Europe has followed an irrational policy of “who you see is who you help” regarding the refugee crisis. The more touched we have been emotionally, the more we have helped the individual in the story. A man kicked by a Hungarian camerawoman was offered a job as a football coach in Spain; parents of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned little boy who’s picture moved millions of people around the world were offered asylum in Canada; and a Syrian girl in a wheelchair got plenty of attention when she professed her love for an American soap opera in fluent English, to the point that an alternative ending to an episode was written and filmed for her sake only.
There is nothing wrong in being moved by human tragedies and wanting to help. Taking a single heart-breaking example and turning it into a happy ending may, however, work in a soap opera and give us the satisfaction we seek. But in fact it is misguided altruism and a patch over our eyes, making us blind to millions of others who are in even more dire need for help. For every Aylan there are thousands of killed or disabled kids in Syria and Iraq with no journalist around to take their picture. Millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon live in extremely degrading conditions without proper shelter or food. Approximately 80% of the over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon are women and children. Thousands of Syrian women are resorting to prostitution for as little as 3 dollars, just to get food for their children. Yazidi refugee children in northern Iraq, whose mothers and sisters were kidnapped by ISIS as sex slaves, might not survive the cold winter in their shacks made of plastic foil and cardboard.
Reactions to the refugee influx across Europe have been intensely emotional overall; some have been throwing firebombs at reception centres and others have been welcoming refugees with flowers and welcome signs. I understand the worries of the former group and the altruism of the latter without prejudice, but see them as two sides of the same coin. Both are emotional and localised responses to a global problem, which urgently needs a rational and holistic solution.
What I don’t understand – nor agree with – is the statement by Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who called immigrants “human garbage”. These are valuable people with an undervalued status. They are desperate and hopeless people in search of dignity. It doesn’t matter if they are not truly in need of protection, as some criticise them for. It is not a shame or a crime to pursue a better life. We all would do the same in their place.
When the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, was asked in a TED interview, “How many refugees can Europe take?” He answered, “That is a question that has no answer, because refugees have the right to be protected.”
This may be a “refugee crisis” on the surface but in depth it's a crisis of the welfare state. At stake is the European concept of equality itself. The question is not, how many refugees can we take, but how many can we place on the equality seats? And what would that do to the status of each seat, culturally, financially and democratically? This is why immigration is not regarded as a problem – but an opportunity – by countries such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Kuwait, where 84%, 74% and 70% of the population respectively are immigrants. Those countries neither promise, nor deliver equality for immigrants.
Europe does promise it. And that promise is what these people are here to claim – a promise that Europe cannot always deliver. This could also explain how most of the foreign recruits of ISIS with an immigrant background come from Europe and not from those above-mentioned majority immigrant countries. These are sometimes second- and third-generation immigrants who are disappointed and disillusioned with Europe and are frustrated with the failure of integration. For the mass harassers of Köln, disillusion came fast and prematurely.
I am not saying that Europe or western culture is solely to blame for the failure of integration. And I am not even saying that integration has categorically failed. But failed it has in way too many cases. Angela “refugees welcome” Merkel was herself in the spotlight a few years ago for another outburst when she stated, “multiculturalism has failed”. So did UK Prime Minister David Cameron around the same time. And you know what, they were both right. This is because different cultures living in isolated proximity without mutual respect and appreciation may form a bundle of diversity, but not a multicultural society. Just take a tour of the ghettoes around Paris or Brussels and you will feel like you have moved to a North African or Middle Eastern small town. Not a single European in sight. Integration is seriously lacking.
One could open a chapter on colonial guilt, crime and punishment here – but that would take us off track from this topic.
Do we help those who most need it, those in the most critical conditions, or those who have made it to our doorsteps? The answer is obvious, but one would immediately state that, of course we cannot cast off these people who have come to us for help.
Well, there is a win–win–win solution! The third “win” is not a mistake in the previous sentence. I am referring to the present solution, which in my opinion is a lose–lose–lose model:
The most able, motivated and ambitious layer of those in need comes to us and applies for asylum, which is the only way they could grab their seat in the welfare-land. We reluctantly accept some of them, even if there is no place for them in society. In time many of them will become disappointed and frustrated, or even radicalised or resort to crimes. Their societies lose them; we lose; and they lose.
