Giles Duley Afghan boy lands on Lesvos Nov 2015
German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs to do something, urgently, that should have been done months- if not more- ago. There has to be a UN emergency summit on the European refugee crisis, it has to involve leaders at the very highest levels, and it has to take place within weeks at the latest. Or else.
Of course any leader could call for the summit, and if Merkel waits too long -as she is wont to do- someone else should. But she is the best person for the job. No-one else who leads an entire continent looks ready to take this on, and moreover it’s her own country that quite possibly faces the gravest consequences of the crisis.
That is to say, for now Germany still comes in way after Greece in that regard, but if Alexis Tsipras would attempt to call such a summit, his appeal would fall on deaf ears, and at best lead to lots of international Merkel-style diddling (or ‘Merkeln’, as the Germans put it). And there’s already been far too much of that.
The renewed urgency comes from a number of directions. First, the continuing drownings of refugees in the Aegean sea. The lack of urgency with which those drownings have been met has become a huge and immediate threat to Merkel, if only because the entire European project has already died with the babies washing up on the shores of Greece.
Even if it will take a long time for people to recognize that, given the ideological ‘union’ blindness that pervades Brussels and European capitals. Angela’s legacy risks being not only her responsibility for thousands of deaths, but also the very demise of the EU. And that’s just for starters.
Secondly, It was Merkel herself last week who warned of renewed military conflicts in the Balkans if the approach to the refugee crisis wouldn’t change, and rapidly.
According to Merkel, if Balkan countries -continue to- build fences and razor wire barriers at their borders, one after the other, some countries risk ‘getting stuck’ with huge numbers of refugees on their territories that they are not in the least prepared for. Which makes Friday’s German announcement, mere days after Merkel’s warning, all the more ominous:
Angela Merkel has performed an abrupt U-turn on her open-door policy towards people fleeing Syria’s civil war, with Berlin announcing that the hundreds of thousands of Syrians entering Germany would not be granted asylum or refugee status. Syrians would still be allowed to enter Germany, but only for one year and with “subsidiary protection” which limits their rights as refugees. Family members would be barred from joining them.
[..] the interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, announced that Berlin was starting to fall into line with governments elsewhere in the EU, who were either erecting barriers to the newcomers or acting as transit countries and limiting their own intake of refugees.
[..] the suddenness of the move by the country that has been pivotal in the EU’s biggest ever immigration crisis will ripple across the region with unknown consequences, particularly in the transit countries of the Balkans and central Europe through which hundreds of thousands have been trekking towards Germany.
The German curbs will encourage these countries to establish barriers of their own to the refugee wave. Merkel is also pressing countries such as Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia to establish “reception centres” or camps where refugees can be processed and screened before they reach Germany. The countries are resisting because no one knows what to do with those who are screened and do not pass muster for passage to Germany.
Around the same time that Germany pressures Balkan countries to establish ‘reception centers’, it votes down plans for ‘transit zones’ on its own territory. Some are more equal than others? Berlin had better beware.
The third ‘urgency’, curiously downplayed by media and politics, comes in the shape of a warning by the EU itself, albeit “buried in a 204-page report on the future of the European economy”.
The European Union predicted Thursday that up to 3 million additional asylum seekers could enter the 28-member bloc by the end of next year, suggesting the staggering pace of new arrivals in recent months shows no sign of abating. The forecast, buried in a 204-page report on the future of the European economy..
The EU expects 3 million refugees in 2016. This year, there will be ‘only’ 1 million. Of which resettlement deals have been made for 160,000, and at last count 116 have actually been resettled. Somebody better start taking this serious, or it will get very terribly out of hand. And that’s not to say it hasn’t already, with well over 3000 refugees having drowned in the Mediterranean, hundreds of them children.
This is a humanitarian disaster that nobody’s willing to recognize as one, and that is exactly what has to stop. The reason why this prediction is hushed up across the board is of course obvious: the 1 million refugees in 2015 have already strained resources, international relationships and indeed entire governments to such an extent, wars could start just because of that.
Add another 3 million, and the chances of a peaceful 2016 in Europe grow terribly slim. But not talking about it will of course slim down those chances further. And even if the total of 4 million refugees expected by the end of next year will be less than 1% of the EU’s 500 million population, someone better do something fast, or else.
The fact that Europe risks being strained to the point of military conflict, and there’s precious little reason to doubt Angela Merkel’s assessment of the situation, means that what needs to be done is to make the entire world aware that this is a global issue, not a regional one. And that’s where the UN emergency summit comes in.
Obviously, Germany is overwhelmed right now. But doing a U-turn on the open-door policy is not going to solve that problem. It will merely shift it, either within Germany itself, or towards the Balkan countries the refugees travel through to come to the Bundesrepublik.
Decision making by the EU Brussels has failed shamefully. And not only on the refugee crisis. But since Merkel is the no. 1 voice of power in Europe, that puts the shame on her as well. As we’ve said before, the only way to handle an issue such as this, is to put the people first.
