conditions, especially if they want to keep people in Greece. There is always the pernicious argument to work against, that showing any kindness to refugees (in the form of decent housing, jobs that pay, good living conditions) becomes an incentive for others to come. Aside from the fact that this does not recognize the central fact that refugees don’t have a choice, it also shows up the larger issue of vast economic inequality and the unwillingness to contribute to decent and safe living conditions for people in their countries of origin. That’s a choice of a different kind, but a choice that the wealthy nations make that has human consequences abroad and at home, wherever that may be.

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Filed under Afghans, Europe, Greece, Human rights, Squatter communities, Syrians, Turkey

The Aegean: Military Responses Cannot Solve Humanitarian Crises

There are some times in refugee policy and crises when the world’s nations reveal their true colors.  The problem is it’s happening with such frequency these days it’s hard to keep up.  Granted, I wrote about Denmark two weeks ago and should have followed up with a post about Sweden’s new policies in the interim, but haven’t had the time.  But when it comes to hypocrisy, Greece and Turkey abhor a vacuum., and now both are taking steps to make the humanitarian refugee crisis in the eastern Aegean go from bad to worse.

According to yesterday’s New York Times, that celebrated humanitarian organization, NATO, is now getting involved to patrol for refugees fleeing to Europe via Turkey, or as the Times headline puts it, to “deter human trafficking.”  First of all, before we even get to the moral arguments, just on the facts this is all wrong.  What is happening in the Aegean is not “human trafficking”; by definition, “trafficking” is the coerced movement of people by smugglers for the purpose of labor or other exploitation.  While “smuggling” refers to all movement of people by agents across borders without proper documents or inspection, “trafficking” specifically means there is an element of coercion, and usually exploitation involved.  (And in fact, traffickers can also sometimes move people across borders legally, because people can enter a country with a work visa only to find out that the job they were promised bears no resemblance to the job in which they (usually she) find themselves caught – sex work, domestic work, indentured servitude, farm labor.)  That is not what is going on between Turkey and Greece.  The vast majority of migrants passing from Turkey to Greece are from Syria and Afghanistan and are fleeing war, and while there are also political refugees and economic migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries, the numbers of people being involuntarily or coercively “trafficked” is quite small.  Calling it “trafficking” wrongly categorizes the migration as labor exploitation when in fact, as we well know, in most cases it’s about escape from war and persecution.

So just on its face, this is not a mission that calls for a police or military solution.  That said, the mission as described is going to have three objectives.  One is to interdict the refugees at sea.  What will be done with them is as yet unspecified, but since they will not yet set foot on European soil, it’s unlikely NATO will kindly usher them to land where they acquire the legal rights they are seeking. They will probably be the big losers in this, and will, in order to avoid capture by NATO, engage in riskier crossings and maneuvers.  More refugees are going to die in the process of the crossing.

Second, the mission is to break up the smugglers’ networks and to put them out of business.  But then what?  The fantasy depiction of the situation that the major governments would have us believe is that the smugglers are taking advantage of the refugees – and they are, but only because other, legal options are simply not available.  If you are stuck in a refugee camp in Turkey, or in Jordan, Lebanon, still inside Syria, or in Iran or Pakistan in the case of Afghans, it’s not like there’s a place you can fill out an application to get to Europe.  If you need to flee, your choice is a refugee camp – for five or ten years or even longer – or trying to get somewhere better so you and your children can have a future.  Even if you have relatives already in Europe, countries are now lengthening family reunion times, even though that is directly contravened under the Geneva Convention.  Refugees turn to smugglers not because they are coerced, but because smugglers are their last, and sometimes only, resort.  Arrest them and put them out of business, and then what?  People who are desperate to survive are going to find a way, a way that will likely be even more dangerous.  NATO nations’ belief that putting smugglers out of business is going to solve the problem is fatuous.  Smugglers will become more devious, more dangerous and violent (this is what has happened in Mexico), more expensive, and the routes will become riskier and more roundabout.

This new policy then is another example of disingenuousness on the part of the major world powers, who identify the smugglers and their networks as the main problem, preying on refugees.  And to be sure, there is nothing lower than someone who knowingly makes and sells defective life-jackets to refugees or who sexually abuses migrants.  But more important is to focus on the fact that the smugglers don’t create the refugee “problem”; smugglers exist and profit because there are no legal alternatives in response to at least two of the greatest human catastrophes of the past 75 years.  That’s what no world leader (outside of the U.N., like Antonio Guterres) is going to admit: the problem is there are millions of displaced civilians trying to survive, either in their own country (Syria, where they are subject to hunger as well as bombardment and possible persecution), or in neighboring countries (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where they may live in camps but will likely face a decade or more of enforced poverty and a precarious and unproductive future).  The only “legal” channel for moving to a country where they can integrate and be economically productive is resettlement, which typically takes at least five years, and even then for a tiny percentage of refugees at most.  (Last year only 100,000 were resettled out of a worldwide population of over 18 million recognized refugees.)  Smuggling is the symptom, because there are no realistic or safe alternatives within the legal system.  Arresting a few smugglers, even a few hundred, is not going to mend the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, nor is it going to address the real issue which is providing not only safe but decent places for people to settle and get on with their lives or to return to their postwar homes.  These fictions – that the smugglers are the problem, and that, as the mayor of  Lesbos told France24 in an interview, the need is to get Turkey to stop “sending” refugees to Greece – are convenient for finger-pointing purposes but are small diversions from the central problem.  Our political leaders know this.  Millions of people have been displaced by fighting and there are no practical avenues to help them survive in dignified and safe living conditions where they can continue their productive lives in careers or as parents, or where they can provide sufficient nutrition or education for their children.

