The refugee crisis burst onto our TV screens and filled all manner of journalistic publication over the summer but has received far less attention over the past few weeks. This is not to say that because we don’t see these images daily that problem doesn’t still exist. This is an ever evolving issue. This week it has been revealed that 230 million children worldwide grow up in a warzone, a staggering 1 in 10 children. As I can honestly say that not once have I woken up fearing for my life, I can’t comprehend how this must feel. Memories of sleepless nights centre around birthdays and christmases, the crucial difference being my alert state was down to excitement and anticipation, not terror and fear.
It took the tragic image of a toddler washed up like a piece of driftwood onto a Mediterranean beach, where many of us have enjoyed summer holidays, to truly shame the West into taking action and demand that refugees are welcomed. This city was no exception; perhaps after all, people do make Glasgow.
The responses of European states have varied massively none more so than the reactions of the UK and Germany. This is, for everybody, uncharted territory, for those who step onto the flimsiest craft to cross open water to an unknown future and for those who work out how best to help them.
Britain has long been a migrant’s paradise with cradle to grave care and financial welfare payouts. David Cameron has pledged to resettle 20,000 refugees from Syria and its borders within the United Kingdom in the next four years in order to ‘fulfil its moral responsibility to help.’ 20,000 people in context is double the population of Fort William. Impressive right? Is it as impressive when you consider there are more students at this very university? One would have to conclude not. When you do the arithmetic this equates to 12 people a day over the course of this parliament, seriously unimpressive. No big deal you may say. With Green MP Caroline Lucas condemning this as a ‘pitifully small’ gesture and Maurice Wren, CEO of the Refugee Council pointing out that this announcement will do little to help those who are now waiting to board a dangerous looking boat into the unknown, we must question what the most appropriate response is.
Germany on the other hand was, until very recently, viewed as the cold-hearted economic giant of Europe thriving under its headmistress-like Chancellor, Angela Merkel. With the crisis worsening, Merkel threw open the doors of Germany to refugees. As scheduled trains of migrants arrived from the East, German citizens lined the streets, some with gifts and the vast majority cheering in their welcome of the bedraggled and weary travellers who stepped from the train’s carriages. Undoubtedly a better response than that of our own government, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Or is it? British broadsheets have this week brought our attention to the situation of natives of the village of Sumte in Lower Saxony. This community of 102 has been ordered to help 750 migrants increasing its population by over 700 percent overnight. This figure of 750 had been reduced from initial demands to house 1000. For a town which lines one main street, with no shop, no school and importantly no police station it is little surprise that citizens are far from happy about the realities which continue to unfold around them.
By opening its doors without real restriction Germany is beginning to crack under the weight of only some of the 800,000 migrants expected by Merkel this year. Neo-Nazis continue to engage in violent protest throughout the country. There are national shortages of teachers and police officers. Clashes between residents, arising from petty matters, are rife. The German people are now suffering alongside the refugees they want to help.
Maybe the real crisis here is the failure of the EU to act together, enforcing a universal policy of integration relative to the population numbers of each member state. If each member state pledged to take even take 1% of their own own population number in migrants, would we be facing such a crisis now?
Another distinction must be drawn between refugees and economic migrants. Those trying night after night to make it through the Channel Tunnel are already in a country free from persecution and civil war. They are safe from harm but their desire to get to Britain, a place they view as the land of milk and honey, blinds them from this. That said who am I to judge these people? I haven’t even the vaguest comprehension of their position.
Somewhere between the responses of Britain and Germany lies a happy medium; a frontloaded controlled migration of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. A way in which communities can truly welcome and, importantly support those whose lives have been in danger as they arrive in what is, after all, an alien and foreign land. All of us in their shoes would do everything we could to secure our children’s future. It falls on us to help them in a manner which does not threaten the culture which these refugees have risked so much to be part of.