You can’t let the people, the children, drown at random and expect to come away with your positions intact. And just because international politics these days focuses a lot on trying to deflect responsibilities by pointing to others, and to international bodies, blood on one’s hands doesn’t wash off easily, and in the end not at all.
Blaming the refugees themselves, as the head of EU border agency Frontex attempted once again by labeling them , is as useless as it is disgraceful. People fleeing war zones to save their lives are not ‘illegals’.
Blaming the ‘smugglers’, an even more popular EU pastime, makes no sense either. If the smugglers were Europe’s biggest concern, it would grant safe passage to refugees. That would stop ‘smuggling’ in one fell swoop. But it would demand a level of political courage that nobody, not Merkel either, possesses.
What drives policies across the board still comes down to the prevailing wish, fed to European populations by media and politics, to keep things as they are. To maybe invite the token refugee, but to prevent sudden or large changes in the society people happen to live in.
And while that may be understandable, it doesn’t mean it’s always realistic. Sometimes change is inevitable. We may find it easier to accept that when it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes than in the case of mass migrations, but all of these are regular occurrences throughout history. In the end, all we can do is make the best of it, in the most humane way we know of, or descend into mayhem.
One more thing that needs repeating time and again though politicians won’t like it: Europe’s leadership knew the refugee problem was coming. Angela Merkel was warned by her Bundespolizei at least eight months ago, but there were warnings even way before that. Everyone just chose to ignore them.
Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva, Denmark’s Michael Moller: [..] “The crisis we have today, we knew it was going to happen. The leaders of Europe were told it was going to happen at least two years ago.”
[..] there will be even greater problems, unless we sit down globally and figure out structures and ways to deal with this in the future. Not to reinvent the wheel every time that happens, but to rethink completely and strengthen the humanitarian system, because I guarantee you that it will happen again.
Moller say the same thing I do: “we need to sit down globally”. He doesn’t provide a timeframe, but between the lines it’s clear he doesn’t think either that there’s time to waste. A UN emergency summit may be all that stands between us and ‘anarchy’, in one way and shape or the other.
This summit must include the presidents and prime ministers of all major nations (and please leave out the EU). Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping and Merkel, but also the leaders of Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon (where the majority of Syrian refugees are) and all Balkan countries. Countries like Canada, Brazil and Australia can and must be called upon to grant asylum to many more refugees than they do now.
In this week’s issue of the New Yorker, George Packer describes how America took in more than a million refugees from South East Asia in one year 35 years ago, and how it can and should make such an effort once more:
[..].. the U.S. has accepted fewer than two thousand Syrians. In September, President Obama announced an increase in the quota for the coming year to ten thousand. That figure represents just half the monthly total of Indochinese refugees brought here in 1980. One refugee advocate called it “an embarrassingly low number.” And yet even this humble goal is unlikely to be reached.
The world has a narrow window left to prevent an already grave humanitarian disaster into something much worse, to prevent antagonism and military action that will set loose the evil genies of the Pandora’s box that is Europe’s past, once again, and genies of surrounding regions too. There is no need for that. Not yet.
The world, united in such a summit, must also look beyond the refugee crisis, and, as the UN’s Moller says, “rethink completely and strengthen the humanitarian system”. Because there are other dangers on the horizon, potentially much worse. Climate refugees are an obvious one, but even more, there’s the economic downturn nobody seems to be willing to acknowledge (at their own peril).
As I wrote a week ago, in an article quoted by Zero Hedge on Wednesday in their piece on German opposition parties warning of a domestic civil war:
Ignorance and denial threatens to lead to a needless increase in nationalism, fascism, violence, misery, death and warfare. If we were to acknowledge that the change is inevitable, and prepare ourselves accordingly, much of this could be avoided.
There are two main engines of change that have started to transform the Europe we think we know. First, a mass migration spearheaded by the flight of refugees from regions in the world which Europeans have actively helped descend into lethal chaos. Second, an economic downturn the likes of which hasn’t been seen in 80 years or so (think Kondratieff cycle).
Negative ideas about refugees are already shaping everyday opinion and politics in many places, and this will be greatly exacerbated by the enormous economic depression that for now remains largely hidden behind desperate sleight-of-hands enacted by central bankers, politicians and media.
There are fine theories around coming from fine people, on how refugees can benefit a host country’s economic systems. But they are the kind of people who are perpetually looking at economic growth. And no such growth is guaranteed – to put it awfully mildly.
Therefore, it doesn’t really matter to the issue if refugees do or do not contribute ‘positively’ to a country’s economics, because all countries are facing a giant slowdown and depression caused by an inevitable debt deflation. And that makes it all the more urgent for people, and societies, to be prepared for all possible outcomes, including worst case scenarios.
The depression is guaranteed, and so are millions more people fleeing the ruins that were ones their homes, and their hopes for a decent future for their children.
Every day that Merkel loses in calling this highest-level, highest-urgency, UN summit, is a day that more people will drown. And that means one more day that we all will lose more of our own humanity, and of our claims for others to show us theirs.
In our own way, we’re all already drowning and washing up devoid of life, and of human values, somewhere on a cold and lonely distant beach.