Here is my two cents, and trust me, there is not a shred of racism, xenophobia or disrespect for immigrants in it. This model is an attempt to find a holistic solution to a complex problem. To cut the Gordian knot; an attempt to find a paradigm shift.
1. Resettlement is not the answer, but part of the problem
There are more than 60 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world at the moment. While some conflicts or crises are ending, new ones are emerging. War-ravaged Yemen alone saw 933,500 new IDPs in the first half of last year, while 559,000 were forced to flee within Ukraine. Burundi and Bangladesh are also among the ticking bombs. There will soon be millions of people in need of resettlement because of natural, health- and climate-related catastrophes in the near future. Additionally, we have over 3 billion people who are not refugees, but live below the absolute poverty level, i.e. having to make it with less than US$2 a day.
Just a simple look at the numbers should be enough to comprehend that we cannot resettle and accommodate all those in trouble to Europe or the western countries, so we have to help them where they are and ensure that the resources are divided equally – starting from the most vulnerable. Resettlement contributes to the problem because of the immensely unequal distribution of help, prioritising those here in expense of those left back, to the extent that not much may be left for the most needy in the poor countries. The other issue is the cost-effectiveness of the aid system. Take a reception centre for unaccompanied refugee children in Finland for example. For approximately 47 kids, there is a staff of 15. Kids have top-notch shelter, food, education, hobbies and clothing available. The costs of such an institute could be over four million euros a year. With that money, you could build several schools for thousands of kids in Afghanistan and pay the teachers for ten years. The resources spent on the resettled few, could make life better for a much larger group.
So taking more refugees or redistributing them inside EU does not solve the problem, but adds to the pressure, which in a worst-case scenario could cause the collapse of the welfare system or speed up the rise of far right groups to power. This, in turn, would mean more maltreatment of immigrants, causing more radicalisation and crime, and less help to those left behind in crisis countries. The trend in Germany is a clear example, with 1005 attacks on reception centres in 2015, compared with just 199 in 2014.
2. Don’t pay Turkey ransom money, but let hosting refugees boost the Greek economy.
Because of the traditional and historical distrust of Finns towards Russians, when the Russian –Finnish border started to bleed this year, politicians and people started to suspect the refugee flow to be an intentional irritation from the Russian government. I am not sure if Russia’s giving passage to asylum seekers is intentional or corruption related, but I have no doubt that Turkish leadership is directly involved in flooding the EU borders with immigrants. Turkey has had several grudges with Europe, starting with not being let into the club. Last but not least, when Erdogan was not able to get support for his idea of a so-called buffer, no-fly “security” zone inside Syria to host the refugees and Turkish troops (mainly aimed at suppressing the Kurdish population), he decided to teach the EU a lesson. This extortion plan has unfortunately been successful; forcing the EU to promise 3 billion euros and other concessions to Turkey just to close the floodgates, i.e. take things back to “normal”.
However, Erdogan did not invent this template. He reused a mock-up of Fidel Castro’s lesson to Jimmy Carter’s USA. Few people remember the so-called Mariel Boatlift of 1980, when, more than 120,000 Cuban refugees flooded the beaches of Miami. They left with Castro’s blessing form the Mariel Harbour, using rubber boats, tractor tubes and anything that could float – until Carter had to apologise for his criticising Castro for imprisoning the Cuban people. Carter had to pay ransom money for the human flood to stop. As later turned out, Castro had ordered criminals and psychiatric patients to be bussed from prisons and mental hospitals to the harbour to join the flock. Criminal gangs descending from those immigrants are still called “Marielitos”. The famous Al Pacino movie, Scarface also refers to the same phenomenon.
The images, videos, discussions and indeed the outcomes of the Cuban refugee crisis, with overcrowded receptions centers and what not, were extremely similar to the ones we are witnessing now.
Long story short, Erdogan is blackmailing Europe. Paying him is a grave mistake. The last thing that a sovereign country should do is to ask a distrusted neighbour to protect her borders for her, and that is what the EU is doing, and recently Finland with Russia.
