Refusing Refugees: Why are We Building Walls Instead of Bridges
The way in which the current international migrant “crisis” is portrayed in political debates and by the media is having a detrimental effect on our efforts to positively resolve the logistical implications of mass migration from areas such as, Syria, Libya and African nations like Eritrea and Sudan. It is interesting to note that in a time of a political crisis the governments of modern democracies will often act in defiance of their usually liberal agendas to impose acts of self-preservation (usually once public opinion reflects that the issue is in fact a crisis).
The distinction between an “economic migrant” and a “refugee” is therefore an important one to make. Mass migration on this scale is a relatively modern phenomenon, which has created an illicit market for human trafficking and is producing a rising number of migrant deaths across Europe and the Mediterranean.
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was enacted in 1954, defines a “refugee” as: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or return to it.”
The media and government in western societies are openly using language such as “swarms”, or “marauding” to describe migrants as though they are pests. Many member states have been making poor policy decisions resulting in widespread migrant trafficking across national borders, leading to countless deaths and mismanaged groups drowning at sea. To label all those emigrating from less prosperous or war-torn nations as migrants, rather than refugees, which in fact a large proportion of these people are, is surely an illogical and somewhat prejudice assumption to make. Especially considering that this distinction was already universally recognised by the UN over half a century ago.
The British government has persistently pledged during its last two terms to reduce the level of net migration to tens of thousands a year, now expected to be in motion by 2020. In accordance with this policy against rising immigration levels, the Home Office announced last week that they would be enacting a new immigration bill. This bill will rule that illegal migrants coming to Britain will face a six month jail sentence, or an unlimited fine if found to be working illegitimately. As part of the policy, companies across the UK, such as taxi firms and late-night food venues have also been warned that hiring an illegal worker may result in the closure of their business.
The problem with reactionary policies such as building a razor-wire fence, as seen in Budapest on the Hungarian border over the past week, is that it literally gives the impression of blocking out the issue rather than attempting to handle it rationally. Many other EU member states, even Britain, are applying similar measures, recently erecting walls around supposed exit points from the Channel Tunnel in hope of curbing the migrants’ attempts to seek entrance to the UK. Brussels recently rejected Theresa May’s call for the reintroduction of border controls to deal with the crisis.
With over 300,000 people (according to UN figures) having risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean this year and more than 100,000 people arriving in July alone, most EU member states chose to oppose the European Commission’s proposal in June, for mandatory settlement quotas. The EC’s proposal was a reasonable attempt to ease the burden on countries who take in far more refugees than other member states. The UK currently accepts a mere 4% of the share of asylum seekers entering Europe, with France accepting 8%, in comparison with Germany’s high intake, of 40%.
Out of the devastating number of Syrian refugees that have left their country, 3.5 million people were taken in by a combined effort from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This exemplifies how cataclysmic the issue of population displacement is in these volatile nations.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor has stood up for the rights of refugees and said, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for.”
It is true that if all EU member states close their borders and reduce their intake rather than accepting partial responsibility, then the current catastrophe surrounding mass migration will truly escalate into a global emergency. Europe seems to be propagating this crisis at present by failing to corroborate and effectively re-distribute asylum seekers, who are in genuine need of asylum in Europe.
It is easy for some to overlook the historical causes of this particular period of mass migration, such as the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently, Libya and Syria. However it should not be so easy to let these matters be downplayed by certain media outlets, by dehumanising refugees under the banner of ‘immigrant’. Many of the affected areas in Asia and Africa are political environments, corrupted by war, economics and in some cases, religion.
As a citizen of an EU nation, it seems obvious that providing humanitarian aid, as well as productively easing European countries into the process of mass migration from these collapsing nations is the only solution. Building walls in migrant hotspots, such as Budapest, will not slow the desires of those people afflicted by the conditions of their country to wish to travel to nations with far more liberal human rights legislation, such as the UK, or Netherlands and Germany.
Alexander Betts, Professor and Director of Refugee Studies Centre, commented on the crisis stating, “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying. Europe needs a comprehensive global refugee policy.”
The death toll of people seeking asylum in Europe is rising at a worrying rate. At least 2,500 migrants have died since January. During the past week, 71 suffocated in a truck in Austria and 150 drowned just off the coast of Libya. The EU’s interior ministers are set to meet on the 14th September, to seek urgent solutions to the mass migration crisis.
We must ask ourselves, is the burden of accommodating more refugees really a larger loss than so many unnecessary deaths? The European Union itself was not built on foundations of intolerance. We should accept that the largest mass migration since the Second World War era is currently occurring, due to many social and economic factors within the global political spectrum. It is a crisis that will only become more common if we are to react with dismissive or xenophobic policies and not to sensibly regulate the distribution of refugees throughout European member states.