Europe's refugee crisis: a blessing in disguise? | Fin24

Europe's refugee crisis: a blessing in disguise?

Aug 13 2015 07:18
*Leopold Scholtz

READ these two statements.

One: Europe is in the midst of a crisis of staggering proportions, perhaps the biggest in centuries. Across the Mediterranean, hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees flood from the Third World to the continent’s southern shores and spill over to central, western and northern Europe.

Their culture and way of life do not mesh well with that of Europe. They expect to be welcomed into Paradise, where the streets are paved with gold and the good life is beckoning. They are perhaps the biggest threat to Europe since the implosion of the Soviet Union.

The second statement: Europe is experiencing a huge demographic crisis. Too few babies are born; too many old people have to be supported by too few young ones.

The coming of many young people from the Third World, refugees or not, is a godsend for a dying continent. In years to come, Europeans will thank the newcomers on their knees for saving them.

These, admittedly, are the extreme viewpoints now being bandied about in reaction to the refugee crisis sweeping Europe, a crisis which may have fundamental economic consequences – good or bad, that remains a moot point – for that part of the world.

But let us firstly look at the phenomenon itself. What exactly is happening, and why?

The fact is that many countries within travelling distance of Europe – in the Middle East and Africa – have been or are being devastated by civil war or corrupt, inefficient dictatorships whose leaders are interested only in lining their own pockets.

Hundreds of thousands of people see no future for themselves or their children there. And, therefore, they start a long, difficult journey, often fraught with danger.

They pay human traffickers through the nose to smuggle them through the Middle East and Turkey to Greece, or on rickety boats across the Mediterranean to either the Greek, Italian, French or Spanish islands or the mainland. And from there they surge northward to Germany, the Low Countries, Britain, even Scandinavia.

Plight moves rescuers to tears

And, along the way, many drown. The captain of a German frigate patrolling the Mediterranean, Commander Marc Metzger, told the German weekly Der Spiegel recently: “You are often on the verge of tears when you see how babes in arms are lifted from speedboats on to our frigate.” At times, the crew members require psychological counselling.

The public consciousness in the UK is presently gripped by the drama of thousands of refugees camping out in Calais, forcing their way on to lorries or ferries, or even walking through the Channel tunnel to the Promised Land.

The reason why Britain appears so popular is that this country, contrary to the Continent, does not oblige alien citizens to carry an identity card (which, of course, is not issued to illegals).

The figures certainly are staggering. Germany has already seen 180 000 refugees this year seeking political asylum, in addition to the more than 200 000 in 2014. Greece has so far this year received 120 000 and Italy 70 000.

They come mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia, but smaller countries like Eritrea, Senegal and Mali are also well represented – all countries which have been devastated by civil wars or non-governing governments.

What does this mean for Europe?

On the one hand, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has railed against the refugee flood. While speaking to the BBC, he accused the “marauding bands of refugees” of posing a “threat to the standard of living and social structure” of the European Union. Europe has a right to “protect itself,” he said.

On the other side of the Channel, Volker Kauder, a senior member of the governing Christian Democrats, told the daily newspaper Die Welt that refugees from the Balkans with little prospect of asylum should be shipped home quickly.

Germany has seen a spate of xenophobic attacks, apparently by rightwing extremists, on centres where refugees are temporarily housed. In other countries, anger at the flood of refugees is also rising.

Well educated and skilled

But not everyone believes that it is just a problem; some say it is a blessing in disguise.

The fact is that the European population is ageing. Although the EU’s fertility rate has somewhat increased in recent years, the population numbers are still set to fall. In the long term, this will result in an economic crisis.

Contrary to popular belief, the refugees are not always illiterate or so poor that they cannot fend for themselves. Last weekend Ian Birrell, a journalist who has published a book on the topic, wrote in the Independent on Sunday that the poorest are simply not able to begin the dangerous journey.

“Very poor people cannot afford to move abroad. Those migrants I met paid about $1 000 for the sea crossing, and some a similar sum to make the dangerous journey across the Sahara desert. This is why many of those migrating are among the best educated in their countries; they also have the skills to find jobs abroad.”

The debate is not likely to be over soon. The proof of the pudding, they say, lies in the eating – and it does not look as if the eating part will come along soon. We will have to wait and see.

eu  |  leopold scholtz  |  europe  |  refugees


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