Maybe you’re comfortable with the reformers baby steps progress. Maybe you’re fine with crumbs. But the working class can no longer afford basic necessities. Eat or buy gas to get to work. Pay the water bill or keep the lights on. But other people have chosen to move. Over the long term, the most important driver of migration is inequality. With 62 people having more than half the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population, more people are being forced to feel poverty. War and conflict is raging all over the globe. People are dying and being forced to leave their homes. Climate change is the cause of increased drought, famine, flooding and natural disasters and it is already forcing people to move across borders. Alex Scrivener from Global Justice Now said:
“It’s unacceptable that people from rich countries are free to go almost anywhere in the world while people from the global south are denied freedom of movement, even when they are fleeing war and extreme poverty. A right that only exists for the rich it not a right at all. There's one rule for 'expat' Europeans and North Americans and another for the rest of the world. This is apartheid on a global scale. We need to move towards free movement for everyone.”
Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said:
“To demonise those making a rational choice on the part of themselves, their family and their community, obscures the truth. Migration is bringing those of us in Europe face to face with the reality of the brutal and unjust world our leaders have constructed…We are told that the principles of free movement, solidarity between members and respect of human rights are at the foundation of the EU. But the value of these principles are dramatically undermined if they are only extended to a privileged minority who arbitrarily hold a particular passport.”
The real migrant crisis is not the influx of refugees to Europe per se but the rise of right-wing nationalism, which is likely to push the world further into social and political chaos. Nothing more illustrates the tendency of governments to aggressively pursue nationalistic interests more starkly than their inhumane response to refugees fleeing conflict and wars with their razor-wire fences, detention centres, and xenophobic speeches. There has been an abject failure of the international community to share the responsibility, burden and resources needed to safeguard the basic rights of asylum seekers in accordance with international law.
The influence of the far-right anti-immigration groups, is skewing the public debate on how governments should deal with refugees and immigrants. With intolerance steadily growing among citizens, governments are increasingly adopting a cynical interpretation of international refugee law that lacks any sense of justice or compassion. Their responses to the plight of the vulnerable has hardened. The pervasive myths peddled by right-wing extremists, their bigotry and outright lies designed to exacerbate fear and discord within society are being repeated by the mainstream politicians. The spurious claim that there are insufficient resources available to share with those seeking asylum in the EU or that asylum seekers will ‘take our homes, our jobs and our welfare services’ is little more than a justification for racial discrimination. No human being is illegal. Calling someone an illegal immigrant ignores the struggles that led him or her to risk life and limb to cross a border without documentation. Acquiring a visa is expensive and difficult, and the United States has always been advertised as the land of opportunity. What would you do if you were placed in the same position?
Europe is not being subjected to the ‘”invasion” of refugees as widely portrayed. Of the world’s 60 million refugees, nine out of ten are not seeking asylum in the EU, and the vast majority remain displaced within their own countries. Many of those that do settle in Europe will return to their country of origin when they are no longer at risk (as happened at the end of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s when 70% of refugees who had fled to Germany returned to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Albania and Slovenia). Overall, economists at the European Commission calculate that the influx of people from conflict zones will have a positive effect on employment rates and long-term public finances in the most affected countries.
If migrant families contribute significantly to society and many European countries with low birth rates actually need them in greater numbers, why are governments and a growing sector of the population so reluctant to honour international commitments and assist refugees in need? The widely held belief that public resources are too scarce to share with asylum seekers is most likely born of fear and insecurity in an age of economic austerity, when many European citizens are struggling to make ends meet. Just as the number of people forcibly displaced from developing countries begins to surge, economic conditions in most European countries have made it politically unfeasible to provide incoming refugees with shelter and basic welfare. Voluntary and compulsory austerity measures adopted by governments after spending trillions of dollars bailing out the banks in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis have resulted in deep spending cuts to essential public services such as healthcare, education and pensions schemes. The resulting economic crisis has led to rising unemployment, social discontent, growing levels of inequality and public services that are being stretched to breaking point. Instead of pointing the finger of blame at governments for mismanaging the economy, public anger across Europe is being wrongly directed at a far easier target: refugees from foreign lands who have become society’s collective scapegoats at a time of grinding austerity.
It's time that people in both ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries recognise that their hardship stems from capitalist market forces that prioritises profits before social needs. By emphasising this mutual cause and promoting solidarity between people, citizens can begin overturning prejudiced attitudes and supporting progressive agendas geared towards safeguarding the common good of all humanity. This must go hand-in-hand with a shift away from foreign policy agendas that are based on advancing national interests at all costs such as appropriating the planet’s increasingly scarce natural resources by military means and proxy wars.