Europe's migrant crisis: what's to be done?

Photo: Blocked by rail, migrant’s walk through Hungary to reach Germany and Austria.

The first week of this September month has seen an extra-ordinary set of responses to the mass-migration of various peoples toward Western Europe. Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative for migration and development told reporters on the 8th of September that “We should have a European response as part of a global response.” The UN’s refugee agency expects 400,000 asylum seekers coming across the Mediterranean to Europe this year and possibly 450,000 or more in 2016, a situation that needs a “global response”. Indeed, 366,000 have already arrived in Europe this year, and the EU warns that this situation could last for years.

In the  UK  parliament, PM David Cameron,  while addressing a series of questions brought on by a creditably concerned public, of whom nearly  500,000 signed a petition calling for acceptance of “more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK”, announced government measures to take in 20,000 refugees over the next  five years, selected with UNHCR help from the various refugee camps close to the countries in crisis (principally Syria); and – because the UK is not party to the EU ‘Schengen agreement’ – avoiding taking any who have already crossed into Europe, some of whom are camping  outside Calais. (This historic French town was occupied until 1553 by the English as a remnant of their mediaeval interest in Europe which might – had history not intervened – have been the UK equivalent of the Italian island of Lampedusa as a port of entry for asylum seekers. However, Gibraltar may one day be at risk.)

Tragically, the European response has so far been similarly disgraceful and chaotic although President Tusk does recognise that “The wave of migration is not a one-time incident, but the beginning of a real exodus, which means that we will have to deal with this problem for many years to come.”

Climate change watchers have long predicted that there would be a series of increasingly adverse global events – possibly nuclear war – were the response to the challenge of anthropogenic climate change to be inadequate – which so far it truly is. (See ) In the famous Al Jolson phrase ‘you ain’t heard nothing yet’. The current crisis may well be a mild foretaste of a hitherto inconceivable future whereby the well-informed but deprived billions of the world’s poorest strike  for their ‘rights’ against those of us privileged to live a life, as they see it, of comfort, ease and immorality. Hezbollah’s criticisms of the West, for example, will seem pale beside those of ISIS and its successors.

So, what’s to be done? Cameron does at least recognise that the response has to be global and involve Russia. However, he also still regards the radicals such as Hezbollah as ‘enemies’ implying that negotiations with such bodies is unthinkable. Such attitudes preserve the narrow focus of destructive self-interest, like the apocryphal anthropoid who dies of starvation while grasping a morsel of food inside a hole in a tree-trunk from which he cannot remove his grasping hand.

A good way forward must surely be an open-handed and truly international dialogue involving all the UNSC powers free from any threat of veto under a truly internationally neutral Chair – either the UN Secretary General or a well-commissioned powerfully appointed nominee. The relatively petty grievances on all sides should for the duration be set aside. Each party must at least tacitly accept responsibility for the current and loomingly increasing crisis of population movements arising from a fundamentally unfair world riven by poverty and deprivation. Until national pride begins to get subordinated to an enlightened international interest where our traditions of liberty apply to all, the world faces an inevitably increasing and potentially fatally extinctive dilemma.

In this context, it may be worthwhile noting that the ‘Global Strategic Trends’ published in 2014 by the UK MoD,  far from envisaging a nuclear-weapon-free world by 2045 anticipates a proliferation of nuclear weapons which inevitably would include new but unidentified States.

The first move towards a global resolution of the migrant crisis could well be a decision by the Western powers to engage with those countries of the East, especially Russia in a full and frank dialogue laying bare all grievances. Modern diplomatic methods may well be inadequate as the observing public will also be able to use the advancing communications technologies to analyse the secret thoughts of their representatives, although confidentiality has to remain a part of the diplomatic exchanges.

The world is in a mess – the Americas are far from immune from the global crisis. However, when faced with a real threat of extinction of human-life-on-earth-as-we-know-it, human ingenuity may well know no bounds if working in the interests of all.

Further reading – Global Strategic Trends out to 2045.

Frank Boulton 10th September 2015