by Daniel Jachim
At the heart of debate concerning Europe’s migrant crisis is the validity of the term itself. Are the people who have flooded Europe in the past few months economic migrants trying to better themselves or political refugees seeking asylum? It is not the definitions that are in doubt: the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations Human Rights Committee makes the difference quite clear. Rather, the question is which definition is applicable. Are the people constituting this influx truly in danger in their home countries, or are they simply in pursuit of a more comfortable life? To answer this, some context is necessary.
Mass migration to Europe is not a new phenomenon. In his work The Modern Antiquarian, Michael Hogan details a migration dating back to over 3000 years ago: the Dorian Invasion of Greece. Even after the Second World War, migration within Europe increased dramatically due to the extent of evacuation and expulsion from areas of conflict. But over the next few decades, it gradually decreased until this year, which saw the most migration to Europe since the war. Why? There are two reasonable explanations.
First, if one believes that this influx is composed of economic migrants, then they are coming because they want to live somewhere with more economic opportunities. The reason they would be doing so right now, as opposed to any other time in recent history, would most likely be due to favorable cracks in a previously resolute structure: the European Union. These ‘cracks’ include the rise of radical parties such as Syriza in Greece; the fact some states are trying to shake themselves loose of the EU; and the fact that its leadership is switching from Brussels to Berlin, which is a significant move that entails a rough transition period (The Economist).
Second, if one believes that they are political refugees – a belief shared by many – then the cause is even simpler: conflict. Although the Middle East has been embroiled in conflict for decades, it has recently intensified to unprecedented levels, especially in Syria. According to the Brookings Institute, reports of chemical weapon use, tightening of laws, and overall increases in violence have all prompted an exodus unlike any in history.
So what then is to be done? If the vast influx of people are economic migrants – as many of the more conservative believe – then the answer is clear: treat them like any other migrant. Check for documents, clear customs, and apply all the other bureaucratic procedures involved in moving to a new country. If they meet the requirements, then let them in; if not, then the reverse must be implemented. Both would be in accordance with the law. If those arriving in Europe are refugees – as the more liberal are inclined to believe – the solution is just as straightforward: provide them with the food and shelter they deserve. Surviving the perilous journey to European shores is in itself a challenge that not many accomplish. Life need not continue being a challenge even afterwards. A home must be found for those fleeing conflict which threatens their lives. In the words of senior Louis Richez, himself a European, “We must do something for them.”
Brookings link: http://www.brookings.edu/research/topics/isis
UN Convention: http://www.unhcr.org/3b66c2aa10.html
Photo credit: PHOTO: LEONHARD FOEGER/REUTERS http://www.wsj.com/articles/eus-tusk-says-europe-will-cope-with-refugee-crisis-1443555685