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Sunday, March 06, 2016

Humanitarianism versus national interest

A continent whose prosperity is largely based upon the exploitation of its colonies for over four centuries is today unwilling to give shelter to people without hope. 

Europe today in the throes of xenophobia the likes it last witnessed during the persecution of Jews. 

The critical value at stake in the ongoing refugee crisis is humanitarianism versus national interest, and all of Europe (perhaps with the exception of Germany) appears to be favouring narrow national interest.

Dr. Khalid Koser
Dr. Khalid Koser is the Executive Director of Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund in Geneva, Switzerland. Among many other things, he is the editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies. He is an expert in many spheres including global migration, refugees, internal displacement, governance, human security, community engagement and counter-radicalization.

Dr. Koser was in Toronto recently to deliver the Global Diversity Exchange Annual lecture on the refugee crisis that Europe is grappling with, and evidently not doing too well for itself. He is a keen and articulate advocate of permitting refugees from Syria into Europe. His perspective on the perceived enormity of the crisis and its resolution is simple: Europe should not lose sight of its democratic and humanitarian traditions that go back many centuries. He believes that there is a strong dissonance at present between the perception and the reality of the crisis.

The three solutions that he offers to overcome the present paralysis on the refugee question are extensive education of both the European population and the refugees, a proactive political leadership (exemplified by Germany Angela Merkel, but lacking everywhere else), and a more responsible media that is constructive in dissecting and discussing the issue. He advocated for an objective debate on the subject where nobody is expected to change their views, but understand what the other side brings to the table.

Dr. Koser believes that better solutions will emerge if and when the private sector and administrations of cities are involved in finding solution to the crisis. European governments are not coping with the crisis because of lack of political will. As an example of this absence of political gumption, he states that in comparison to Canada’s decision to permit 25,000 refugees from Syria, the United Kingdom has announced that it will permit 20,000 refugees over a period of six years. There is a clear disconnect between the short-term goals of political parties and the long-term benefits of immigration.

He is highly critical of European governments, and believes that European governments have lost all moral rights to criticize Pakistan and Iran, the two countries who have accommodated millions of Afghan refugees within their boundaries for more than 15 years.  

Dr. Koser also believes that there is clearly shrinking space for a more constructive dialogue on migration. Contrary to popular perceptions, which political leaders accentuate for narrow political gains, migrants don’t compete for jobs, they contribute more to the economy than what they get initially, and they are definitely not terrorists.

The refugee crisis has global dimension, and he argues that proximity should not be equated with responsibility. However, this is easier said than done. At present Turkey is bearing the brunt of the crisis with over two million refugees from Syria within its borders, and though it has recently closed its borders, Dr. Koser predicts that it would be cajoled by the European Union to reopen the borders.

He warns that the challenge the influx of refugees from Syria and North Africa pose to Europe has only just begun. Compared to a million refugees in 2015, the numbers will be substantially more in 2016 and 2017. In a startling revelation, he said in 2015 more than 3600 refugees trying to reach European shores illegally were drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

He lauded Canada for allowing 25,000 refugees in 2015, but said it could do more. 

Here's a video recording of Dr. Koser's speech:

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