The refugees: moral doubt and strategic paralysis

The Middle East refugee crisis has become multi-dimensional. We still have the immediate problem of trying to save people from drowning between Turkey and Greece, not to mention others entering through all variety of land routes in the freezing cold. The latter have put the border protection of EU countries to the test, with the result that since the Union can’t manage anything collectively, countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia had to start fencing their lands unilaterally. Norway is arguing with Russia about returning thousands of illegal entrants on their bicycles some 400km north of the arctic circle in -20oC temperatures.

Then the problem of the inevitable social friction became apparent over recent months, although suppressed by the press and certain governments and police forces notably in Germany and Sweden. This culminated with the ‘Cologne scandal’.

As a result of that we have the spectacle of Merkel starting to backtrack on a completely open door policy amid fierce arguments with the central European countries about ‘refugee quotas’ – none of whose citizens voted for her, and none of which want Islamic refugees.

Now the Schengen internal border system will die within 2 months according to some. French PM Valls stated at Davos during the week that the whole European project is at risk if we don’t start dealing seriously with the problem.

How do we get out of this mess?

I believe most people in European countries are compassionate, and they don’t advocate standing by while people drown or freeze to death. That’s a basic moral reaction. But beyond this, it’s complicated. In my view no-one should feel guilty for ambivalence to an unplanned river of immigrants from strange lands. Often their own lives are difficult enough, and some countries simply have no resources, social or economic, to deal with huge unplanned immigration of people with no local language, customs or connections.

And while it’s undoubtedly true that in the short term, and with limited numbers, European nations could ‘deal with refugees’, the problem isn’t the short term, it’s the long term. Although historical European and British activities in the Middle East have made some contribution to the current crisis, European nations cannot be blamed for the theocratic and extremist governments and organisations that have blighted the lives of whole generations.

Further, there is no escape from the fact that the majority of migrants from the various Islamic countries in question today have been brought up with value systems often incompatible with the human rights based one in the West. I don’t say that with any joy, and I have friends from some of these countries who would say the same thing. The idea that sending immigrant men to classes on civic behaviour and rape is going to change this overnight is a typical moral relativist/leftist delusion.

Consequently, even a short term ‘humanitarian’ refugee ‘saving’ approach is doomed in the long run – it doesn’t solve the long term problem (that clearly requires serious structural changes in the Middle East, Afghanistan etc), it will engender continued social friction due to the clash of value systems between immigrants and citizens, all the while enabling politicians to pretend that it is a real solution.

The only workable solution has to be multi-pronged, at least involving:

  • taking humanitarian measures in the immediate short term as a common European effort (why should Greece and Italy and Central/South East European countries have to deal with the incoming tide on their own?);
  • working on making the refugee camps in intermediate locations (Turkey, some parts of Iraq) habitable;
  • making far more intense efforts on long-term solutions in the originating countries – Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan;
  • This will require proper working relationships with Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and most importantly, Turkey.

The blind ideology of Merkel and others similarly detached from reality (or personal guilt?) appears to be an immediate obstruction to sensible action, but so is that of some on the left who simply cannot see the consequences of pretending a short-term feelgood open doors policy is a long-term solution.

Making progress means not being paralysed by the apparent conflict of our immediate moral responsibilities and our long term strategic needs.

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