For the past year, I thought the “border crisis” or “migrant crisis” occurring in Europe was one of those permanently jammed problems.
Tens of thousands of people desperately flinging themselves onto the flimsy boats of smugglers to get to the coasts of Italy, Greece, France or other coastal countries. Thousands died miserable deaths as boats sank in the ocean, dehydration ravaged bodies or smugglers killed their shipment.
As the number of migrants keeps rising, European countries lament the difficult position they’ve been put in. Looking after all of these people is not possible, they claim.
From the beginning, I’ve internalized a version of this narrative. Migrants were fleeing hazardous circumstances, but there was only so much Europe could do before their own borders burst, especially since many countries, mainly Greece, are in a financial straitjacket.
But then I heard an NPR podcast on the show “On Point” that reframed the narrative for me, reminding me that every situation has multiple angles and can be slanted for political reasons.
Far from being under an unbearable burden, Europe, according to the featured analysts, is displaying humanitarian cowardice. Political parties across the continent have been scoring points by roaring xenophobic mantras, casting the migrants as an invading mass harboring terrorists and weighing down social services to the point of breaking. In some cases, the migrants are used as a scapegoat to distract constituents from the root causes of economic hardship.
One British politician even joined a vigilante brigade tracking down migrants for deportation and posted his catches on Twitter.
In an aging continent of 700 million people, an estimated 200,000, mostly young, migrants through the whole of 2015 can’t be accommodated?
That’s 2 migrants for every 7,000 Europeans.
Comparatively, countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are taking in millions of refugees. Europe also allows millions of immigrants to arrive each year.
Countries like Italy have been, for the most part, bravely patrolling the seas and rescuing endangered people as other countries balk at the urgency. Places like Germany have been accepting their fair share of the migrants, and have reason to claim they’re strained. But the continent as a whole has been shirking its humanitarian responsibility by turning away thousands of people and relegating thousands of others to the outskirts of society in undocumented encampments.
Let’s not forget why these men, women and children are fleeing to Europe: civil wars, terrorism, vicious religious or lifestyle persecution, dire poverty and other intractable problems. So these are not just migrants, but also refugees, a designation that should compel swift action.
That’s why global citizens everywhere should call on Europe to reframe its migrant situation.
Instead of viewing the migrants as a scourge or an unbearable burden, Europe should begin to embrace the potential of these men and women who are just seeking a better life. None of the migrants are traveling to Europe for “fun,” as one analyst put it, they are traveling because it seems they have no other choice.
Instead of a border crisis, Europe can choose to view the situation as a chance to help the world’s most vulnerable people, and even as a welcome infusion of youth and diversity. After all, if Europe want's long-term prosperity, it needs more young people.
Fortunately, there have been efforts to humanize the migrants and muster support for humane treatment as my colleagues have shown, here and here. And the E.U. just announced a $2.6 billion commitment to deal with the migrants--France and Greece will receive the bulk of aid, but it remains to be seen how the funds will be used.
Efforts to dehumanize the migrants are aggressive and have shaped the discussions taking place, which makes me suspect a lot of the newly committed funds will be pegged to deportation. If global citizens make their voices heard on this issue, people in destitute circumstances will likely have a better chance of pursuing a better life.
A person’s place of birth should not brand a person for poverty or early death. Humanity transcends borders and all countries experiencing a surge in migrants should seize the opportunity to ease their plight.