Third, then, if you read the Times article  further, is that the ultimate objective is to disrupt the flow of refugees to Europe, which is what this is really about.  Europe, which is only receiving about 15% of the refugees (85% of whom remain in the Middle East), wants to protect their wealth and their illusion of homogeneity, in short, their privilege as European nation-states, even colonizing ones.  The big fear is that the refugees dislodged by civil war and European and American invasion (even the centrist Thomas L. Friedman as much as admits this, but more on him later), are going to bring the problems they face back to Europe, on a grand scale.  Keep the refugees out and it’s not really your problem, even if you then magnanimously donate funds to their humanitarian relief in tent cities and camps.  It’s really just an act of glorified xenophobia, with the phony and transparent veneer of claiming it’s about protecting refugees from dangerous and unscrupulous traffickers and smugglers.

To paraphrase Archbishop Oscar Romero, it is as if our neighbors’ house is on fire and instead of rescuing people, we are effectively slamming the door, by sending in NATO to make it more difficult for people to escape by dismantling illegally-built fire escapes because they are not up to code.

A more appropriate and effective – even cost-effective – and dare I say humanitarian response would be to give the same funding to the U.N., UNICEF, or even NGO’s to set up refugee welcome centers where basic food, clothing, services and registration can be provided on the Greek islands, where rescue patrols can go out to sea and help refugees (many of whom are children) make the crossing safely, and then help them get on their way, even consulting with those refugees who don’t have family in Europe and encouraging them to go to countries with fewer refugees and more vacant housing and job opportunities.  That would be a response Europe could be proud of one day.  Right now, if you follow the news or any number of video reports on YouTube coming out of Lesbos, Kos, and elsewhere, there are still no decent registration centers or housing options for refugees, even after the ordeal they have gone through (escaping from our mutual enemies, I might add).  Refugees have to wait weeks, without housing, food, or clothing, just to get registered by the Greek authorities, while a massive response from an international humanitarian team could make things move much more smoothly, quickly, and with less disruption for the locals.  And after all that, they then have to go from Athens to points north and west, usually on foot, seeking safety in whatever country will accept them.  We could do this if we had the will.

It’s important to point out here yet again that this is cost-effective in the long run, because the faster that refugees are integrated into their new countries and get back to work, the quicker they will be paying taxes back into the economy, creating businesses and jobs, and contributing economically into the system (and even providing humanitarian relief for their relatives back home).  I may have cited this before, but the evidence is already showing that refugees in Europe, even in this crisis, are already a net gain to the economy by the European Commission’s own estimates.

It is deeply disappointing (though perhaps not surprising) that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as knowledgeable as she is and thus ought to no better, even in last night’s debate showed her support for NATO’s actions to break up the smugglers’ networks and stop the flow of refugees into Europe, as if the flow into Europe is a worse problem than the displacement of millions of refugees or the unsustainability of life in the refugee camps in the first place.  Then she repeats the known, and dangerous, misconception that the refugee “crisis” is an economic drain on Europe, even though she would have access to all the sociological data that show that in the long run, and with proper investments, refugees like all immigrants grow the economy.  (It’s also self-defeating, because if she then turns around and wants to accept more refugees for resettlement in the U.S., as she claims, she then has to argue against her own economic argument spewed back by opposing governors, when in fact the economic data, especially in the U.S., would support greater resettlement numbers.  She’d be better off embracing the economic data from the beginning and adopting the platform that refugees are a net gain, and not only economically but also in the ingenuity and experience they bring to their new country.)

In sum, if this really were about humanitarian protection, then NATO and a military response would be the wrong way to go.  No, this is really about national security and about appeasing nationalist, xenophobic parties, about keeping the people out of Europe they don’t want.  Otherwise, they have to explain why a military response, whether by NATO or Frontex, is preferred over a humanitarian one and why they need to make the process more dangerous as a deterrent.

Finally, a special word on Thomas L. Friedman, who makes the claim in the same article that Germany, one of the largest and wealthiest nations in Europe, cannot handle an influx of refugees.  He writes, “it was also reckless of [Angela Merkel] to think that so many immigrants, primarily Muslims, could be properly absorbed so quickly into society in Germany — a country that took two decades and billions of dollars to absorb East Germans.”  The scale is so disproportionate here that any comparison with East Germany is absurd.  In 1990, the year of German reunification, the West German population was about 63 million and the East German was about 16 million – meaning in the new, united Germany, one in five citizens had been an East German.  Currently, the German population is over 83 million and the number of new refugees to be absorbed is one million.  So even if that number were to double, we’d be talking about a ratio of one in forty, or maybe as low as one in eighty, needing to be integrated.  One in five — of course that could take two decades.  But the current “crisis” is nothing of that scale, not to mention the fact that many of these refugees are already well-educated and ready for the labor force, even as they learn German.

But we keep the misconceptions flowing in order to shirk our humanitarian responsibilities, and resort to trumped-up military responses to justify our unwillingness to share the world’s resources or embrace the common humanity we will need in order to survive.

 

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Filed under Afghans, Europe, Greece, Militarism, Syrians