Please Let Us In

October 26 2015 | by

WHEN, say, in 30 or 40 years’ time, books (if they will still exist) begin to appear about the early decades of the 21 century, my guess is that one of the defining images of 2015 will be that of officer Mehmet Ciplak carrying the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi from a beach in Turkey after the 3-year-old and his brother Galip drowned trying to make the short crossing to the Greek island of Kos.

This microcosm of misery put into focus the plight of the refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, a glimpse into the lives of the displaced millions, only a small proportion of whom make up so much of the human tide that has been surging relentlessly into Europe throughout the year.

It triggered a global outpouring of sympathy for them as they marched in their thousands up through the Balkans into Hungary and then into Germany. The Church has been particularly close to these people: among those to greet the first wave of arrivals at the main station in Munich on September 4 was Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich-Freising and president of the German Bishops’ Conference. Other Christians have made sure that the migrants were cared for at every opportunity.

In Munich food had been stockpiled and was handed out to the Syrians as they disembarked from trains, for instance, while in Frankfurt, Germans formed a human chain to pass bags of food, clothing and toiletries to the exhausted arrivals, who were also greeted with balloons and banners with words such as: We love refugees.

In Dresden, a graffiti artist daubed the words A Warm Welcome on to the side of a carriage of a train in Arabic. The small pockets of opposition to the influx, like the 29 protesters who chanted slogans outside the station in Dortmund as a train rolled in carrying 1,000 migrants, were practically negligible.


Pope Francis


The day after the first migrants made it to Germany, Pope Francis made it clear what he believed the response of the Catholic Church to the crisis should be. “Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, should take in one family”, the Holy Father requested after praying the midday Angelus. He said the “tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from conflict and hunger… are on a journey of hope”, and that “the Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned”.

The Pope asked the bishops of Europe to support his appeal, and his words were taken very seriously. In Spain, for example, a meeting was hastily arranged between Catholic officials and the country’s deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, during which the Church vowed to do all it could to alleviate the suffering of the migrants, while in London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, also announced that the Church would work closely with the UK government in its plans to relocate at least 20,000 Syrians over the next five years from refugee camps in Lebanon to the towns and cities of England. It was a picture replicated throughout the churches across Europe and, indeed, in other parts of the world.


Bewildered Europeans


The images of the mass migration have left many Europeans bewildered, even shocked. Where on earth are all these people coming from? And why do they all want to leave their homes to live in Europe? The overwhelming majority started life as refugees from Syria, a fact recognised by the United Nations, although it is debatable that they are still classed as such once they have left safe countries such as Turkey or Lebanon. What they all have in common, however, is that they seek a better life after seeing their own practically destroyed by conflict.

Take Aylan Kurdi, for example: the Syrian civil war had been raging for five years when he was born in the border town of Kobani in 2012. When he was two years old, Daesch (Islamic State) terrorists overran his town, murdering the men and kidnapping the women. His family were among those who fled across the border into Turkey, joining six million Syrian people forced from their homes by the violence. It is little wonder that the family took a chance to reach Europe in the hope of a better life. But it would be fair to say that if Syria was at peace, they would still be there and Aylan would most probably still be alive.


Hydra-headed Islamism


Indeed, what is fuelling this mass migration to Europe – the largest movement of people across the continent since the Second World War – is chiefly the unending conflicts in the Middle East. The exodus is a calamity of 15 years in the making, beginning perhaps with the US-led invasion of Iraq on the spurious grounds that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destructions, and has been exacerbated by the naivety of western politicians, especially those in Britain and France, who enthusiastically helped to destabilise Muslim countries during the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. How wrong were they to think that getting rid of strong, albeit unpleasant, men like Saddam in Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria would usher in liberal democracies. On the contrary, when a power vacuum appears in the Middle East, it is not filled by freedom of expression, the right to information and the possibility to participate in the decision making process, but by Islamism, an ideological force whose great energy and vigour is matched by its ruthlessness and its ability to grow heads like a Hydra. At present, it is committing genocide across Syria and Iraq and smashing to bits traces of any civilisation other than its own.


