Leadership and common sense missing in refugee action

By Andrew L. Urban

Reporting on parts of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech to The Association of Christian Intelligentsia in Budapest on Friday, October 29, 2015, Hungarian Spectrum blogger Eva Balogh was somewhat dismissive of Orbán:

“As far as Hungary’s PM Viktor Orbán is concerned, the refugee crisis is over. The Hungarian position is simple. No migrant, refugee or not, will ever enter Hungary not only because there is now a well-guarded fence but because, by the time the asylum seekers reach Turkey, their lives are no longer in danger. They are no longer refugees, and therefore Hungary has no obligation to accept them.”

Well, Orbán has a point. It fits into the recently abandoned yet fairly reasonable EU policy that refugees should take refuge in the first available country from where they escape.

Writing in the German daily FAZ of September 2, 2015, Orbán said: “For us Central Europeans the possibility of free movement within Europe is to experience freedom itself, and it is thus particularly important. Schengen only works, however, if individual Member States fulfill their obligations under the Schengen Agreement – namely the protection of external borders, which is an essential condition for ensuring the possibility of free movement within Europe. If we cannot protect our external borders, Schengen will be in danger. This cannot be wanted by anyone who seeks to defend Europe and who values the concept of Europe.”

Balogh continues her blog, although it is not clear who she is chiding: “As for distributing bona fide refugees among member states, Hungary finds the whole procedure illegal, irrational, and unfair. Alluding to Germany, he claimed that “it is not correct to invite people into your country and then divvy them up among other nations.” But he proposed an even more dangerous idea. The bureaucrats in Brussels want to make this plan permanent and automatic, which is completely unacceptable. No one can force sovereign countries “to admit people whom they don’t want.” Such a move challenges the very foundation of a European Union built on nation states. He suggests that since there is, in his opinion, no acceptable EU solution to the problem, “each country should solve this problem itself, just as Hungary did.”

This sort of confused reaction to the refugee crisis is exactly what we can expect when leaders in Europe have no idea what to do. Or are bound up within ideological strait jackets.

Balogh’s blog continues: “A decision that would mandate an automatic distribution of refugees among member states “might be a liberal [solution], but [it is] not a democratic solution.” EU politicians cannot ignore the will of the people. Neither the national parliaments nor the European Parliament voted for such a solution. “In this case, a crisis of democracy will break out in Europe,” which may lead to anarchy.

“Orbán, completely ignoring the wars raging in the Middle East, makes the human traffickers and, for good measure, the human rights activists responsible for the refugee crisis. As I wrote earlier, without the help of locals it is almost impossible to move illegally across borders. This is especially true when it comes to crossing a body of water. So, blaming the traffickers for the flow of escapees is simply foolish.”

Australians beg to differ. Traffickers in Indonesia were clearly turbo charging the problem in Australia’s recent experience.

I am repeating Balogh’s blog to underline the polarization that is adding confusion and conflict to the refugee crisis gripping Europe. We know exactly where Balogh stands: she is a daily blogger of considerable eloquence and intelligence, her columns invariably aimed to criticize or ridicule Orbán and his FIDESZ party. It is that bias that makes some of her statements lopsided, such as that Orbán is ignoring the raging wars in the Middle East, or that traffickers are not the problem. She even finds fault with Orbán’s views about the sovereignty of EU member states.

Were these statements made by someone she doesn’t demonise, they would not attract such antipathy; she may even debate and discuss them with her readers.

I mention this column of Balogh’s to emphasise the complexity of discussing the refugee crisis in any kind of objective and rational manner. Everyone, it seems, falls into some sort ‘party line’, and expects that everyone else is speaking from the opposite ‘party line’ if they disagree. That’s not helpful.

There are many shards that make up the various challenges facing the world – not just Europe – in the continuing mass migrations out of the Middle East and Africa. I wrote about this subject back on May 2, 2015: ‘Conflicting demands of democracy – conflict between the needs of the hosts and the refugees, for a start – are making this the greatest threat to democracies because there is no ‘right’ answer; there is not even an evident ‘right’ way to manage the issue, never mind resolve it, if resolve means to stop it happening.’

In May I wrote: ‘In return for refuge and support, what responsibilities can the Western hosts ask of refugees to shoulder? Can the ongoing welfare support be maintained? Is it really the right thing to do morally? Whose rights are more equal? Vast, sombre questions that have not even been asked so far.’

And almost one million refugees and six months later … still not.

Neither common sense nor resolute, informed, intelligent and reasonable leadership has managed to enter the talkfests in Europe.

Adding further heat but little light to the matter is media reporting driven by agendas, none to do with genuine problem solving, more to do with ‘party lines’.

This is not just another refugee issue: this is uncontrolled, chaotic mass migration involving the relocation of communities wholesale into Europe. Not into culturally, religiously relevant countries. The Arab world is not on the roadmap for refugees. And not just any old European country, but the wealthiest. Not for physical, cultural and political safety but for access to generous welfare and quality lifestyle. Can Europe ingest and digest millions of families from the Middle East and Africa? Should it?

The moral blackmail inherent in advocates for what they call a humanitarian response fails to register the enormity of the mass migration issue, either from a humanitarian or a political perspective. It is utterly irresponsible to pursue such policies when experience and evidence shows that social upheaval inevitably will follow. Indeed, it already has ignited angry counter demonstrations and political extremism, driving voters into the arms of parties whose intentions are not always aligned with democratic ideals.

This is an enormously complex issue, and simplistic, sanctimonious moralizing just won’t answer the profound, existential questions being posed.

“What we see on the rise … is not the anger of a classic loony fringe, but rather mainstream people striking out at elites who they believe have lost touch with reality and common sense,” writes Jochen Bittner from Hamburg (The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2015). “To many here, the refugee crisis, the euro crisis, the Ukraine crisis and the threats seen in an unleashed global capitalism have converged in a fundamental question: Do the mighty still know what they are doing?”

Bittner, political editor of the weekly Die Zeit, adds: “In a recent Facebook post, Boris Palmer, the mayor of the prosperous university town of Tübingen, warned: “We can’t manage this.”

As a prominent member of the liberal Green Party, Mr. Palmer is the last person to stir up xenophobia. Yet even he has warned that the refugee crisis means that “the social peace in this country is at stake.”

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