Additionally Turkey has contributed significantly to the instability of neighbouring Syria by giving a free pass to foreign fighters and weapons into – and ISIS oil out of – Syria. And according to BBC, it is supporting the Libyan branch of ISIS financially. If anything, Turkey should be sanctioned for these actions – and for suppressing the Kurdish population.
Instead, the whole situation could be seen as an opportunity to hit two birds with one stone. The 3-plus billion euros could be a boost to the Greek economy and create jobs if, instead, humane and liveable refugee camps were build in the Greek islands. The knowledge that the island in site would be the end of the trip would greatly discourage those who are not truly in need of protection. A recent article in the Financial Times suggested this same model, which I have been saying since last September. I am happy that others think the same; lets just do it!
3. The lifetime lottery prize into a temporary stay
Getting to Europe has never been easier and cheaper. The buffer of totalitarian socialist countries around Western Europe has dissolved and the EU borders moved to Turkey and Albania. Wherever poverty meets wealth, walls have to be built. But it’s now just a narrow stretch of sea from the shores of a Turkey full of refugees, corruption and anger with the EU to the islands of Greece, which is almost bankrupt and angry with the EU. Add in the human smugglers and it’s not a bridge anymore, it’s a treadmill! Getting across could cost less then a 1000 euros per person. That is just a bit over a round trip airfare.
EU countries accept about half of these asylum claims, so think of it as a lottery ticket that costs 1000 euros. The prize is a lifetime in a welfare state with free education, housing, healthcare, possible employment and whatnot. And guess what? If accepted, you can then bring your family – in best case all expenses paid. And the best part is that every other ticket wins! Wouldn’t you take the risk if you were as desperate?
We need to change the lifetime nature of granted asylum for humanitarian protection and issue the residence permits one year at a time; renewable when necessary.
This, by itself, would decrease the prize value and demotivate those who are not truly in need of urgent refuge to take the risk of migrating – but would still be attractive to those in desperate need of protection.
Critics of this model would say that it is inhumane to keep people in limbo year after year when we don’t know when the crisis would be over in their homeland. This thinking has its roots in the assumption of equality within a geographical boundary of the western countries. Well, that is exactly the case with their fellow countrymen, living in worse situations in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries; so why would it be less humane if they are in better conditions and are being empowered and educated at the same time. Most foreign students, diplomats and expats live in similar transit states and cover the costs themselves. Even in the broader term, migration has changed and people don’t even want to commit to the same country forever. The new age of migration is all about “mobility” anyway. People move from one country to another, then back home or rise sails towards a third country if the winds are fair.
4. Turn the integration industry into an empowerment university
For those who do get to stay, integration should be redundant to a large extent, except the minimum required to live a temporary life in Europe. Asylum seekers must be treated as human resources of their home countries, who are in effect on loan. No language courses and no other preparation for the working life. Instead, adult refugees should be educated and trained in skills and professions that are needed in their home country to rebuild their cities and their society. They should be taught western values and democracy and equality, etc. All of those things that we have tried to inject into their countries through bombs and missiles. This period of their life must be looked at as “college years” – a chance for a truly useful education. We should reshape the “integration industry” into an “empowerment and nation building university”.
The good thing about this model is that there are all kinds of professionals among the incomers, who could act as mentors and teach others in their own language. No translator needed. This would be far less expensive than integration. As an example, with the integration model, Germany would need up to 20,000 new teachers by next summer to accommodate the 196,000 new students arriving in German schools. Finland will have to recruit hundreds of new teachers due to the increase in the number of asylum seekers, according to estimates from the Trade Union of Education (OAJ).
There is no doubt that the crisis in Syria and other places will end one day and the country will need builders, plumbers, electricians, teachers and engineers, coders and carpenters, etc. And it is important to remember that we don’t need the long theoretical educations of western standards – practical down to earth, hand on, do-the-job proficiency levels would suffice. Trainee time in European companies should be made available.
Kids could be put into schools using their own language and be taught by professional or substitute teachers from among the refugees, according to their own school curriculum, so that when they return they could continue right from were they left.
