The so-called European “refugee crisis”
This year some five hundred thousand refugees have arrived in Europe on foot, by train or boat from the middle-east and north-Africa.
Nowhere has the anguish and humanity of this migration been brought home as starkly as when we saw the photos of the lifeless body of three year old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the shores of Turkish coast, after a trip he was reported to be excited about ended in tragedy.
It is emblematic of the huge risks anyone takes when they become refugees.
Media call this a “refugee crisis”. This is a problematic term as, like much of the response to the xenophobic violence here earlier in the year, it subtly apportions blame for the situation on the refugee themselves. A much better term might be “conflict crisis” or, in the case of African refugees, a “governance crisis” as these terms reflect its true causes. Indeed while overall levels of poverty have reduced since 2005, world-wide conflicts have become longer and more complex resulting in long drawn out emergencies and more refugees. Post 9/11 fear of radical Islam has also resulted in much less resettlement of refugees in third countries.
There are three particular factors generating the current movements. The first is the loss of hope by thousands of people for a political solution in Syria now that the conflict enters its 5th consecutive year. The second is associated – a deepening poverty of those people displaced – refugees / asylum seekers remaining in the camps or settlements of the middle-east who are not permitted to work. Then there is the trigger – with the approach of the northern winter and a reduction of food rations in those camps by 30% – owing to a funding shortfall in the World Food Program and UNHCR – which has led people to take to the road.
I think we could all say that if we were in the same situation we would respond similarly.
Solutions are available – governments and people can increase their contribution to funding such agencies. Particularly, the European government can commit funds to set up proper reception centres in Greece and Italy for refugees that would ensure an orderly processing of such people, coordinating with countries for their settlement, while those countries refusing to cooperate should reconsider.
It is worth remembering that South Africa absorbed a similar number of people in 2008 – 9 relatively successfully, while around 20 countries cooperated to ensure the movement of 3 million refugees in the 1980s aftermath of the Indo Chinese war.
Perhaps the most practical solution is that proposed by Pope Francis when he asked every Catholic parish in Europe to accommodate two families. This is both simple and also radical – as most of the refugees are Muslim. Yet the virtue of hospitality to “the other” lies at the heart of our faith. And in the current crisis situation it would go a long way to solving the issue very quickly indeed.
After all, Jesus and his parents were refugees from the middle-east.