With this year’s theme of Passage in mind, it’s hard not to think on the migrant crisis in Europe that has been big news since this summer. Floating around in conversation and in the media we hear about the Syrian refugees seeking asylum throughout the EU. The more sensational stories rise to the top, like the German news station photo shopping Angela Merkel in a burka, or the Hungarian camera woman tripping a man carrying his child; but these don’t get anywhere close to telling the ‘true’ narrative of the situation. It is important not to get caught up in the distractions. Stories about Alan Kurdi, whose body washed ashore in Turkey, or the 71 immigrants who died in an abandoned truck in Austria, serve as reminders of the ‘collective failure’. The shear amount of people who have been dislocated since the continuing civil war in Syria and the destabilization of the region is staggering. It is estimated to be over nine million, and people often have trouble conceptualizing numbers over 100. On top of that, getting straight facts is hard considering the evolving nature of the situation. What is clear though is that with the further involvement of the two super powers in the Iraqi and Syrian region these areas will not be safe or stable for a long time, and that a response is necessary.
The media’s focus so far has seemed to be on how different EU nations are handling the crisis, along with their internal bickering. Xenophobia and racism seem to be the buzz words. France’s Foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, labels Hungary, with their razor wire fence and tear gas, ‘un-European’. Yet, at the same time, France has also used tear gas on some of the refugees there, when the country tried to prevent entry to Britain through Calais. The Scandinavian countries, and Germany are being lauded for their response accepting the most migrants long before quotas were agreed upon by the EU.
What is interesting is that while Europe is taking in hundreds of thousands of migrants, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are taking in millions. The likely reason for the media’s inflation of the situation in Europe is xenophobia. People are afraid of the ‘other’ that is coming into Europe in large numbers. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain the negative portrayal of Muslims in western media and how this is likely influencing the situation. Some news outlets are not afraid to sensationalize the entire situation, suggesting that Europe will face countless problems from accepting these refugees. The arguments are not tied in numbers or demographics, but rather cultural bias. Some news stations have even gone so far as to suggest that ‘terrorists’ are part of the population seeking asylum in the EU. The bias against these refugees is seen clearly in the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s words, who said in September, “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.” The xenophobia is disguised by other European leaders on economic arguments, but this falls apart when one looks to Germany, who has taken in the most migrants and has pledged to take in even more.
Though there is still disagreement and debate within Germany, their approach is likely to work in the long term, even though there is a large initial cost. Because Europe’s population is aging, a large influx of young labor is exactly what they need. Germany has the foresight to realize this, and even though these reasons might be seen as ‘selfish,’ it shows that the reasons to not let these people in are founded on weak argument. It makes sense to accept the migrants both economically and humanitarianly. Any country still fighting the EU’s decided stance on the situation is going to find it harder and harder to argue against it as Germany’s response is shown successful. Of course this is a strong statement, but if the racial and religious makeup of the refugees was not an issue for some Europeans, the whole situation might not be labelled as a ‘crisis’ for Europe.
By Morgan Curtis