Fri, Jan 22, 2016 - Page 9 News List

The economics of the refugee crisis lay bare our moral bankruptcy

Raising special taxes and taking desperate people’s valuables are not the acts of a compassionate polity. A realistic framework for adequacy must be established

By Zoe Williams  /  The Guardian

While a war in Syria persists, while the Islamic State group exists — indeed, until there is a massive outbreak of unprecedented peace — certain facts are likely to remain unarguable. The flow of refugees is unlikely to stop. It is unlikely to lessen and those people cannot be accommodated by Turkey, even if they were happy to stop there.

A solution that relies on beefing up the fortification of Europe would merely deliver more money into the hands of people-smugglers, intensifying and empowering networks of criminality across the continent to a degree that would change its nature. A solution that relies on not noticing that people are drowning is indivisible, ethically, from a solution that undertakes to drown people deliberately, and this, again, would ultimately change the nature of all nations that let it happen.

A solution of avoidance on this issue would erode Europe’s collective ability to cooperate on anything. Rather than watch this painful display of inadequacy and heckle, Europe needs to start setting out a framework for what adequacy would look like.

First, people need to assert the legitimacy of the asylum claims, based on the routes taken, the nations fled, the extent of the conflicts that everyone knows. Too much time is wasted on who is an economic migrant and who is a refugee. It is possible to say in full confidence that 850,000 people crossed the water from Turkey last year and not one of them was a South American plumber looking for new opportunities.

It is not impossible or even unreasonable work to divide up 850,000 people between European nations, based on size, space and GDP per capita — and require each nation, as a condition of membership, to take its share. All of this must be undertaken without the petty vindictiveness that has characterized immigration policy since the turn of the century.

People need to spell out what it would take to meaningfully uphold the convention upon which so much of society’s collective self-belief is based; or consider a future in which that self-belief has gone.

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