15 Sep 2015

Migrants and refugees: does opening door make it better or worse?

With the European “Union” pelting each other over ever more obvious borders, the razor-wire share market in bull mode and Schengen in an induced coma – let us take stock.

Phase One – Aylan

Like Don McCullin’s haunting, awful image of the albino boy years ago in Biafra in the last stages of starvation, you knew where you were when you saw Aylan. You cannot delete.

Hundreds of previously ignored Aylans there were indeed, but this was the moment: cue protests across the continent and welcome parties at airports, stations and frontiers.

The people “power” phase, full of sound and righteous fury, but perhaps signifying little.

Phase Two – The Shutdown

As David Cameron told the British, welcoming people in is simply inviting ever greater numbers. And so it proved. This weekend Germany – yes Germany of the 800,000 Wilkommen – decided Bavaria and Munich were overwhelmed and shut down.

In truth, Denmark started the movement, stating that it could not cope and would clamp down on migrant and refugee benefits and border controls over a week ago. But the German re-imposition of border controls with Austria on Sunday afternoon set a domino shutdown running through Austria, Hungary to Serbia.


The pipe is blocked at Hungary – but still they come. I write from Tripoli in Northern Lebanon where at the very least 1000 Syrians a day leave for Turkey perfectly legally. For Turkey, read EU perfectly illegally.

Phase Three – The Split

Yesterday’s Brussels showdown of EU ministers brought out the Great Euro Divide. The Franco-German plan for a quota system across member states rejected by East European countries.

Poland…Slovakia…Hungary… are they just more racist or are they right or both?

Eastern Europe is overwhelmingly white and Catholic. More so than the west – much more so than the UK, Germany and France.

Not for the east the historic influxes from Pakistan, India and West Indies that the UK has seen. Nor the North African exodus to France of course.

Germany’s recent history spans the spectrum from mass cultural guilt through to constitutional obligations to take people in because of the Nazi years of monocultural experimentation.

Western Europe had the 60s – the east had the Stasi and largely monocultural communist baggage to come through.

All true and all too easy to leap to the conclusion that Eastern Europe is just more racist than the west because it’s less diluted culturally. Could be – but even if it were true it does not get us very far at all.

Look at this weekend’s events and they rather indicate that the eastern states are right on one crucial issue.

Welcome them in and more will come, they say. It is hard to argue that is wrong in the face of the German welcome and then the German shutdown. Few German politicians are talking about the 800,000 this weekend as they were last – they are talking  soldiers, shutting the gates and coping mechanisms.

The eastern Europeans told the Franco-German quota merchants yesterday in Brussels that they need to take people from the Jordanian and Lebanese camps – the Cameron mantra.

Quotas, they say,  are just another form of invitation: more will come, new quotas will be announced and so it will go on.

Taking people from the camps means taking those in the greatest need  and poverty as well as dissuading – perhaps – the hundreds of thousands taking the land route.

So calling the Poles hypocrites who are Islamaphobic , but zoom around the EU themselves for work, won’t get you far whether it’s true or not.

Equally the Austrian chancellor’s disgraceful likening of the Hungarian policy to the Nazis should be challenged.

What matters for making coherent policy is who is right – does opening the door make it better or worse?

Another round of insults about who is racist and who is progressive is achieving nothing at all in the stymied, divided, impotent EU.

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6 reader comments

  1. Philip Wagstaff says:

    Taken aback by your piece. Is this what you’d say if Jordan, Turkey et al had slammed the doors shut on the millions of refugees they have taken in. The other side of this coin is all these desperate people should stay home and just wait to perish. I do not know the answer but shutting them out is not.

  2. depeki says:

    The most monumental cock up by the EU.

  3. H Statton says:

    Helping, then welcoming migrants and refugees is always the right thing to do when they are in need. But Germany’s Angela Merkel is starting to lose the support of the public; policy is not now embraced by all.

    As you say, the generosity of Germany will make it the preferred destination; a good prospect for migrating people. Providing even very basic amenities becomes a luxury to what they’ve been through.

    It has taken by far, more migrants than any other European country; more than its fair share, besides France. Is hospitality slipping, and being replaced with frustration and antipathy due to this influx?

    A lack of other countries’ apparent concern, a lack of momentum in addressing the problems, is rubbing salt into the wound. And perpetual discussions about quotas, is not helping.

    As you suggest, shrinking cordiality is not off-putting to people fleeing for their lives. How does a sour European word compare to staring down the barrel of a gun? Anything has got to be better than what migrants have had to endure. Who would want to live in Syria, Afghanistan, and certain parts of Africa right now?

    It’s OK for us to help mess up the middle-east while concurrently staying on friendly terms with countries offering rich resources, but we have a duty of care to those that have suffered as a result of our selfish actions; a duty of care to humanity.

    How many western-European people secretly hope Viktor Orban’s expensive fence will discourage and ultimately stop the passage of migrants into Europe? Razor wire is barbaric and it will not prove preventative. Those migrating are desperate.

    Are westerners genuinely wincing at the television every time they see someone being hit with a baton? How many, behind closed of course, are glad that Hungary is using the stick, and trying to remove any carrot? I’m sure the far-right is applauding it.

    How many people in the UK are ‘thankful’ we live on an island and are ‘protected’ by the English Channel? How many of our politicians also feel relieved; it offering the ability to be indistinct and alarmist when it comes to numbers?

    And words such as: “floods”, “swarms”, and “marauding” migrants… so much for Nigel Farage being the only bad apple. A few months ago people were appalled by such comments, but now, even David Cameron is using this sort of language.


    Hungary could potentially block entry to its country via Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria if it wishes, thus funnelling migrants directly into western-Europe.

    There is no reason for migrants to trek into non-EU countries such as Romania, which has problems of its own, and certainly not to cross into war-torn Ukraine.

    All southern and western borders could go into complete lockdown. Meanwhile, does anyone in Europe give a thought to Lebanon which is playing host to more than a million refugees?

    Denmark has gone from admitting Danish ‘terrorists’ returning from the middle-east, into a controversial rehabilitation program, to talks of hard-line restrictions in its benefits system. This again, will prove to be no impediment. Denmark like other countries will not let people starve, but clearly it is agitated.

    Is this European disquiet warranted? A viewpoint:

  4. caseyjones says:

    Governments exist to protect their citizens. Clearly the EU is so high up on its moral ivory tower that its only just learning why border controls exist in the first place. Israel and Saudi Arabia are a lot closer and have taken no asylum seekers at all! The emotive pictures and plight of ‘refugees’ are a distraction, the real issue is western foreign policy and the so called ‘humanitarian interventions’ in the middle east.

  5. James Grey says:

    i think Angela’s decision let them register in Germany is one the most idiotic decisions a politician has ever made. It may even lead to the end of the European Union. She has just given the green light to hundreds of millions to try and get into the EU. Most of these people are economic migrants. Some of actually weathier than the rural population of Hungary. If this does not end then kiss goodbye to European unity.

  6. crystal says:

    There seems to be no dialogue with the African Leaders with the migrants coming out of North Africa by the European Leaders and no dialogue with the leaders in the Middle East

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