7 Sep 2015

Refugees: today’s German heroes could become tomorrow’s villains

Europe has had quite a summer book-ended by two crises which have called into question the whole purpose of the project. First a fiscal crisis and now, more seriously, a moral one.


Greece tested the EU’s economic viability as a “union”. In the heated and final throes of all-night talks to cobble together a questionable deal, the Germans emerged on one front page after another as tyrant number crunchers, determined to impose their hegemonic housekeeping on hapless Greeks. There was panic in Berlin that Germany’s benign image was going down the Euro-shredder, sucked back into the dungeons of history.

Fast forward to the other end of summer. Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers – let’s just call them people for now – had been trekking, rafting, swimming and wading into the EU all year,  all the previous years and often dying in the process. But in recent weeks we have all started to pay attention thanks to a combination of sobering numbers and gut wrenching images.

And like every story that captures the imagination, the audience demands villains, victims and heroes. Let’s just say that the roles are still being cast and depending on how events unfold, the list is fluid. Today’s German heroes could become tomorrow’s villains when the first migrant or refugee camp is burned down with casualties.

Did Aylan Kurdi’s father, as one tabloid suggested absurdly, risk his children’s lives so they could get better dental care in Canada? The narrative is as fluid and tortured as the flood of people because we Europeans, governments and people, are all forced to take a view. And make a gesture. We have skin in this crisis.

The Pope himself has told us to make our spare rooms available. But there is an opportunity in this human tide not just for the arrivals but for us. If the wrangling over Greece unmasked the paucity of the union this could reboot its raison d’être. It could remind Europe if its moral purpose.

The EU is after all nothing more than a noble and pragmatic idea born in the embers of World War Two. Europe too was a refugee from catastrophe. The pictures of Aleppo or Homs in rubble should remind us of Dresden or Coventry. Lest we forget it, especially in Germany, Europe was awash with European refugees a generation ago.

So if Europe is to survive the existential funk of recent years, if it is to prove its purpose in anything other than a lifestyle superpower that has lost its power and much of its style , it better not miss this opportunity handed to it by millions of outsiders who seem to know the value of the union far better than the millions of besieged insiders.

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3 reader comments

  1. Greg Kaye says:

    Finally, at long last, a reporter talking some sense in regarding the crisis of migrating Syrian (and other) refugees. Thank you.

    Apologies that the following text is also used elsewhere but I think it fits with the content above:

    Both for the long term future of overpopulated European countries and for the short term future of various far distant countries that are already are exporting food and other natural resources (and not even caring for their own growing populations) no level of immigration makes any ecological sense.

    Europe has clear problem when importing more people (all with continued need for food, clothing, buildings to live in and warmth) from warm locations in Africa and the Middle-East into relatively cold European countries that already import vast quantities food, materials and energy. It makes no sense when large quantities of these imports are shipped at great environmental expense from the countries that people are leaving.

    Problems, including rapid population growth in the countries that migrants are coming from (caused by factors such as lack of rights and access to good general education for women and girls) and the related actions of fascist, totalitarian regimes, have to be dealt with at source.

    The people (if they were in situations where they had valid reason not to fight for their homeland) were refugees. Within this situations refugee camps were responsibility set up in localities of current trouble spots so as to facilitate potential repatriation at suitable time. Now a largely male population has started to travel with the effect that these people have become migrants.

    If we do want to bring more people to the UK then, so in an attempt to avoid the very real threat of the militants that ISIL has said are flooding into Europe, we would be best off taking genuine refugee cases directly from the refugee camps. This would also bypass the horrendous situations of the exploitations of people traffickers and will also support people who may have more of a genuine interest in giving support to Syria..

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      Hello Greg,
      We’ve bags of space and too few children in Scotland.
      If we don’t find some more people of working age soon, we’ll turn our stagnant population growth (up only 2,000 per year for half a century) into a sink hole.
      In short, you maybe overcrowded, but we’re not!
      Last year we only produced 54,000 babies. No good for a population said to be 5.3 millions.
      Like Germany, we need extra people with ‘get up and go’.
      You may fear them. But most of Northern Europe needs them. So please don’t stand in their way.

  2. William says:

    Watched last night’s feature about the Kempsons in Lesbos. I have some ideas about creating a way of providing some serious help but need to speak with you about it. Can you please email me.

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