With the death toll at 500,000 and climbing and the refugee count estimated at 11 million people since 2011, it seems there is no way to exaggerate the atrocities that are taking place in Syria.The incapability of Western and Arab external actors to influence the situation on the ground is largely a result of the inability of the rebel forces to put forward a more viable alternative to the regime of Bashar al- Assad.
The disintegration of Syria is now integrally linked to the disintegration of the European Union. The institutions and political parties are shaking at their foundations over the contentious issue of migration and the war itself has become an abstraction to us in the West as the problems arising from the influx of migrants to our shores has dominated the political rhetoric.
This is Europe’s most serious refugee crisis since World War II. Over a million migrants sought refuge in the EU in 2016 and the crisis is stretching the world’s largest single free-trade zone’s economic resources to the extreme, fuelling the support for radicalised politics and destabilising the post-war institutions that are the very foundations of the 28-nation bloc.
In the Netherlands, where a national vote is set for March 15, the populist leader Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party are within a whisker of becoming the biggest political party in the Dutch parliament. The Dutch election is the first of three elections in European Union founder members this year, with anti-EU parties in France and Germany also hoping security and immigration worries will help them to electoral gains that could reshape the continent and its politics.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front party in France is a top contender to be the next French President following the election on April 23. She supports a referendum on EU membership and new stringent border controls. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has slashed following her open borders policies and commitment to welcoming a nearly a million humanitarian refugees.
The recent peeling back in Europe’s immigration policies is no doubt a political response to public attitudes. The high levels of migration have caused many problems in recent years in countries such as Sweden and Germany. In February this year, European leaders met for a summit meeting in Malta to come up with a plan to stem the flow of migrants taking the central route from Libya to Italy, as well as implementing efficient systems to send migrants back to their countries of origin.
A survey carried out by Pew Research Centre in 2016 highlights European attitudes towards the migrant crisis. A median of 59% of people across the 10 EU countries surveyed are concerned with an increase in terrorism due to the influx of refugees (This survey was taken before the French and German attacks in the Summer).
Last week Donald Trump made comments about the problems in Sweden arising from large scale immigration policies. The media storm that surrounded this revelation was over his unclear language which cited a non-existent terrorist attack in Sweden the night before.
Though the incidences of recorded violent crime such as shooting,arson and sexual harrassment have increased exponentially in the last 40 years there have been no studies that have clearly shown the relation between that and humanitarian immigration. Worryingly, whatever the causes are, the figures play right into the rhetoric of Sweden’s nationalist right who have leveraged anti-immigrant sentiment to gain popular support and have painted a picture of Muslim urban areas as ghettoes where gang rape is common and a police presence is non existent.
Ireland itself does not have a migrant crisis like our comrades on the continent. Here, our refugee policies are mere tokenism with the Irish Refugee Protection Programme committing us to taking in 4,000 immigrants over the coming years. No one country can shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis alone, but as the EU heads into a period of radical change and its very future is questioned, solving Europe’s migration crisis is the million dollar question.
Currently the major narrative flooding the media is the isolationist, xenophobic solutions of the populist movements.Traditional political parties need to toss their political correctness and virtue-signalling aside and have an honest conversation with ordinary citizens about the next steps being taken in solving this crisis. The solution defies one-off policy prescriptions and no solution will be easy but the alternative- the possible disintegration of important pieces of the European Union- would be far graver.