Europe is now bordering on the delusional. Unable or unwilling to cope with the recent refugee influx, or to acknowledge the right of people to seek asylum from persecution, or the root causes of the wars driving people into Europe, various European governments have simply decided that wishing people away is the most viable solution to the problem. If we can just prevent people from coming or staying here, the thinking goes, there won’t be a refugee crisis anymore. Poof! Who the hell cares what the consequences are? Poof!
As if that weren’t bad enough though, this wishful thinking is backed up by the power and military force of the state, so that forced deportations and bulldozing of people’s homes becomes the only option to carry out these fantasies.
The latest news, as reported by The Guardian, is that the Prefect of Calais has ordered some one thousand refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq, living in “The Jungle” trying to get to the UK, to vanish, or voluntarily be moved into heated shipping containers where they can sleep. Their sector of the Jungle will be bulldozed on Tuesday. This represents about one-quarter of the residents of The Jungle, which reportedly has grown into its own town, complete with restaurants, shops, and mosques. But, you know, the Prefect, Fabienne Buccio, said, it gives Calais a bad image. So she follows the enlightened path of the Greek government, which bulldozed a similar camp in Patras in 2008. But – surprise – refugees don’t disappear. Eight humanitarian aid agencies, as well as prominent signatories of a letter to David Cameron, oppose this forced relocation.
Perhaps it is ironic that the Prefect’s own grandfather was a refugee to France fleeing Fascism in Italy before the Second World War. But he was white and Western European, which makes all the difference. She claims Jane Austen and Colette as her favorite writers, but maybe she should have spent a little more time reading Victor Hugo or Émile Zola, I wonder.
So exactly where these thousand or so refugees, nearly 300 of whom are unaccompanied children, are going to go is still unsolved. Shipping containers? More crowded conditions elsewhere in The Jungle? Britain? Jails? Or hit the road again? Not our problem! Just make them go away and our problem will be solved.
Meanwhile, on the border between Central and Eastern Europe, another example of delusional wish-fulfillment politics is unfolding. The government of Austria, which actually had been one of the better countries in terms of welcoming refugees, and rarely deporting Afghan refugees for example, has now set a limit on asylum applications for next year, after 90,000 applications last year. The limit on the number of people who can apply this year is about half that, and as for the rest, well, they can just disappear. The Austrian government has told the Macedonian government – which, last time I checked has no border with Austria – to “completely stop” the flow of refugees crossing from Greece into Macedonia. Just stop them, Macedonia! Stop them!
And so, where are they going to go again? Oh right, now that NATO is involved, there aren’t going to be refugees coming into Europe anymore, they’ll be blocked between Turkey and Greece. Uh-huh. Or maybe they won’t come at all!
Obviously, in all seriousness, these governments can’t possibly be as naive as they are coming across. They have access to many more researchers of migration than a lonely little voice like me, but all of them are going to agree that stopping the flow of the mass migration of humans is an impossible task. It’s never been done in human history, and example after example historically shows that you can dam up flows, and you can make migration more dangerous and lethal – which they’ve already done – but people are always going to find a way to get through. And all this is aside from the underlying moral (and in this case legal) question that you can’t in good conscience deny people the right to flee from war and persecution, especially when you’ve, at a minimum, specifically signed and enacted laws that commit governments to providing humanitarian protection. Not to mention how unconscionable it is to block the escape of civilians, when your countries are participating in those wars, if not initiating them or even – the great unspoken – fueling and profiting from them by providing arms either directly or through private enterprise.
Too bad those refugees are just so damn inconvenient. As I’ve said before and will say again, let’s never forget that immigrants of any kind, settled and integrated, end up being a net economic gain for their adopted countries.
But the dangerous logic that has become dominant is that if we can just stop refugee flows, we don’t have a refugee problem. That assumes on some level this is voluntary, a result of a choice. But this is pure fantasy. If they won’t stop coming, they can be legislated away, stored in shipping containers, deported, fenced out, turned back at sea – then they will just stop coming. The problem is that, even if that were morally justifiable, there’s no evidence it has ever happened that way. It’s time for solutions that are based in reality, morally responsive, and actually forward-thinking in coming up with ideas that will benefit refugees as well as the residents, new and old, of their new communities and neighborhoods.
And of course the other part of the fantasy is that Europe is going to be a place of peace and prosperity for refugees, where they can finally put the traumas of the past safely behind them.