European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has demanded that EU nations accept thousands more asylum seekers to help combat the unprecedented wave of migrants currently descending upon Europe. Juncker wants to impose a quota system whereby countries take on certain numbers of migrants based on their economic strength and social capacity.
The sudden flood of immigrants is largely a result of the continuing civil war in Syria and the advance of the ISIS terrorist group across swathes of that country and Iraq. Thousands more are making their way from Africa in search of a better life, with the treacheries of crossing the Mediterranean now forcing many to take an overland route through the strife-torn Middle East and the economically destitute Greece.
Several countries have already seen flashpoints between immigrants and security officials, with recent stand-offs in Hungary, Macedonia and Calais occasionally ending in violence. The desperation of the migrants’ situation has also recently been demonstrated by the discovery of a truckload of dead Syrians, abandoned on the Austrian roadside during transit further west.
There has not been this sort of large-scale migration since the end of the Second World War, when millions of people across Europe were displaced by conflict and border changes. Even then, given that considerable proportions of European states’ populations had perished during the war, there was more space for accommodating these people.
In the succeeding years, thousands of migrants also made their way to Western Europe from former colonies in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. Whilst they were subjected to widespread racism and discrimination, the fact that these migrants fulfilled a crucial role in helping to kickstart labour-short economies meant that the ‘burden’ of their presence was at least tolerated.
Indeed, the issue today for many European populations is not one of race, ethnicity or religion. Whilst there is understandably some resentment towards third-generation homegrown jihadists in Britain and France, it is accepted that most foreign migrants are eternally grateful for the opportunities presented to them by their host countries.
Rather, in a region that is already overpopulated and still recovering from an economic crisis, it is almost impossible for countries to accommodate huge quantities of migrants in such a short time period, whilst simultaneously paying for a generous welfare state.
The lack of a coordinated response has conveniently highlighted the limitations of the EU at a time when many in Brussels seem to want the entire union to become a federation without national sovereignty.
There is no easy solution, of course, but the need to offer asylum to those displaced by the Syrian nightmare is an urgent one. This has been reflected by the pledge in recent days by several countries, including the reluctant UK, to offer succour to thousands more Syrian refugees. For these people, and others genuinely displaced by conflicts out of their control, it seems appropriate to offer asylum immediately.
For those merely seeking a better life, however, the EU must be resilient. Famine, political repression and limited opportunities in countries overseas are something to be concerned about without question. However, we must all look after our own first. Western countries give billions of dollars in international aid every year and whilst it is perfectly understandable that people want to seek a happier existence somewhere else, they should not be priority cases for asylum.
Unless these migrants fill a gap in the labour force then they should not be allowed entry. If they arrive illegally, they should be deported at the earliest convenience. It is not a pleasant task, and one that will not be taken lightly, but it is necessary for the economic and social well-being of Western European nations.
The post-WWII migration from the devastated warzones of Europe and the states undergoing de-colonisation was acceptable; these people either had a desperate need to be housed or/and they played a vital role in rebuilding a shattered continent.
This is not the situation we face today and the EU, and Juncker, should be wary not to impose a self-defeating quota system on its member states. Only those physically displaced by conflict should be prioritised, otherwise there is nowhere that we can draw the line.
Europe’s largest generational challenge has only just begun.