Migrant crisis: How Europe is coping
Europe has continued to be at the receiving end of waves of migration from under-developed and crisis-torn countries. It is perhaps paying the price of being the most developed region in the world.
Waves after waves of migrants from Africa and war-torn Syria have made the refugee situation in Europe almost unbearable. It is the first choice destination for the millions who wish to make a better life away from the harsh realities at home, whether in poorly managed economies of Africa or the bombardment of war in Syria. But for how long will this trend subsist?
While Italy is the favoured destination for migrants from Africa, Germany is at the heart of the Syrian influx even as the Syrian refugee crisis has tended to dwarf the North Africa-Mediterranean crossing into Italy. Indeed, attention has shifted away from the Africa to Europe migration through Italy to the Syrian influx through Greece, Macedonia, Hungary into Germany and other parts of Europe.
But after laying out the welcome mat to refugees for weeks, Germany has slowed down the influx and is controlling its border with Austria. Known for its penchant for humanitarian work, Europe has continued to welcome strangers whose government is unrelenting in prosecuting a war that is driving its citizens abroad. Ordinary citizens, the media, and generous governments are all opening their arms to welcome a modern, yet biblical tide of humanity, fleeing war and persecution to safety in Europe.
Even French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to take in more than 20,000 refugees each over the next few years. Gerrmany has pledged billions of dollars and says it will take half a million refugees every year for the next several years.
Ordinary German citizens were at the forefront of donating shoes and other essential materials to the refugees that marched to freedom from economically troubled Greece. Sweden and Austria, too, are showing great generosity, with Austria’s President Heniz Fisher saying it was their moral duty to help out the needy.
Instinct for survival prompted the refugees to flee even if in precarious situations across the Aegean Sea to Greece. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been unrelenting in using chemical weapons and other unconventional weapons to decimate his own citizens since the failed Arab Spring uprising a few years ago. This is even after the U.S. and Russia supposedly got President Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical stockpile two years ago. It is no surprise why poor Syrians are fleeing.
In four and a half years of war, more than 200,000 have been killed and displaced. More than four million have fled to camps in Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, just across the border. These countries are now bursting at the seams, and the U.N. says it can’t even raise half the funds it needs to help shelter and feed them. The World Food Programme has again had to suspend food vouchers for refugees in Jordan.
Whether it is African youths escaping the continent for better economic prospects in Europe or Syrians fleeing from war, the story remains the same – it is a huge humanitarian catastrophy, of great risks taken just to escape despicable human conditions. Millions of African youth have perished in the Mediterranean Sea while crossing and African governments and their leaders are unable to lift a finger to help. And across the Aegean Sea in Greece, it is the same story of desperation for freedom and survival.
PERHAPS, the death of the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi that was on the front pages of newspapers around the world put the Syrian refugee crisis in proper perspectives. A cord in an unfeeling world snapped to prompt a flurry of gestures that are now paying off on how best to mitigate a crisis that sits on a world’s conscience.
The story of Hesham Modamani is telling in its harrowing import. “The sea is the only obstacle separating him and his dream of getting to Europe, the continent that could finally free him from the horrors back at home in Syria. Modamani couldn’t afford to pay the $1,350 ticket for a smuggler to ferry him across the channel between the coast of Turkey and the nearest Greek island.
Swimming, he decided, was his best chance. The one-time college student had traveled all the way from the Damascus suburb of Daraya to Turkey’s west coast. He couldn’t give up now. Modamani turned to his new friend and accomplice Feras Abukhalil, a fellow Syrian. They strapped on their blue life vests and packed away their passports and cell phones in waterproof bags.
“Then they jumped. Immediately, Modamani felt cold and afraid in the dark waters of the Aegean Sea. ‘This was the scariest moment of my life,’ he confessed later.
Their story of epic swim is the stuff of fiction, as Modamani still found the heart to sing the poetry of the night sky overhanging the sea, as he swam to safety: “At this moment I looked up and saw a black sky full of stars, and I told Feras this is the most beautiful scene I have ever seen in the world. We must be of the very rare few to live this experience!”
European officials are trying hard to clean up the migrant mess. European nations bearing the brunt of the influx are desperate for it to end. As Germany, Austria and Hungary clamped down on border crossings, European Union interior and justice ministers have been meeting to discuss the crisis and plan for refugee quotas and how to stem the tide of migrants striving for European destinations.
“It was too early for a decision to be taken today,” Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, told reporters recently. “Nonetheless, a large majority of member states have committed to this principle of the additional relocation of a further 120,000 people who deserve international protection as part of these massive migratory flows.”
The European Commission released a statement after the meeting and said, “We need to come to a more fundamental change of the current system to better combine responsibility, solidarity and effective management within a truly European Asylum and Migration Policy. The world is watching us. Now is the time for each and every one to take responsibility.”
While Europe is battling with waves of migrants from Syria, the dictator Bashar al-Assad sits pretty on his throne directing a war effort that continues to decimate his people while sending many more into perilous journeys into exile. Like al-Assad, it is hoped that African governments are taking a cue from the Syrian crisis and would take care to avoid divisive politics that easily plunge an otherwise peaceful people into the sort of crisis that poor Syrians are undergoing. While Syrians are running away from a murderous war, Africa’s young are running for economic reasons.
Perhaps, now is the time for African leaders to refocus their economic policies and deepen same so that its vibrant young population does not undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in desperate bid to across to Europe for greener pastures. Perhaps now, too, is the time for Nigeria’s continued dependence on a single product for its economic fortunes received serious attention from President Muhammadu Buhari’s government of change.
A diversified economy with a sound science education that invents is how Europe and North America, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore developed to become economic powerhouses. It is why they have remained attractive destinations as opportunity havens for Africa’s jobless and under-utilised youthful population.