Separate safe havens from the migration debate, and the practical answers become clearby Alexander Betts / April 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
More people are displaced around the world than at any time since the Second World War. Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical atrocity in Syria provides one more reminder of why that is, and with climate change the numbers will grow. Two thirds relocate within their own countries, but many must cross a border to survive. Meanwhile, the willingness to offer refuge is collapsing. The rise of populist nationalism has made an open-door policy untenable. Humanitarian budgets are being cut, with Donald Trump threatening to slash UN spending. Major refugee hosting countries—from Kenya to Lebanon—have begun to close their borders.
Can we reconcile these competing trends? The European refugee crisis offered a test case for our policies and they failed. Thousands died. Pronouncing “Wir schaffen das”—we can do this—in 2015, Angela Merkel briefly opened Germany’s doors and, six months later, U-turned by effectively conspiring with Turkey and the EU to close the Balkan and Aegean Sea routes to Syrians.
Even more drowned in 2016 than 2015, and in 2017 the total is fast approaching 1,000 with 146 lost in a single boat from Libya in late March. In Greece last year, several refugees froze to death. Germany now faces the generational challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands of Syrians, 90 per cent of whom were unable to find jobs in their first year. Meanwhile, even though only 0.2 per cent of Syrian refugees were in the UK, thanks to shambolic policies, the EU “Leave” campaign could make great play with such slogans as “Breaking Point.” It did not need to be this way. Providing refuge should be a manageable task. There are 20m international refugees, a modest number in the context of a global population of over 7bn. Furthermore, the challenge is concentrated in a small number of countries; a quarter of all refugees are, for example, Palestinians.
The problem is that we have lost sight of what refuge is about. For Europe it signals fear. For Turkey and Kenya it signals cost. The issue has become bound up with toxic debates on migration and globalisation. Both progressive and reactionary voices conflate refuge with the right to migrate. The debate became about whether we should open Europe to large numbers of Muslim…