Europe and humanity itself are facing one of the biggest challenges to date. The seemingly endless flow of refugees primarily fleeing the Middle East is an issue that divides citizens of Europe. I refer to those fleeing the violence and atrocities occurring in their native countries as refugees because I believe that they are just that: “a person who has escaped their own country […] because of war” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. I use the term refugee because I do not believe that those fleeing Syria and other war-torn and oppressive states such as Eritrea are “people travelling to a different country, often to find work” that the term “migrant” often implies.
Without meaning to sound preachy or taking the supposed moral high ground, I want to explain why, as humans with a basic level compassion, it falls to us as a collective to responsibly accept those who have a genuine reason to seek asylum in our respective nations. Fortune alone has resulted in me being brought up in one of the most developed nations on earth and being given almost every opportunity anyone could hope for, but for so many others around the world, this is simply not the case. The opportunities and advantages that have been granted to me are only possible thanks to the UK’s economic exploitation of its former colonies up until the mid-20th century allowing accelerated advancement of the economy and infrastructure.
Obviously the former imperialist policies of the UK and other developed states like Germany, Italy and the USA are not responsible for every atrocity occurring in the developing world, but it is important that we take responsibility in helping others since we have previously demanded so much from them. One way of forcing people to take responsibility is to turn the refugee crisis into a question of morality. This tactic of turning a political problem into a moral one was utilised by Harry S. Truman (33rd President of the USA) when he forced people to accept African American equality on the basis that African American soldiers fought just as hard as their white counterparts.
The lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees hangs in the balance and it up to us to ensure that not a single life is lost, since they often have made treacherous journeys to arrive in Europe only to succumb to a state of limbo without proper documentation or adequate accommodation. Surely it is a better option to properly vet asylum seekers, provide them with the appropriate papers to get a job, provide for their families and for them to contribute to the state which they have settled in, if they pay their taxes; there is no truth in the belief that refugees will exploit a state's social welfare system.
The German approach to dealing with this crisis is both admirable and risky. Germany’s “can do” attitude again is partly to do with its history. The leaders of Germany (with the notable exception of Ms. Merkel herself) were all brought up in what was West Germany, where the future political leaders were taught to feel a certain amount of guilt for the actions of their predecessors and so will do considerably more than their neighbouring counterparts in times of humanitarian crisis. As a result, Germany was more willing than others in Europe to “step up” and take on the burden. Germany and Sweden alone were responsible for approving 80,000 asylum-seeker applications in 2014, this number by now will have surely swelled and yet the UK has consistently denied asylum to around 60% of applicants according to the Refugee Council.
The emergence of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washing up on a beach in Turkey last September resulted in Merkel agreeing to allow up to a million refugees to seek refuge in Germany, her unwavering support for these desperate individuals was as admirable as it was shocking. The rest of the world looked on in the hope that the rest of Europe would follow suit and match Germany’s mammoth efforts. The world, however, hoped in vain. Whilst Sweden made a valiant effort, the huge numbers now flowing into European states put extreme pressure on social services in each country. Other countries now use the strife created in Germany and Sweden by the presence of large amounts of refugees as an example of why they should not take in any fellow human beings, when in reality sharing the burden would ultimately relieve the pressure on those badly affected.
One thing is for certain. Inactivity is no longer an option. The low quality of life that refugees face whilst in stateless limbo is now as detrimental to their physical and mental health as their position in their home environment. It is easy for us all to say, “something needs to be done”, but the time for action has come, and make no mistake we will all have to suffer hardships of varying degrees. But surely this is better than having the lives of more refugees on our hands?
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