Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The Middle East, and especially Syria and Northern Iraq, has been racked by civil war for the last three years. The rival groups have been involved in street fights and bombing campaigns which have ruined cities. Coupled with that, there is the rise of radical Islam in the shape of ISIS whose militants have been slaughtering and enslaving people. Faced with these problems, many locals have had no option but to leave their homes and belongings and make the long journey to Europe. Their enduring hope is to have a better and safer life. The term “refugee” is very different from the word migrant: the former refers to people escaping for their lives and the latter refers to people seeking better jobs. The current influx involves refugees in every sense of the word, and refusing to help them is not an option. However, settling everyone who arrives in Europe in EU countries is not an option either.

The most obvious reason why Europe cannot be expected to open its doors to everyone is economic. The new arrivals will have to be housed, fed and cared for and this would be fine if there were only a dozen or so people. With thousands lining up along the borders, expecting the social services of EU countries to cope is unrealistic. Each country has a certain capacity and beyond that capacity, accepting refugees is not a viable option. EU countries are already facing serious economic problems which are threatening the future of the union; exacerbating the problem does not make any kind of sense.

The second reason is cultural: the refugees come from the Middle East and have very different lifestyles, sets of beliefs and backgrounds. Migrants and refugees who have settled in Europe in the past have formed their own neighborhoods where they speak their own language and continue living in the way they have been accustomed to. This lack of assimilation or integration is already causing tension and leading to a rise in racist attacks. Adding to this group will only make matters worse; after all, there is no reason to assume that the new arrivals will act any differently. The reaction that is already taking place in society will grow leading to conflict and more intractable problems. In short, accepting large numbers of refugees would be a social and cultural disaster. Yet not helping these people is not an option either.

The solution to the problem need not be “accept them or send them back”; there is a compromise that can be considered: the refugees should be settled in neighboring countries, closer to home, and it should be made clear to them that the situation is temporary. Turkey and Jordan have already accepted refugees; so has Lebanon; these countries could be provided with funds and expert advice to support the refugees. Temporary refugee camps could be set up with all the basic facilities and amenities to enable refugees to live as normal a life as possible and charities and the UN could be involved in running the camps. In the meantime, every effort should be made to find a political solution to the problem and end the conflict. Once this is done, the rebuilding of the devastated cities and shattered lives can begin in earnest.

All in all, the refugees should be helped closer to home to avoid long term social, cultural and economic problems. The first world countries should commit to providing any assistance necessary and should be in it for the long haul. A concerted effort should be made to end the suffering of the refugees without creating additional problems.

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