Helping refugees is the only way to go

Friday 05/02/2016

The meeting of world leaders in London to discuss ways to boost aid for Syrian refugees has taken place against the background of legitimate concerns that the goodwill of the international community towards refugees, especially in Europe, could be receding.

During January, more than 350 refugees died off the coasts of Greece, Turkey and Italy. In one case January 30th, a boat capsized off the coast of Turkey, killing at least 37 refugees.

However, the tragic sight of the refugees’ dead bodies washing ashore did not trigger the strong tide of sympathy elicited by the death of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi last September. The Associ­ated Press quoted Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as saying: “The public seems to be kind of immunised. They don’t want to see it anymore.”

But it’s not just an issue of being desensitised to tragedy: Since the surge of support for refugees last summer, Europeans have learned that the perpetrators of the November 13th attacks on Paris included recent Middle East refugees who managed to sneak in from Greece.

And in the German city of Cologne, 18 asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa were suspected of involvement in acts of violence, including sexual harassment, during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Fears about migrants endangering Europe’s security or jeopard­ising its way of life have succeeded to a great extent in eroding Germany’s welcoming culture. About 40% of the German public would like Chancellor Angela Merkel to resign over her handling of the refugee issue.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden intends to expel thousands of asylum seekers whose applications were rejected. Denmark is reducing the benefits to refugees and seizing valuables from migrants.

There is no minimising the criminal acts under investigation after the Cologne incidents but the misdeeds remain those of a miniscule minority.

Moreover, the treatment of the issue has ignored the fact that many refugee women from Syria and Iraq have been victims of abuse both in their own region and in Europe. In a recent report, Amnesty International said these women “face violence, assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at every stage of their jour­ney, including on European soil” at the hands of smugglers, security staff or other refugees.

Financing refugee assistance is costly. The international com­munity’s aim is to raise $9 billion to help the millions of Syrian refugees across the Middle East and Europe. As large as this sum is, it could be productive in the long haul.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated in January that “rapid labour market integration is key to reducing the net fiscal cost associated with the current inflow of asylum seekers. Indeed, the sooner the refugees gain employment, the more they will help the public finances.” The IMF statement applies not only to refugees in Europe but also in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere in MENA where many of them are waiting out the war.

If rational minds prevail, people should realise the integration of refugees into society — as costly as that may be in the short run — is the only way to go. The movement of people across the globe, regardless of violence and war, is here to stay.