By Millie Radovic, an Anglo-Serbian second year BA International Relations student in the War Studies Department of King’s. Chief Editor of International Relations Today.
One of the leading topics of IR conversation, since the drowning of over 800 people in April has been what we’re commonly now calling the migration crisis. Frankly put, the array of conflicts currently destroying the Middle East and Africa has left a large number of people without safe environments to live in. With 7.6 internally displaced people and 3.9 externally displaced people, a striking 11.5 million Syrians do not have a home right now. Meanwhile, over 3.5 million Iraqis have been displaced as of the beginning of this year.
I’m going to stop right there with statistics, because while I recognise that there are conflicts elsewhere in the region causing even more people to leave their homes, I want to focus on these two countries: Syria and Iraq. Specifically, I want to focus on the role of ISIS in the migration crisis. Arguably there is a strong link between extremist recruitment and poor immigration and in general social policies that leaders in Brussels are not taking into account as they struggle to tackle the migration crisis.
So, for now over 3.9 million of Syrian people have found their situation at home so bad that they have chosen to flee the country. What they do is either go to their neighbours, such as Turkey (which is currently host to over 1.7 million Syrians) or to seek a way into the ‘safe haven’ of Europe, from the ports of North Africa – namely Egypt and Libya, by paying the absurd amount of over $1500 per person to cross the Mediterranean sea. For them this is the scariest and most expensive journey of their life. One they’re unsure they’ll get to see the end of. And for Europe it has become a dividing issue.
As countries on the periphery of the Union complain about heavy influxes of people that their economies cannot handle, richer and more central ones complain that they have already taken on too much. All in all in the midst of a crisis, we’ve got some intense bickering and a power struggle. The main issue being – who gets to decide how many migrants nations of the EU accept and who gets to determine what treatment these migrants are entitled to? The European Council? The Commission? Or the individual governments themselves?
And so this June following a series of meeting and ‘heated’ talks and squabbles the European leaders first outright rejected a the proposed system of mandatory quotas telling Brussels to “mind its own business”. Yet then these same leaders went ahead with a “new system of quarantining migrants in southern Italy and Greece to enable the forcible and swift registration, fingerprinting, expulsion, and, if necessary, detention for up to 18 months of those deemed to be illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.” This is wrong on so many levels. And I will not reiterate those pointing to prioritising ‘efficiency’ over human rights, and morality. Whilst it’s a very good and true argument – one that can go as far as wanting to hold people that agreed this accountable to the ICJ – I’ll leave that to the NGOs.
Instead, I’ll argue that frankly even if you are the most right leaning nationalist out there that wants nothing to do with any migrants or the kind that does not particularly care for the way others are treated as long as it suits your own national interests – you do not agree with the decision that has been made; hell you don’t agree with over 90% of the EU’s migration policies. This is not because migrants are ruining our lives as Nigel Farage would have us believe, but because the policies have failed at providing stable and unified communities within as well as of Europe as a whole.
Take Britain’s multiculturalism for example. To be given ‘equal’ rights we’re put into ‘cultural’ and religious boxes pretty much everywhere we go. We are identified subconsciously by our skin colour, and arguably consciously by the religion we practice and culture we follow. What this leads to is an article like that in the Guardian on Saturday saying that three girls that have recently married into ISIS are a major loss for East London’s Muslim community. Um, excuse me? No. I refuse to accept that. Coincidentally, I’m moving to East London next month – and there’s no reporter or government in the world that’s going to tell me that these girls heading off to Syria is not also a loss for me. They are a major loss for East London, for London as a whole; for the United Kingdom, and for Europe; certainly NOT for just the Muslim community of any of those areas. It is the multiculturalism in Britain that has led to this damaging rhetoric – this cultural and religious segregation and considerations that have been highlighted over basic common European, nay global values – such as freedom of belief or speech – that this continent has grown upon.
And today, we need those values. We must prioritise our commonality over our cultural diversity to be unified at this terrible time, for both Europe and our neighbours in the Middle East and Africa arguably the worst since WWII. Yes we all have the absolute right to be as different as we like – but in our societies above all it is our common values that should take precedence as that is how the diverse European nations learned to coexist in the first place.
Coming out of the turmoil of the Second World War straight into the uncertainty of the Cold War, European nations began economic integration as a means of promoting and instilling peace and solidarity – achieving strength in numbers frankly.
