Dead toddler on Turkish beach points to failed migration policies

Friday 04/09/2015

Europe continues to grapple with the unprecedented flow of Middle East migrants across its borders. It is likely to continue doing so for some time.

The unfolding drama of families from war-ridden coun­tries, such as Syria and Iraq, sleeping in the streets or rushing to train stations is grabbing the world’s attention. The tragic scenes are shaming some European communities into a more hospitable attitude. The shocking picture of the 3-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan al-Kurdi, face down on a Turkish beach is making people in Europe and the rest of the world to take a second look at the issue.

Many governments of the old continent continue to squabble over quotas and outdated policies while trying to implement quick fixes. Some, such as the Netherlands, believe the solution is in tougher laws: The Hague is considering regulations that would withhold food and shelter from people whose refugee status applications are turned down.

Other countries are setting up barbed-wire fences and building walls along their borders. Hungary, for instance, has completed a 4-metre-high razor-wire fence. Bulgaria has announced its intention to build a 160-kilo­metre fence along its border with Turkey by the end of the year. Fences will rise in Ukraine and Estonia by 2018.

Such measures cruelly ignore that a good number of migrants from the Middle East are running for their lives. Wars in Syria and Iraq are not leav­ing people with real choices in their quest for survival. Besides, European migration officials know very well there is no place they could send most of those migrants.

Ideally, some countries in Europe, the United States and other well-to-do nations could offer more visas to migrants and establish safe passage corridors for them. In some demographically ageing European nations, governments will be tempted to absorb some of the young, qualified migrants. But politicians overall are more likely to heed the warnings of pollsters and elections strategists that lenient policies considering immi­gration would lead to ballot-box blowback.

If barbed-wire policies in Europe have failed, so have the expedient poli­cies of housing refugees in camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Refugee camps housing thousands have quickly become a liability for the host countries and the refugees’ lives a humanitarian tragedy. Because they are not absorbed into the economic dynamics of host countries, many refugees are tempted to cross borders again towards more hospitable environments.

Jordanian Planning Minister Imad Fakhoury warned in June that provid­ing sufficient support for Jordan to handle refugees would be cheaper than dealing with chaos later. His prophecy has tragically materialised.

Much more assistance should be allocated to Jordan and Lebanon, which have been for years bearing most of the burden of the 4 million refugees displaced from Syria. The two cash-strapped and employment-challenged countries have been left with the impression they are on their own. Neither can afford to spend the billions of dollars required to host and economically accommodate the huge number of Syrian refugees.

Supporting host countries in the region, a policy that has the backing of the World Bank, would make more sense than waiting for desperate migrants to rush across the sea at the risk of their lives.