Europe takes in only a small proportion of the world's refugees yet when you consider the dog whistle politics and lack of human decency towards the men, women and children desperately trying to reach its shores, you'd think it was being wiped out by an alien species.  

According to the late French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, there is nothing more unsettling than the continued movement of something that seems fixed.

Fast forward to the largest movement of people since WWII and his point is made in a troubling fashion. Europe is reeling, utterly incapable of devising a real solution to the hundreds of thousands escaping their wretched and dangerous fixed abodes in the hope of an address on the Continent.

How desperate, traumatized, and powerless would you have to be to even consider, let alone actually embark on the perilous land and sea journeys so many are making - thousands dying in the attempt? 

Fleeing four years of war in Syria, massacres in South Sudan, wars in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, tyranny in Eritrea, these anguished people risk all they have left - their lives and often those of their children, for the hope of a life worth living.

All they want is to be free of despots and barrel bombs, of rape and murder, torture and starvation. Police truncheons in Calais are bearable when everything is relative.

For the vast majority their displacement is not one of choice. Their circumstances are way beyond their control.

Faced with an option of dying at home or hoping for life elsewhere, you too would try.

From the perspective of the countries reached by those who survive, the migrant ‘movement’ is understandably unsettling.

Greece is suffocating under the oppression of its financial calamity and political meltdown, yet it and its Island of Kos are trying to deal with the thousands of people who have made it to their shores.

Italy has been overwhelmed with sea rescues and a criminal number of drownings. The humanity of those at the coal face of rescues, medical attention and donations of food and clothing has been extraordinary.

Macedonia - a country refugees are trying to pass through rather than stay - failed dismally in the humanitarian test when it fired stun grenades and tear gas into the crowds of wretched children, women and men attempting to cross into Greece and beyond.

The footage of people who have made it that far from war only to be faced with state sanctioned violence in ‘civilized’ Europe is harrowing.

The attitude of the political elite to this displacement of people has exposed the ugly reality of doublespeak - talk about the required principles of humanitarian action, yet act so as to enforce a world order that keeps the ‘other’ outside.

As Human Rights Watch warns there is real concern that “the EU is trying to implement abusive policies cloaked in humanitarian garb”. They are referring to the likes of a proposal to give financial aid to countries including Tunisia and Egypt and thereby outsource the job of preventing migrants from braving the Mediterranean in order to “save the greatest possible number of lives”. 

Britain’s David Cameron with his reference to ‘swarms’ of migrants; his Foreign Minister Philip Hammond describing ‘marauding migrants’ endangering Europe’s living standards are excellent examples of ‘othering’ in order to diminish a problem.

Those in power are free to categorize or classify those who are on the lowest rungs of the power geometry, and once the powerless are categorized they can be separated from the ‘insiders’.

They are seen to have brought about a ‘crisis’ for European sovereignty through their own actions.

It is why refugees are invariably lumped as a ‘problem’ - a crisis that must be ‘solved’. As exceptions they are by definition unacceptable and in the neo-fascist speak emerging from continental Europe, they are to be kept out.

As Laurie Penny wrote in her exceptional article in NewStatesman, ‘The behaviour of the British and wider European elite towards migrants is not simple inhumanity. It is strategic inhumanity. It is weaponized inhumanity designed to convince populations fracturing under hammer-blows of austerity and economic chaos that the enemy is out there, that there is an ‘us’ that must be protected from ‘them”. 

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that the issue of asylum could become a greater challenge for the European Union than the Greek debt crisis.

If only the politicians across all of Europe were as consistently engaged in the plight of refugees as they have been with the fate of the Euro had Greece exited their continental club.

To date they have managed an unseemly squabble over migrant quotas, cut back the sea patrols and played the low politics game by pledging more military and more razor wire. 

These policies, if you can call them such, are panicky and futile because those they are trying to keep out have nowhere else to go. They will just shift to another potential border.

In his book ‘Reflections on the Revolution in Europe’, Christopher Caldwell notes that political asylum is really the modern, bureaucratized version of the ancient duty of hospitality.

From Odysseus to today, people have migrated - sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily (there will be such a thing as a post conflict Syria).

In more recent memory an extraordinary variety of people fled political tyranny - Poles and Cubans ran from communism, Jews from anti-Semitism, Greeks from the ‘colonels’, Kurds from the Turks. There were Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in the 1970s, African ‘boat people’ post 2006, and the 2015 boat people arrive like their predecessors, packed into unseaworthy vessels.

Those who reach shore are overwhelmed at their fortune to simply make it alive.

The rest of the world, having already failed these people in their homelands through the likes of environmental change, non-intervention in the case of Syria and the wrong intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, has at the very least a moral duty to rescue them now.

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol, signed by all the countries of Europe, defines refugees as human beings with certain inalienable rights. It is humanity that is its organizing principle, not nationality.    

Comments (10)

by Charlie on August 23, 2015

Yep it's a tragedy.

So what's your solution?




by Tom Semmens on August 23, 2015
Tom Semmens

The Europeans spent most of the 20th century slaughtering each other in wars that had significant racist componenets. Why should they have change?

by Chris Morris on August 23, 2015
Chris Morris

The people who are trying to reach Europe aren't refugees. They are economic migrants who know they don't meet the criteria to immigrate into Europe. Why are so many trying to reach England through France? Could it be that they see Britain's welfare system as the land of milk and honey? It can't be for the weather or job opportunities.

