Migrants fleeing for their lives
Interior ministers from the 28 member-states of the European Union will meet next week to address the crisis of migrants flowing into the continent from across the Mediterranean. But just what constitutes a crisis – and whose crisis is it?
Some politicians and commentators allege that the migrants are primarily “economic refugees,” people just seeking economic advancement. But Britain’s Guardian newspaper reports that 62% of the refugees who made it to Europe by boat in the first seven months of the year were from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, with more coming from Darfur, Iraq, Somalia and Nigeria, all places where mere survival in war-ravaged zones supersedes economic advancement on the hierarchy of needs.
Fears stoked by the stream of migrants have led some, such as the British foreign secretary, to warn that the entire European social order is endangered. In fact, the 200,000 migrants who have made it to Europe so far this year represent 0.027% of the total EU population. Compare these numbers with the situation in Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people currently hosting 1.2 million refugees from the Syrian civil war.
There is no question that much of the social unrest in Europe these days and a vast proportion of its antisemitism derive from immigrants from the same parts of the world from which today’s migrants originate. That is not a problem to be easily dismissed. But neither is it a justification for ignoring a humanitarian crisis.
Addressing the small proportion of radicalized or Jew-hating individuals within groups is an issue that Europe must confront and address – and it has so far not done an exemplary job. But the problem facing the migrants in their places of origin makes the “crisis” faced by the places in which they hope to settle pale in comparison.
Europe just happens to be the nearest beacon of freedom and peace these people can reach and, therefore, they are clamoring to make their way to the continent. But it is the responsibility of all of us, Canada included, to accommodate a share of people seeking escape from violence and war.
Israel has also been a destination for African migrants and the treatment of some has rightly raised concerns of refugee watchdog groups and, last month, the Israeli Supreme Court. The court ruled that the migrants who had been held in a sort of low-security detention facility, about 1,200 people from Eritrea, Sudan and Darfur, could not be held longer than a year. They were not confined to the encampment, but were required to be present twice daily for a roll call.
In all, Israel has about 45,000 asylum-seekers, the vast majority from Eritrea and 9,000 from Sudan. Most made their way by foot through the Sinai into Israel’s southern frontier. Most have been given visas that allow them to stay but not to work, which puts them in a predictably difficult position.
Meanwhile, countries like Hungary are rolling out razor wire along the southern border, an entry point to the European Union, beyond which migrants are comparatively free to travel throughout the 28 countries of the EU.
Recent days have brought particularly horrendous news, with 71 refugees, including a baby, found dead in a truck in Austria, victims of profiteers exploiting the desperation of migrants trying to reach Europe. In Libya, more than 100 bodies washed ashore after a boat sank filled with people trying to cross the Mediterranean. At least 2,600 people are known to have drowned this year in similar incidents.
It is a sign of the desperation that drives this mass migration. Most of these people leave behind everything they have to make their way to what they hope will be a peaceful and prosperous future. They are met with suspicion, incarceration, violence and worse.
It is a striking reversal of the Jewish people’s own history of the 20th century, when those trying to flee Europe were denied entry at every turn, including to what was to become the Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Now, thousands of people from the Middle East are fleeing to Europe and facing every obstacle.
It should not be ignored that many of the refugees are coming from places whose education systems and popular culture instil suspicion and hatred of Jews (and Western culture), and this will be no consolation to the remaining, beleaguered Jews of countries like France. But that underlying problem – and it is a significant one – must be addressed over the long term both in Europe and in the countries where cultural norms breed intolerance and antisemitism. In the meantime, thousands of people are fleeing for their lives and the world cannot turn our backs.