“Hordes. Marauding. Floods. Swarms. Boat People”. An observer seeing photos of desperate Syrians arriving on the beaches of southern Greece might think that Europe has become a braying and xenophobic fortress. For three weeks now, in response to the so-called “migrant” crisis, politicians and media across the continent have unleashed hysterical rhetoric and draconian responses.
Popular British newspaper the Daily Mail asked ‘We kept out Hitler. Why can’t our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?’. Italian politicians have called for sinking of boats with migrants fleeing North Africa. The Greek island Kos locked 2500 refugees in a sports stadium. It seems that Europe, united in little else, universally supports closing its doors. This narrative that European populations are as immigrant-hating as their governments perfectly serves the political agenda: who can blame governments like the UK, who turn away refugees from countries Britain itself destabilized, for responding to the times?
But, just as the crisis looks different under a microscope, so do the attitudes of Europeans.
Currently there are two sea routes to Europe for migrants and refugees: the central Mediterranean route from Northern Africa to Italy, and the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece. This year 200,000 people (a tiny 0.027% of Europe’s population) have risked these sea routes: the UNHCR reports that one third are from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Eritrea. In all, these three countries make up about 62% of people who take these risky routes to Europe.
‘’Most of the people arriving by sea in Europe are refugees, seeking protection from war and persecution,” said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Once in Europe, refugees often make a second journey overland to reach one of a number of Northern European countries. Currently, almost all of these 62% have a legal right to asylum in Europe, however some countries play a game of hot-potato, accepting and rejecting refugees ad hoc.
We are told Europe is too poor to accommodate more refugees, but security and deportation policies are themselves expensive. Britain alone spent £7m ($11m) on a fence and in 2014 the cost of deporting immigrants reached an estimated £105m. Since 2000, Europe has spent €1b on securing borders and an eye-watering €11b on repatriation of migrants. Some of these are highly-skilled workers who could plug shortfalls in labour markets. Europe can afford these refugees and in many cases would be lucky to have them.
Everyday, stories are circulated of citizens resisting the anti-migrant actions of their governments by offering their homes, finance, food and friendship to men, women and children making journeys few Europeans can imagine.
Here are Five Humanity-Affirming Ways Europeans Are Opening their Doors and Hearts to Desperate Migrants and Refugees
1) Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat shared their wedding meal with 4,000 Syrian refugees in their home of Kilis in Southern Turkey. The couple were pictured in their wedding clothes serving meals from a food truck.
2) The BBC broadcast its weekly religious service ‘Songs of Praise’ from the migrant camp in Calais, Northern France — drawing attention to the terrible conditions in the camp and the humanity of the people living there.
3) Anja Reschke, a German TV presenter for ARD, publicly shamed right-wingers who incite arson attacks on refugees and called on Germans to ‘oppose it, open your mouth, maintain an attitude’.
4) Sven Latteyer, a German bus driver, openly welcomed a group of refugees onto his bus in a speech that went viral. (Germany in fact announced this week that it will likely accept the estimated 800,000 applications in 2015)
5) 200 British Jews and Rabbi wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron calling his approach appalling, and contrasting it with Britain accepting 10,000 Jewish children during World War Two.
These are not feel-good stories. They are wake-up calls, holding a mirror to the calls by governments for taller walls and tougher police, revealing them for the inhumane responses they are.
The stories are a reminder that narratives exclusively about European rejection of migrants only serve an ‘us and them’ discourse that risks stripping refugees of their humanity — and in the same week that horror spread across the globe at the beheading of Khaled al-Asaad, an 82-year old antiquities scholar in Palmyra, we should recognize that many people on Europe’s shores are fleeing that same enemy.