 They are being victimised by traffickers, yes, but unfortunately that has happened since time immemorial. The only successful campaign to stop the boat people arriving seems to be Australia's. It may be unpalatable to some,  but the only way to stop the trafficking is improving conditions in the country they want to leave. That invariably means regime change so who will be the world's policeman?

by Murray Grimwood on August 24, 2015
Murray Grimwood

The problem isn't regimes, it's overshoot. We are perhaps 5 billion too many, thanks to the one-off hit of fossil fuels. Why it is that so many don't understand this, beats me. Try not eating and not putting fuel in your car; see how your 'economy' gets on. Tinpot regimes happen in energy-scarce places - North Korea being a classic example.

Westerners put the 'bum regime' spin on it to excuse their guilt - nine time out of ten the locals are struggling because we've bled them of their resources to maintain our lifestyle. Can't 'fess up to that, eh?

This is the beginning of the end-game, exponential growth crosses the top of the gaussian. There is humour still there for those who do irony - who would break IN to Greece?

All we are seeing is the lower-deck passengers invading the upper decks at an exponentially-increasing rate. It's only a temporary shift and there aren't enough lifeboats - only 1-2 billion will be alive in the morning. 

by Chris Morris on August 24, 2015
Chris Morris

Murray -your a right cheerful misanthrope, aren't you. Sort of a southern hemisphere Ehrlich with your Malthusian dystopia. And everything comes back to your monomania with peak oil. And to counter your rhetorical questions, there are tinpot regimes in Venezuela and Nigeria. And how many resources have we bled from Eritrea or Syria?

Most of the third world countries aren't having huge numbers "flee" from them. Why is Syria so different to Jordan or Lebanon? The people leaving Africa seem to want to head to north Europe (Scandinavia, Germany or UK). They have had to travel trough a lot of countries to get there. That is why they aren't refugees. They also seem to be paying huge amounts of money to people smugglers. Where is that money coming from?

It is distressing to see so many deaths occurring. However, opening the borders won't stop it.

by Flat Eric on August 25, 2015
Flat Eric

@ Chris

Exactly. The news item just last night from the BBC on the situation in the Balkans included an interview with a so-called refugee, who openly said he was looking for better opportunities than he had at home. If these people were really just seeking to escape the war in Syria or Iraq, why would they not stop in Turkey; or even better with Jane's peaceful and non-nuclear friends in Iran?

No, they want to make their way to the places in Europe where they can get money. I'd quite like to live and work in Europe too, but I'm damned sure Jane won't be advocating that I be allowed to sidestep the established procedures to do so - and all this at the expense of the lawful taxpayers of the UK, France or Germany, who will then subsequently be faced with demands to alter their way of life and to cease visiting certain localities, so as not to offend these new arrivals.

Australia has it right.


by Murray Grimwood on August 26, 2015
Murray Grimwood

Chris - yes, there is a tin-pot regime in Nigeria.

Google Ken Sarowiwa. Which oil mjor was behind that, and did you ever fill up at their pumps? If so, it was done on your behalf.

Venezuela is an attempt to stand up to the US which is doing what every empire has always done; taken other's resources for their own benefit.

Syria has oil.

The only occasions when the west isn't directly going for local resources, it's holding some strategic square (Afghanistan is the classic, check out the Halliburton or 'to China' options).

Don't confuse emotions (optimism/pessimism) for fact, eh? Shooting the messenger doesn't change the message. We are energy dependent, not money dependent, beings and societies. We tapped into the mother-lode of all mother-lodes, and forgot to shoe restraint.

by Chris Morris on August 26, 2015
Chris Morris

Murray, you really are a tinfoil hat wearer, aren't you. It was the harnessing of energy that enable us to develop past hunter gatherers.

Nigeria has been a byword for corruption since the 60s. I am old enough to remember the Biafran war by the Igbo and the cement ships of the 70s. I also note that Nigerians haven't been identified as people reaching Italy or Greece, so despite the civil war in the north, things can't be too bad here.And if you believe the CIA has stolen all of the toilet paper in Caracas, you need to return to your home planet.

Sure Syria has some oil, but who is it exported to? It also has always been in the Soviet/ Russian zone of client states and that is who of its foreign debt is owed to.  I also note that many believe it will be importing oil within ten years so I can't see any Western company would be interested in its oilfields, even if there was no civil war.

by Murray Grimwood on September 02, 2015
Murray Grimwood

Shooting the messenger doesn't cut it.

We live on an overpopulated planet, but we have to be careful when stating that; it's resource consumption/pollution is the physical problem, population is a per-head variable.There's a base-line survival consumption-rate, though.

By and large, given the choice people all want to consume more, pollute more. It's a Tragedy of the Commons problem, transmitted by vote. Some (us included) offshore our pollution and slave-payments and degradation to 'someone else'. WE then claim to be 'clean and green'.

Those refugees are the result of places having been de-resourced for a long time, both by waves of incumbents and by intruding Empires. This isn't a blip, this is an exponentially-increasing global problem for which there is no answer. Too many people for long-term sustainability, the poorest/least resourced drop out of the bidding first.

Seems to be a strong tendency for some in the 'winning' camp (it's temporary, but they probably can't see that and probably haven't studied 'inverted quarantine') to deny. The whole area, from the Balkans to Pakistan, is a chess-board; this is Kiplings Great Game, those poor sods are the losers.

by Chris Morris on September 02, 2015
Chris Morris


You still don't get it. They are not refugees, they are economic migrants who want to queue jump. Look at those unfortunates who died in a truck in Austria. They were from Syria, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They were apparently heading for Germany. Why? How many countries had they passed through to get to Austria, and how much money had they paid to the  people smugglers?

If I want to move to say Australia or the USA, I have to meet their requirements - no matter how "unfair" they might be. I also have to show I won't be a burden to them. Why should other migrants be any different?


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