Housewives and mothers could take care of others and receive hygiene and household education in their free time. This way, every one has a meaningful and dignified task, and most importantly, the hope of a future back home is kept alive in all generations.
When the time is right for people to go home, they could be given a seed capital in the form of machines and equipment – and a loan if necessary to start a businesses or cooperatives. Germany experimented with this type of “assisted repatriation” more than a decade ago with Kosovars, and with reasonable success.
Alternatively, they could go to refugee camps in neighbouring countries where most of their fellow countrymen still reside and help others for a local-level salary.
5. Help them liberate their land
Over 20 000 of the Iraqi refugees arriving in Finland in 2015 were young men of fighting age, some of them with military training. I do not believe that these deserters, if we may call them that, are cowards. They just don’t believe in victory, and they have lost their trust in the Iraqi army. With proper training and empowerment, they could be forged into a formidable fighting force. For comparison, Isis is said to have only 30 000 fighters in Iraq!
It’s just a matter of time before the EU and other western countries have to engage ISIS on the ground. And who would be better to do that than the sons of Iraq and Syria? Critics may say, that you can not force them to fight. Finland has already been asked to join the coalition and that means we will most probably soon have to force our soldiers to risk their life liberating these men's land. It would be ridiculous if we have to send European or Finnish soldiers to fight ISIS, and these 20 000 men would be ploughing our snow and cleaning our metros at the same time!
Training camps could be built in safe areas of Iraq, Jordan or other neighbouring countries and European officers could run the operation. Soldiers could be integrated into a western or volunteer army and those unwilling to fight could be educated to swipe minefields and deactivate explosives, build prosthetic limbs and treat the disabled.
When the camps are up and running, the same opportunity could be offered to other volunteers from Europe and elsewhere. Many have already been joining the Kurdish forces for example with their own costs.
6. Distribute help to everyone starting from the most needy
We all saw the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heroically welcoming the (by the way, handpicked Christian) Syrian refugees into Canada and handing them fluffy jackets.
Well, resettlement of the 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada – according to government document obtained by The Canadian Press – would cost $876.7 million in 2015–2016 alone and up to $1.2 billion in the next five years. Finland, on the other end of the spectrum, where the active influx of refugees has traditionally been comparatively insignificant, has received around 30,000 refugees last year. The estimated minimum cost of accommodating this group according to the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) is over 0.5 billion euros in only the first year. And this is just the basic cost of shelter and food, not medical, legal and other expenses. Is it fair to spend so much on a select few? Think of what can be done with this money in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
7. Create a channel for legal migration
The asylum system is probably the most misused, benevolent scheme in the last decades. A system that was meant to give those who are truly persecuted for their thinking, religion, ethnic background, etc. has been used as a means of economic migration to a large scale. Many have sought refuge based on humanitarian grounds when in fact they are economic refugees. One main reason has been that there has been no legal bridge over the big divide.
Immigrants are not to blame. It is human nature to pursue a better life and migrate in search of it. But using the asylum system to reach that goal gives these people an unfair advantage over those who would try the official and honest ways of acquiring a working or studying visa and paying all their charges until they can earn a leaving.
A point system similar to that used by Canada and Australia for years, should be created to facilitate the flow of work-related migration. These would be people that Europe needs and would adapt to the European society. These are people who would integrate quickly and find their places from day one. These will be the elements of a healthy and balanced, truly multicultural society. Of course, it is extremely important that we do not take away the brains or skills of poor countries, so if the skill is badly needed in the country of origin, minus points would be given to the applicant. There should be plus points to improve religious, ethnic, gender and age diversity of the receiving country.
There is no obstacle preventing asylum seekers from participating in the same program and shifting from humanitarian protection to labour immigrant status.
Of course, this model may not work for political refugees and activists needing a more permanent protection from totalitarian regimes and other similar cases. There is no doubt that these changes would also not be pleasant to all applicants, especially those who have taken the journey in hope of a life-long migration, but will empower those who want to be helped to help themselves. Win–win–win.
Editor in Chief
LEHTIKUVA / AFP / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS