Europe has received over 500,000 refugees in the past year coming primarily from Syria. It is the largest influx of refugees into the continent since WWII. However, with the exception of Germany, whose government committed to accepting up to 800,000 refugees over the next year, Europe has been shamefully passive in helping the refugees resettle.
It is important to understand the background of the migrant crisis. Many of the refugees have fled the increasingly violent Syrian civil war. Over four million have fled to neighboring countries, but because The UN’s refugee agency was not prepared for such a rapid and massive influx of refugees, many of their camps were overcrowded and undersupplied, compelling the refugees to seek asylum in Europe.
Unfortunately, despite their determination, the European Union cut the refugees’ plight short. The EU policy is that migrants have to stay at their country of first asylum. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the Western Balkan countries, including Greece which is suffering from an economic crisis and is not viable to be a safe heaven.
More European countries began to close their borders and build razor wire fences, cutting off tens of thousands of migrants from their destinations. Nearly a hundred thousand refugees crossed Slovakia to Austria so they could reach Germany, most refugees’ ideal destination, but Austria increased crossing restrictions and deployed border police to prevent people from crossing at will. According to the New York Times, about 26,000 refugees are stuck in between the Slovakian-Austrian border at reception or registration centers where they await their fate to be decided, sometimes waiting on buses or trains or just out in the open.
Europe’s passiveness in absorbing the refugees is pathetic, to say the least. Take into account that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees, while the UK, with 78 times the GDP, has pledged to take in only up to 20,000 within the next five years.
Some might argue that the EU’s hesitance to take in Syrians and other refugees from North Africa and the Middle East are grounded in legitimate concerns. Such concerns have ranged from a rising Muslim population (which is a gross concern that warrants an entirely separate article) to increasing crime rates and terrorism in Europe. However, these concerns can be debunked.
The fear that Muslims will dominate the EU is preposterous; according to Kurzgesagt, a German YouTube channel, even if the EU accepted all four million Syrian refugees, and assuming all of them are Muslims, the Muslim minority in the EU would only rise from 4 percent to 5 percent.
The fear of crime rates is also hypocritical. After studying in Professor Anita Fabos’ class on refugees, we learned that, when integrated and allowed to work in society, refugees are actually less likely to commit crime than the native citizens of the country. This is because immigrants want to focus on working so they can sustain their new lives. Thus, leaving them in the open without job and integration prospects is that which will lead to crime rising because they will become desperate. Refugees also tend to bring their own resources and unique assets, professionalism and businesses and can help with the economic growth of the community and the Syrians are no exception. Many of them are young professionals who can help Europe’s aging workforce.
The final concern is terrorism and it is an understandable one. For instance, earlier this year, a Lebanese official warned British Prime Minister David Cameron that about 2 in every 100 Syrians coming to Europe are affiliated with ISIS. This is something the West has feared since ISIS has made its mark on spreading its ideology and violence throughout the international community. Nevertheless, if ISIS fighters are their concern, then that only concedes the point that they need to come up with a resolution as soon as possible. If some of the refugees at the Austrian border are affiliated with ISIS, then leaving them there is precisely what is going to lead to more terrorism.
Refugees are people, not objects. They are going to move around regardless of whether countries will take them or not. If, on the other hand, the EU came up with a comprehensive solution in which they would help the refugees settle in their communities and give them a background check, then they can detain the 2 percent that have a history of working for ISIS and the other 98 percent can be absorbed and help grow Europe’s economy.
This is a critical time in history for Europe and us, the West; it will test our moral legacy. Will we be remembered as the fortunate who helped those in need, or will we be remembered as the selfish rich whose passiveness was only self-destructive? The choice is ours.