Merkel’s mistake – feeling not thinking

By Andrew L. Urban.

There’s an old saying: Life is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. If you think about it, the mass migration crisis drowning Europe (and many refugees), could have been managed much, much better. Trouble is, nobody did think about it.

Acting without thinking and without discussion amongst the other European countries that would be impacted, Germany’s Angela Merkel threw open the doors to Germany … but, for a start, the refugees were not on her border. They would have to get there. On foot. By train. Through several other countries. It was a welcome call heard across the Middle East but it was a gesture without the management attributes that could be expected of a very sensible, orderly country. A stampede was the result.

What Merkel should have done if she was so keen to make Germany a safe haven for unlimited numbers – and it doesn’t take hindsight to see this – is gather her Euro colleagues for an urgent summit to establish a comprehensive process for receiving, screening and handling the masses. At that summit, she could have offered Germany to be the major supporter in financial and resource terms as well as intake numbers. The EU leaders should have invited relevant Arab nations in the region to also meet and rapidly draw up a plan to welcome the fleeing population of Syria, at least.

The resulting plans may have included the following:

A series of well funded and equipped processing centres set up as fast as possible and as near as possible to the point of exit from source countries (eg Syria), funded by not just EU members but a broader list, based on humanitarian principles; these plans to be announced broadly ensuring the news reached those seeking refuge;

Ongoing discussions about short, medium and long term integration of asylum seekers, primarily those whose language skills and work qualifications are negligible – across social, legal and cultural aspects of life in the West, while lowering the expectations of those who expected to walk into apartments, jobs and cars on arrival….

These steps would have reduced – although not eliminated – the friction caused by populations in Europe feeling overwhelmed, against their will, by a flood of people whose cultural norms are at such odds with their at home that they stoke the fires of fear and xenophobia.

It is partly the global evidence of cultural conflict between some Muslim refugees and Judeao-Christian communities that drove the push-back against Merkel’s idealistic but tragically thoughtless decision. Hungary, for example, would happily take any number of Poles or Greeks, say, and it is not useful nor really accurate to label Viktor Orban racist for closing Hungary’s borders against the mass of refugees at the border. There was no plan to deal with the sudden influx. When a plan was finally emerging, it was not lost on many that imposing policies on member countries violated their sovereignty.

Hungary was the first to close borders – and much of the rest of Europe has since followed.

Not only did Germany’s presumptive stand irritate many leaders in the EU, it defied common sense.

Writing on the then emerging crisis in May 2015, I feared that Europe had not asked – nor even considered – the right questions to deal with the issue: “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 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.”

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