If someone comes to you in an absolutely desperate, wretched state, could you really shut the door on them? I hope not. But that is what countries are doing en masse to the most desperate and genuine refugees.
I call it the Politics of Hate. That kind of politics that makes you hate all others unlike “your” people, and not want to give even an inch to them, because it’ll ruin you, or so the politicians tell us. That kind of politics is everywhere, of course, at home as well. But recently it’s been particularly ugly in Hungary, which effectively slammed the door on refugees by closing the main land route into the European Union (EU). Anyone crossing its borders illegally now will face arrest.
Led by a right-wing ruler who has no shame about his bigotry (and anti-Muslim sentiments), the country just put up a wall – literally – to stop refugees, many Syrian, from coming into their country en route to Germany, which has agreed to take them in.
This refusal of genuine refugees is distasteful to say the least. And also terribly hypocritical, going by history. The trouble with human beings is that they tend to have short memories.
Historically, in the last 200 years, Europe has been the nexus of a “refugee problem”, with both mass emigration (of Europeans to the world, from Argentina to Australia, and especially America), amidst a number of wars (including two world wars!) as well as immigration. It was not so long ago that more than a million refugees were streaming out of the Balkans, with some Bosnians even arriving on our shores.
In fact, the whole notion of refugees and asylum sprung out of post-war Europe, with the drift of more than 10 million people in 1945, many who had lost their homes. Eventually, countries came up with a convention calling for nations to recognise refugees and not send them home.
The movement of people is actually the story of mankind.
It has been happening since time immemorial as ancient texts attest to. Human history shows we’ve practically all migrated from somewhere. It’s just a question of when, a question of course that is extremely political.
The ebbs and flows of people fluctuated with trade routes, wars, political oppression and famines. Migrants often helped drive and enrich economies and cultures. In fact, studies consistently show that the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs.
The difference today is that we have border controls. Still, every day, people leave their homeland to survive.
For Syrians, caught in a brutal war that has no winners and no foreseeable end, and the Islamic State hovering at one end, the choice to flee may seem obvious. Now, “Syria is emptying” according to one report in the Washington Post.
It terrifies some nations. Even nearby Gulf states have faced fire for not doing enough to help the Syrian refugees.
Yet as The Economist noted, Germany’s open door, its “Willkommenskultur”, is “right morally, economically and politically”. A study by a migration research centre at University College, London, showed migrants added £20bil to the British economy in the decade from 2001-2011.
Yet the initial costs of handling migrants, often at a local level, often blur any vision of the potential long-term benefits.
The world today is not geared to handle refugees well. Not so long ago, boatloads of Rohingya stranded in nearby seas were almost left to starve to death until neighbouring countries, including Malaysia, agreed to take them in. Still, there is no clear regional policy and no hope of any political solution at home for these tens of thousands of people.
The EU’s Dublin agreement, which requires asylum seekers to be processed in the first EU country they reach, is failing, as frontline countries like Greece cannot cope. Plus it forces refugees to employ smugglers to make that desperate trip to Europe.
Until the world is more stable and equal, there will always be migration.
The grim news is that, this may only be the beginning. According to climate change scientists, more people will be displaced in the future due to climate change, resulting in more migrant crises. Scientists have pointed out that even in Syria, the first sparks of war were lit by rural migrants fleeing a drought that may well have had its roots in climate change.
Personally, I think remembering the humanity of these people in these challenging times may be the best test to our own humanity.