| 12 October 2015
The present mass movement of humans has been more widely described as that by “migrants” than that by “refugees”. For some, the implication is clear; these are people who are essentially economic migrants: They want to come over here to steal our jobs, take over our housing, have priority in utilizing our resources, and introduce their strange, unwelcome culture into our society. For others, however, those human beings are genuine cases: They have risked life and limb to go to (mainly) Europe and they would never have taken such great risks had they not been genuine cases of people fleeing much pain and suffering.
The critics of the current mass migration have advanced a number of reasons to support their objection to those migrants: First of all, they point out, if those migrants were genuine refugees fleeing war and persecution, they would settle in the first safe country they could reach; instead, they seem to insist on settling in countries of their own choice, such as Sweden and Germany. This, the critics argue, is proof that they are economic migrants, not genuine refugees. Secondly, those critics add, such instantaneous, spontaneous, large-scale migration can lead to many difficulties for the host countries, e.g. excessive pressure on local resources (housing, jobs, schools, hospitals, infrastructure) and (in the case of Muslim migrants in particular) a significant increase in cultural and religious tensions, as well as the emergence of a great potential security threat arising from terrorists posing as bona fide asylum seekers. The critics point to many cases of non-Syrian migrants posing as genuine Syrian refugees: Germany estimates those at 30% of the total (Daily Telegraph, 25 September 2015). Those in support of migration counter by claiming that the new arrivals can help fill a skills shortage gap that has developed in some European countries and compensate for an ageing population which- along with a declining birth rate- will in the future make it more difficult to sustain the welfare state without the arrival of many youthful, tax-paying immigrants. Moreover, these supporters maintain, the introduction of a different culture or religion into the host society can only add to its diversity and richness. As for pressure on resources, the supporters of migration point to countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon which- though not wealthy countries- have housed and fed millions of refugees. In the final analysis, some sympathetic voices have argued, humans are originally refugees anyway, whether we believe in creationism (The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden) or in evolution (Our ancestors migrated from Africa a long time ago). Even Jean Jacques Rousseau has thus been cited: “[Y]ou are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all of us, and the earth itself to nobody.” (Discourse on Inequality, 1754).The controversial phenomenon of the recent mass migration has played into the hands of the far right in Europe: Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands have been among the most vocal critics of migrants. Their fears and warnings appear to resonate with many who- in addition to previous terrorist attacks in the UK, Spain, and the US, as well as the ravages of the Great Recession of 2008- are very worried about the infiltration of suicide bombers into Europe, especially in view of the rise and success of the Islamic State group (IS).
The fact that the present crisis constitutes the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since the Second World War ought to give the question of migration a stronger, more vigorous sense of urgency, place it at the top of the world’s agenda, and stimulate richer countries into finding long-term solutions to a problem whose roots lie elsewhere. It should not, however, set a precedent that would encourage prospective migrants to follow the same path to Europe. Refugees have to be determined as such by the UNHCR or some equivalent. This would help distinguish between genuine and bogus asylum claims. Furthermore, economic migrants must not be allowed to jump the queue: There are standard methods and procedures by which countries accept such migrants. Many migrants have waited for several years before they finally obtained permission to live in those countries as permanent residents. The current economic migrants should not be given the green light to disregard the queue and claim illegitimate priority for themselves at the expense of other applicants waiting in line. The above-mentioned tested and tried approach has other advantages: Firstly, it helps host countries prepare in advance for the arrival of known numbers of migrants in respect of infrastructure, local resources, training, housing, educational and medical services, and so forth. Secondly, it minimizes the likelihood of terrorists taking advantage of a chaotic situation in order to threaten the security and welfare of the host countries. Thirdly, it reduces the opportunity for the far-right parties to exploit local resentment to their maximum advantage. And fourthly, it ensures long-term commitment to the process of migration, thereby eschewing “assistance fatigue.” On the other hand, richer countries have to try and do their utmost to solve the root causes of mass migration. In some cases, like the Syrian conflict, it is extremely hard. However, a foreign policy approach that is based on “enlightened interest”- taking all countries’ interests into account, not just one’s own- may go a long way towards alleviating the pain and deprivation that are rife in various parts of the world. This would also help stem the “brain drain” that has so profoundly harmed and undermined progress in many developing countries.
For better or worse, the world of today is far more interconnected than it had been in the past. This means that whether people want to or not, they simply cannot brush aside tragedies that afflict other parts of the world. Even self-interest itself demands an urgent solution to the ills that have plagued other countries. We can ignore those at our peril.
About the author
Husam Dughman comes from a family that is historically descended from Europeans on his father’s side and Middle Easterners on his mother’s side. He was born in Libya and educated in Libya and the United Kingdom. Before Qaddafi came to power, Husam Dughman’s father had been the president of the University of Libya and his maternal grandfather had been a prime minister. Immediately following Qaddafi’s military coup d’état in 1969, both stood up to the Qaddafi regime and were consequently imprisoned: Husam Dughman’s father was incarcerated for a period of 10 years, during which he was subjected to regular torture by the Qaddafi regime, and his grandfather was incarcerated for five years.
In the 1990s, Husam Dughman returned to Libya and worked as a university professor of political science. Due to conflicts with the Qaddafi regime, he resigned from his university position in 1997 and subsequently worked in legal translation. Years later, Husam Dughman left Libya for North America, where he has been working as a newcomer specialist, helping new immigrants and refugees with their settlement. He currently resides in the United States.
Husam Dughman has published a book, Tête-à-tête with Muhammad, and he has also published various articles about the Middle East. He is currently working on a new book on the Abrahamic religions and atheism. You can find out more by visiting his website at http://www.husamdughman.com