More than 2000 immigrants have died while crossing the Mediterranean this year, according to the United Nations. While the overall number has dipped to pre-2014 levels, but the refugee flows into Europe and elsewhere continues unabated.
It may be pointed out here that it was the multiples crisis in the Middle East, especially in Syria, that caused a spurt in refugee flows to the West. These flows not only caused various fissures and strains within Europe but also appear to have occluded “mainstream’” political parties in the region. ( The most intense stress was and is in Germany which, under Angela Merkel, graciously and generously accepted hundreds and thousands of refugees from the Middle East).
With the advent of populism and its variant of politics in Europe and elsewhere, the screws have been and are being tightened. While refugee flows will not stop for an assorted set of reasons, but the reaction to these is all set to grow. The question then is: what can be done about these flows? Is there a humanitarian complement policy to deal with these flows?
The answer is multipronged but a few salient strands stand out.
The convention informing the policies to deal with refugee flows is somewhat passé. In the least, it needs to be tweaked, to deal with the 21st century realities.
But, perhaps more important is to understand the nature of refugee flows into the developed world. Often times, or even invariably, refugees choose to put their lives at risk and venture into the developed world, braving and battling great odds and risk, to either flee from life-threatening conflicts, persecution in home countries and to seek the “good” life. All these are legitimate quests. But, the problems in the host countries are usually two-fold: one is the reaction of the natives, who either fear being “swamped” by “strange” and “different” cultures and feel threatened economically by the new arrivals, who, more often than not stress the welfare systems and public finances of host countries. The absorptive capacities of states are also taxed in the process.
Given these issues, what then might constitute as an “appropriate” response to deal with refugee flows?
The answer is as old-fas but potentially effective as it goes.
It is in economic development and conflict resolution of and in states where usually refugees come from. It stands to reason to posit that very few people in the world would like to be “rootless” and move from societies, states and locales where they are from to “strange” and different ones. It takes a leap of imagination to do so and is, generally, an emotionally searing experience. But, conditions are such in their places of origin, that most refugees have no choice but are compelled to move. Prudence then suggests to actually sort out the “problem” at the source. That is, create propitious economic conditions at the respective homes of potential refugees and resolve political conflicts.
The former would mean freer trade, embedding moribund economies into the sinews of the global economy and the latter expending political capital by way of resolving violent conflicts. If these approaches are reified and translated into reality, the “problem” to a large extent will be obviated. But, a caveat is in order here. Even if these approaches are picture perfect, so to speak, refugee flows will not entirely dry up. But, they will be reduced to such an extent that the flows thereof can be absorbed reasonably by recipient states and societies.
In trade-induced economic growth and development and conflict resolution, then lie the antidotes to massive refugee flows.
In the final analysis, refugees are human and the issues they poses must not be politicised or milked for political gain.
The challenges presented by refugee flows fall in the domain of humanitarian ones. The response should fall in and under the rubric of effective, generous and efficient policies where cooperation between states is essential. While there are legal bindings on states to accept a certain threshold of refugees, but the larger issue should be cast and framed in a larger moral and ethical framework. This does not mean a squishy or a merely sentimental response.
But, what it calls for is "hard heads and soft hearts”. Let then states and societies across the developed world review their assumptions and policies about refugees and flows thereof, design and devise policies that are not only win-win but which also redound to the greater good and welfare of peoples across the world.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)