The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

Lucky Dip

Rachel Borg Saturday, 31 October 2015, 09:11 Last update: about 4 years ago

The whole approach by Brussels to tackle the migrant crises is full of contradictions and lacking coordination, direction, confidence and fails to take stock of the disregard for compliance by those who are making the journey into Europe and those who are.

This whole journey across perilous waters, trekking through muddy fields, hostile countries and on to a host country that then dumps the refugees into some Godforsaken part of the country which nobody wants to inhabit and is too cold to contemplate, is so detached from empathy in every sense, for both citizens and refugees, that it makes a sad joke of the very effort involved by all parties in the scenario.

In Argentina, there is a place called Ushuaia which is also known as Fin del Mundo or the end of the world because it is at the southern-most tip of South America. The Argentinian government had enticed people to go and live there and form a community so that they could claim a stake to the land and also manage the water plant from the glacier and other engineering facilities they installed. The inhabitants call it the place with no grandmothers because the people who went there, enticed by a financial incentive, were young couples looking for a better future.

If Sweden and other Nordic countries had such a plan in mind, that is, to populate remote areas and start some economic activity there, why didn't they create a structure and issue a call for refugees to go there and take up the challenge instead of saying that they would take in the refugees and then find that their citizens have another opinion on the matter and save them having to walk or risk their life to get there?

Maybe the reason for all this contradiction is that matters escalated rapidly and the sheer numbers of people coming to Europe have exceeded expectations and resources to handle the influx. But given the recent history of migration across the Mediterranean, the plight of Italy, Malta and Greece and all the pleas that these countries had been making to Brussels to ditch Dublin II and show some solidarity should have been a good indication of what was to come. Border scuffles had already come about at Ventimiglia between Italy and France and in Calais between France and the UK. Lives had already been lost at sea in the thousands and eventually the Frontex mission had been reinstated and beefed up.

No sooner had the veil been lifted on the plight of immigrants and the EU border countries that Greece was overrun and Angela Merkel put out the welcome sign, oblivious to how the same people should reach Germany. Their resilience made them go on facing every difficulty along the way and others followed to do the same.

Turning to Brussels, Germany looked to drum up solidarity, provide personnel to open and run reception centres, military to manage borders and countries to take in the refugees and found, in the large part, unwilling partners. What is it going to take for Mr Juncker to realise that the will is not there and that even countries like Sweden are now re-locating the new comers to their remote outposts or keeping locations secret?

The saga of drumming up support from the EU members has exposed the divergence of opinions and the disconnect between Germany and the European Heads of State. The result is tending towards building of more fences rather than co-operation and solidarity. Reasons for this may be the result of narrow thinking, political pressure, fear, economic implications, prejudice and anger, and sheer volume. Whatever they are, Juncker and Mrs Merkel seem to be failing to grasp the underlying resentment and reluctance to implement decisions taken towards organising the response and putting systems into place that could begin to tackle the dilemma facing the European community, starting with her own Bavaria, which expects Austria to slow down the passage to 50 people an hour.

Time may show that what is happening around the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East is unstoppable and as inevitable as the Vikings making their way to Britain and south across Europe from the 8th to the 10th century and also across the Atlantic. In 874 AD, Viking longships are beached on a promontory in the southwest of Iceland, where Reykjavik now stands. They have brought from the coast of Norway a chieftain, Ingólfur Arnarson, together with his family, dependents and livestock. Arnarson establishes a settlement, based on fishing and sheep farming.

Other similar groups soon follow, staking out territories round the coast of the island. Two centuries later the population of Iceland is already about 75,000 people - a level not exceeded until the 20th century. Meanwhile, Norse colonists from Iceland have formed the first European settlements on the American continent, naming them Greenland and Vinland.

Angela Merkel is not the first person to see Europe not as a territory but as an entity. Among many leaders around her, however, and in particular by Viktor Orban, her views are being judged more as moral imperialism than a modern, practical and global response to a global problem.

This may be because leaders are not convinced that this tide of humanity is going to stop any time soon and that unless a political solution is found for Russia, who has disturbed every rational and peacemaking paradigm and who continues to support dictators such as Assad, and to destabilise regions such as the Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, where trouble is already brewing, and any other territory where it has some strategic interest or historical connection, the situation will continue to prevail and the volume of immigrants will simply be too much to handle or assimilate, should there even be an inclination to do so.

As leaders become more cynical of the developing story, Austria and Bavaria feud over who is ignoring whom and Slovenia reach their threshold and warn about sending the army to protect their border and construct a barrier. Resentment towards Germany, which may have inadvertently encouraged the predicament we are in today, smoulders beneath the surface and more and more countries look to short-term measures and to build a fence. The confidence that all measures discussed and partially agreed to during the several summits on the topic will be implemented has not come about, leaving every country to themselves to protect their citizens from an overwhelming instability. This is not a lucky dip where one picks an obligation from the bag or where a refugee picks a home but it becoming so.

Either there needs to be a massive confidence-building action, with Germany and the UNHCR taking bold steps and setting up reception centres and providing the man-power, which will in turn elicit the support of those countries who have pledged to help, or else the European Union as we know it will disintegrate, rules will be flouted and the spectre of renewed conflict within its borders will ensue as Russia pounces to fill the void, as it did in Syria and the Ukraine.

This while the track from North Africa into Malta and Italy still prevails and even if or when reception centres are opened in Greece, Turkey and Slovenia, the boats will continue coming. It is also a matter of time before another route from Albania to Italy is re-established.

The prospect of a prosperous, safe and stable Europe is blending into the fog and the tides of change are at its borders.

Malta should take stock of the impending economic and humanitarian effect that this will bring.


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