Over the last weeks and months almost every day has brought a new headline. Hundreds drown in the Mediterranean, 70 suffocate to death inside a truck, Thousands stranded at Budapest train station. The media and the continent have woken up to the fact that Europe faces its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, with thousands of people a day trying to claim asylum. This shouldn’t be a cause for panic though. Instead, European leaders need to take a look at the opportunities this crisis offers, and what can be achieved by accepting the refugees heading towards the EU.
1. It’s good for Europe
Starting off with some good old-fashioned self-interest, the influx of refugees could be a great thing for the European economy. Europe has an aging population, which is going to cause serious stress for the welfare state. What better boost than inviting in a refugee population which is mostly young people and families? It may mean asking something from them in return, for example living in parts of the country that need economic stimulus and a younger workforce. But given the right help in learning the language and settling in, these new citizens could provide the economic growth parts of Europe desperately need. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when you treat people like human beings and help them find work, they tend to be good citizens.
2. Europe needs a win right now.
Weeks after stumbling out of the Greek threat to the Eurozone, Europe is again tearing itself apart. Politicians blame each other for making matters worse, and most countries take measures that only shift the problem on to their neighbour. Germany is one of the only countries that is actually making a stand. They expect to accept more refugees this year than the rest of the EU put together. However, Angela Merkel is also calling for her fellow leaders to act together. And she’s right – if politicians want the EU to survive, they need to stop this desperate policy of ‘not in my backyard’. By actually putting a quota system into action and working together to bring asylum seekers to new homes, the EU can demonstrate to the world that it is not a failed project.
3. It’s good for security in the Middle East (and here)
There’s no debate about the fact that Syria is a both a humanitarian and security disaster. There is another disaster going on outside its borders though, and one which could have terrible effects for the region. Over 3 million refugees have fled across the border to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Turkey is expected to have 1.9 million by the end of the year. Jordan, with a population of under 7 million, is hosting over half a million refugees, many of them in sprawling camps. Lebanon is the worst off of all, with a shocking 20% of its population now consisting of registered Syrian refugees. Apart from the terrible poverty and resulting crime and suffering that goes along with these numbers, don’t forget that there are plenty of militants across the region who excel at preying on alienated and angry young men and women. It’s in the interest of the region and the world that we step up to help.
4. It’s the moral thing to do
The EU sees itself as a new kind of power; one characterised by respect for human rights and dignity. This rings hollow when our politicians squabble over numbers and far-right parties gain in the polls. We all know where most of these refugees are coming from – one of the most horrific conflict zones in the world. We’ve seen the pictures on the news of the sieges, bombings and beheadings. Isn’t the most basic human right simply to live without the fear of being killed? We don’t have to solve the whole Syrian Civil War, but this isn’t about that. If we have the ability to help these refugees, then isn’t it morally essential to do so – even at the short-term cost of a few extra taxpayer euros?
Nothing I have said here is particularly new or controversial. These arguments are being made by people in newpapers, blogs, Facebook comments and pubs across Europe. But if we don’t keep making them, the voices of fear, ignorance or cynicism will win out. If you think along these lines, speak up, write to a politician, sign petitions, do whatever you can to convince European leaders that they need to act. After all, it is in everyone’s interest to do so – and the world is watching.