And where are we today? Rejecting theSE distinguishable common values that Europe was built on for the sake of giving into extensive political correctness and ‘not offending’ anyone. Meanwhile, we are struggling to keep Greece in the Euro, struggling to help out Ukraine, struggling to take in even a fifth of the amount of refugees a Middle Eastern country with a much smaller economy like Lebanon has taken in, and struggling to keep the international standing we fought so hard to gain back after WWII. BY no means should we have a common identity, we’re not in a melting pot here. But more common values and morals by which we live must exist for unity to exist. In fact, they must be prioritised over all else. Currently the lack thereof on the EU level is evident in the bitter quarrelling over the aforementioned Greek as well as the Mediterranean migrant crisis. But the lack of common values at community levels is reflected in the ease at which ISIS has recruited across Europe.
Whether through multiculturalism in the UK, or the controversial assimilation policies as in France – we have failed to appropriately unify Europe. And as a Europhile I find that painful. Separation into groups to such an extent, whilst intended to provide equal opportunities and recognition to the impressive diversity that the UK has to offer is exactly what leads to individuals, specifically young people, feeling left out – whether from their schools, or jobs or anywhere else. And it makes them more vulnerable and attracted to abhorrent groups such as ISIS, Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda.
And so, the intervention measures that the EU introduced to maintain immigration intakes are not a sign of brutality or even immorality – they are a sign of weakness and avoiding that ever difficult conclusion: that resolving this crisis is going to take not compromise through some policy that may speed things up in the short term, but the realisation that humane and speedy acceptance of migrants coming across the Med is no sacrifice, but in everyone’s best interest. Over 100,000 people have crossed the sea this year alone – and with ISIS gaining ground in Syria (and Libya at that) this is bound to increase. The brutal quarantining system while it may be a step forward in terms of efficiency, is five steps back in terms of solving the issue.
President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, talks about prioritising dealing with ‘illegal immigrants’ – seeing as you cannot apply for asylum from abroad I’m wondering how exactly a young man, woman or family who have lost everything and everyone they have in the Syrian civil war are to apply for this asylum and hence not come into Europe as ‘illegal immigrants?
More so, if poor immigration policies and consequent lack of civil societies are helping ISIS recruit worldwide in the first place – how can these abhorrent measures that are being allowed be considered a suitable response to the refugee crisis caused by ISIS?
Arguably, this migration crisis is not just bad. It is the worst thing that has happened since WWII. Millions of people without homes, thousands dying while the roots of the crisis multiply daily. And to reiterate the British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon: there must be a “comprehensive approach” to try and tackle the migration crisis. Hence, the EU leaders need to realise that this is not about a power struggle or getting a smaller portion of the refugees. ISIS may not be in the midst of Europe as it is in the midst of the Middle East, but in terms of affecting us, it is right here knocking on the doors of the Med. If we saw a reason to intervene in Afghanistan and Iraq, to execute drone strikes across Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia, then we must see a reason to tackle the migration crisis humanely as well as effectively.
Counterterrorism does not start at detaining people or stopping bombing plots, it starts at building a stable civil society. Alongside tackling the migration crisis, Europe must begin creating this too to decrease western jihadi recruitment. It is a long road ahead, and many would say that this is a 21st century version of a WWIII. But in order to see the end of that road we have to take a moment and remember that we’re on the same side. We must remember how fragile Europe has always been and how stable its neighbours need it to be today. We must remember that we’ve been able to deal with migration crises before.
Really, it’s a ‘no brainer’. If we are to even begin to tackle the many crises we face, ISIS being at the front of them, we must end the squabbles in Brussels. Today more than ever Europe must stand together, it must fairly and humanely take in migrants coming across the Med together, and alongside that from the local levels up it must build a strong civil society together.
For displacement of Iraqi nationals: http://www.internal-displacement.org/middle-east-and-north-africa/iraq/
For people in need of humanitarian aid in Syria: http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria
On the failure of multiculturalism, by Kenan Malik: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/western-europe/2015-03-01/failure-multiculturalism
On the numbers of refugees crossing the Mediterranean: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/20/world/europe/surge-in-refugees-crossing-the-mediterranean-sea-maps.html?_r=1 and http://syrianrefugees.eu/?page_id=513
Official reports: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e485f36.html
On the new EU refugee treatment policy: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/23/eu-to-create-new-quarantine-system-for-mediterranean-migrants
The Guardian calling the three girls fleeing to Syria a blow to the ‘Muslim community’: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/04/two-bethnal-green-schoolgirls-now-married-isis-men-syria
On more critique of the EU’s attitude towards the incoming refugees: http://www.syriadeeply.org/articles/2015/06/7351/european-countries-complicit-letting-syrian-refugees-drown-sea-expert/ and http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/26/eu-sidestep-migrants-mediterranean-death-toll and http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/25/european-leaders-kill-off-plans-for-migrant-quota-system