Migrant Quota Will Only Exacerbate EU Problems: Syrian Refugees Must Take Priority

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.

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Migrants protest at Budapest Station as Hungary refuses to facilitate their passage west

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.

West Indian immigrants arrive in England ready for a new life - 1948
West Indian immigrants arrive in England ready for a new life – 1948

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.

Utter devastation in Homs, Syria. Nobody can live here
Utter devastation in Homs, Syria. Nobody can live here

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.

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Population Displacement and Conflict Spillover: the pressing concerns of the Syrian Civil War

The killing of a Lebanese man outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut has emphasised the growing dilemma posed by Hezbollah’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War. The Shia militant group, traditionally supported by the Iranian government, has sent men and arms to fight beside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in their war against Sunni rebels.

Hezbollah’s presence in Syria is deeply troubling as it could indirectly lead to the spilling over of the conflict into Lebanon and the Golan Heights, a disputed zone largely occupied by Hezbollah’s arch enemies, the Israelis.

Hezbollah's supporters have a close affinity with Bashar al-Assad
Hezbollah’s supporters have a close affinity with Bashar al-Assad

 

There can be no more potent reminder of the vulnerability of the Middle East region than the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) during which a Christian minority government was forced into conflict with a coalition of Palestinian rebels evicted from the Holy Land, left-wing Muslim militias and Syrian forces supplied by Hafiz al-Assad (Bashar’s father). Some 120,000 people were killed during a war that led to Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, Syrian occupation of much of the remainder of the country and the establishment (in 1985) of Hezbollah.

National conflicts in the Middle East invariably do not stay that way. The sectarian divide between and within Sunni, Shia, Jewish and Christian groups, dispersed across a variety of countries, means support will always be found beyond one’s borders by any group engaged in conflict. This conversely means that the conflict itself is likely to follow these channels of support into neighbouring countries.

Lebanon became a battleground for religious and political supremacy in the Middle East
Lebanon became a battleground for religious and political supremacy in the Middle East

The murder of the Lebanese man in Beirut, an activist opposing the actions of Hezbollah in Syria, could easily provoke a response from the wide variety of ethnic groups within Lebanon and, by extension, their supporters abroad.

Lebanon has already experienced another tragic consequence of the Syrian Civil War, that of the massive displacement of Syrian civilians who have fled across the Lebanese border in the hope of escape and salvation. Some 76,000 people remain displaced from the Lebanese Civil War itself. Not only do these forced migrations put great pressure on local resources but they intensify the potential for conflict spillover as different ethnic groups ‘invade’ the territory of another, whether intentionally or not.

One recent example of such a phenomenon is Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of civilians from a variety of tribal and religious groups have fled the war in Darfur and conflict along the borderlands of Sudan and South Sudan in recent years. On resettling, groups traditionally estranged from one another have come into contact, occasionally resulting in the outbreak of new conflicts as belief systems clash and competition for resources ensues.

It is thought that as many as one-third of Syria’s population of 22.5m have been displaced from their homes since the war began. Where can they go? How will they be received should they escape across neighbouring borderlands into countries such as Lebanon and Turkey, another country currently experiencing its own internal strife?

Syrian refugees are forced to live in tented camps amidst unfamiliar neighbours
Syrian refugees are forced to live in tented camps amidst unfamiliar neighbours

The answer to these questions will determine the likelihood of the Syrian Civil War spiralling into a regional conflict that inflames hatreds between the Middle East’s major powers, few of which have shown a reluctance to use force in the past.

With this thought in mind, it must surely be time for the Western powers, particularly the US, to consider direct military intervention in the hope that further misery can be avoided.