Think about all the wonderful aspects of your life. Do you have a decent job that helps you pay the bills? Do your kids have friends they love nearby? Do you? Is your community a safe place where you feel welcomed?
Now think about how bad things would have to suddenly get for you to sell your home and all your possessions at a loss, make a grueling overland journey covering hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and then give every cent you have to pirates who will take you in a poorly maintained boat across the sea to a place that might or might not welcome you – knowing fully that even if you find a home there, your cultural way of life and your standard of living will be gone. Life would have to be catastrophic, wouldn’t it?
Now go back to your great life. Sure, there are things missing. You’d like to be able to save more. Your kids’ schools always seem to be short on funds, your town would like to build a community center and your state would like to run more social programs. There just never seems to be enough money. With that in mind, how would you feel if your community suddenly had to accept tens of thousands of refugees with different cultural standards and lower education levels than you and your community? Wouldn’t you worry about your real estate values and the safety of your children? Especially if some of those refugees did not act with the grace of a guest in your home, but instead like a horde of invading marauders that trash your parks and spike your crime rate?
And yet, from a humanitarian standpoint, it’s hard not to feel compassion for those who have lost everything and risked their lives to get their families to safety.
These are the different sides of the migration crisis facing Europeans today, and in the past weeks I’ve had the opportunity to experience it first-hand from four perspectives: homeless migrants sleeping in doorways and alleys in Rome, Serbian parks overrun with the stench of urine and unwashed bodies, Hungarians intent on building a wall to keep these problems out of their country, and newly arrived refugees on the shores of Turkey.
What is causing the crisis?
Migrants have always tried to get into Europe from the Middle East and Africa, but the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq have brought things to crisis stage. Add to that the instability in Yemen, cruel dictatorship in Eritrea, and the power vacuum in Libya, and you have the recipe for a worldwide disaster.
Why are European countries reluctant to take in refugees?
Financial – Europe is suffering from a financial crisis that started in 2008 and has not steadied yet. Greece is on the verge of collapse, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are in trouble, and while the French and German economies are relatively strong, they can’t support the entire European Union. Unemployment is already high in some of these countries, and European countries don’t believe they have the economic resources or job opportunities to support more migrants. So far this year, Germany has received more than 300,000 requests for asylum, and that’s just the ones that took the legal route. There’s no telling how many have entered the country illegally.
Social – Both the UK and France have a long history of imperialism and colonization, and residents were allowed to move freely to and from any of the other colonies. Over the past five decades, most migrants moved to the home country in Europe because of the strong economies there. Over the past decade, though, as the recession took hold of Europe, both countries have experienced social discord with their Islamic immigrant populations. The desire to create a homogenous society led these governments to pass laws restricting the hijab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices and other public places, leading to claims that religious freedoms were being curtailed. At the same time, high unemployment rates among young second-generation immigrants has led to feelings of disenfranchisement from French and English society, several times erupting in violent riots and protests.
Today’s situation in Europe makes me think about the Spanish Inquisition in a whole new light. I’ve always been taught that the Jews in Spain were victimized by the Church when they were forced to convert to Christianity, but what if that’s not the case? What if rather than religious conversion, the objective of the Inquisition was social harmony and government continuity? It suddenly strikes me that the Jews of the 1400’s were just like the Muslims of today: a large group of people forced into diaspora to escape persecution, clinging to their old religion and culture rather than evolving and conforming to the norms of their new society. They thrived for centuries under Moorish rule, but once the Spaniards retook the country, everything changed. What if the Inquisition was King Ferdinand’s way of fixing a perceived problem while appearing to keep distance by hiding behind the Church?
Is it fair to force someone to leave their religion and culture behind when they come to a new country? Is it fair for the new society to have to embrace the unusual customs of the newcomers? I don’t know the answer. What I do know, however, is that from the Roman crucifixion of Jesus to the brutal crushing of the Watts riots in the 1960’s, history has shown us over and over that governments will quash any rift in society before the rift crushes the government. Perhaps European countries’ reluctance to formally take in these refugees is their way of suppressing any future rebellion without having to take responsibility for it, much like King Ferdinand. Meanwhile, this summer thousands of migrants are living in train stations and public parks across Europe. What will happen to them when winter comes?