Conflict resolution


The lesson here is surely that we should not meddle in these countries unless it is to stop such forces from slaughtering innocent civilians. If we do interfere and Islamism prospers as a result, how can we be surprised when the victims of the Islamists turn up on our doorstep asking for sanctuary? If we want to halt the migration, then conflict resolution must be a priority. Surely that means defeating Daesch (ISIS) by whatever means it takes. That is, in fact, what the refugees want too; they do not want to leave their own countries for Europe if they could remain safely at home. For us to sit and watch is to do nothing, and that could also have adverse consequences. Rather, it would better if the EU developed a military capacity to end such conflicts for good and to help the displaced return home.

Furthermore, while it is noble and charitable to help the refugees when they arrive in Europe, these acts of kindness will never be an enduring solution to the problem because the migrants will just keep coming. This in itself will change the EU not only in the long-term, with Islam spreading and taking root across the continent, with all that entails, but also in the short-term because the inability of EU leaders to reach a political consensus on how to address the crisis carries the potential to break up the union itself.


The Dublin System


The differences of opinion are stark: in the UK anti-immigration sentiments are high in the face of the net annual increase in migrants of 330,000 people a year, excluding those who are refugees. The government there is insistent that it will not accept migrants who enter Europe uninvited. This is because of the conviction that such a policy will further encourage migrants to surge into the EU. Its policy stands in sharp contrast to that of Germany, where migrants are being welcomed through an ‘open door’. This country is expecting some 800,000 asylum applications in this year alone. But unlike the UK, Germany needs migrants to sustain its economy because of its own ageing population and its plummeting birth rate.

This issue was picked up by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission in his ‘State of the Union’ address in early September, when he called for compulsory quotas across EU member states to distribute 160,000 migrants throughout the bloc. He also wants to hand out hundreds of thousands of passports to economic migrants, and he is seeking the abolition of the Dublin System that compels refugees to seek asylum in the EU country where they arrive.

“We are an ageing continent in demographic decline”, he said in justification for his policies. “Migration must change from being a problem to being a well-managed resource. Migration has to be legalised. We have to organise legal ways to Europe.”


Common policy


One solution to the demographic crisis would be to make it easier for Europeans to marry and to help them raise their own families. But with the focus being on the plight of the migrants, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) has come out as an enthusiastic supporter of Mr Juncker’s proposals, wasting no time at all in demanding that the EU adopt a common asylum policy, a new regulation, “without delay” because it is unacceptable for refugees to “drown and suffocate” at Europe’s borders.

Moreover, a standing committee made up of COMECE president Cardinal Marx, Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, COMECE vice-president, and Italian Bishop Gianni Ambrosio of Piacenzo-Bobbio, also wants it to be illegal for countries to take their own measures to keep migrants out: “Building barbwire fences and walls to prevent refugees from entering Europe is not a solution”, the three Church leaders said in a statement. “The situation in the countries of coveted destination … shows that it is not possible to go on without a European regulation. The fact that some countries are seeking to disengage entirely from their responsibility is unacceptable.”


This is an invasion


One can only conclude that the bishops are referring to Hungary, which is building a fortified fence along its southern border with Serbia, and the UK, which is also erecting ‘barbwire fences’ outside the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel to prevent thousands of migrants trying to enter every day.

Both Mr Juncker’s and COMECE’s words will not go down well in such countries. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, like other politicians across Europe, including the Netherlands, has expressed the view that he does not consider the migrants to be bona fide refugees. He is supported by at least some of the Catholic bishops of his country, most notably Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo of Szegedin-Tschanad, who told the Washington Post very simply that “they’re not refugees. This is an invasion… they come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great). They want to take over.”

Mass migration is one of the most controversial issues in Britain. The public has simply had enough. They elected the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party to most UK seats in the European Parliament, and the ruling Conservative Party was re-elected at home only after promising a referendum on Britain’s continued EU membership amid the widespread belief that an exit would be the only way to regain control of the country’s borders.

Any attempt to force a common asylum and immigration regulation on the UK in the wake of the migrant crisis will in my opinion result in the British people voting to leave the bloc. It is difficult to say if any other member states will, like dominoes, follow such a lead, but given the sense of disillusionment with the European vision that is convulsing particularly many of the new member states, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Updated on October 06 2016