Greek police have announced that about 4,000 migrants were waiting to cross the Macedonian border yesterday. Tens of thousands of people – the majority of which are Syrians fleeing brutality, war and Islamic state – have been continuously trying to enter Europe in the largest influx of migrants since the aftermath of the Second World War. Every day desperate refugees attempt to cross the border into Europe in the hope of finding safety and solace, but they have been met with an astonishing hostility from far too many and hospitality from far too few.
There is a surely a moral responsibility on the rest of the world to provide a comprehensive and coordinated response to this crisis. This needs to be both in terms of an agreed policy to share out refugees evenly across Europe, and to efficiently repatriate and help those whom we are unfortunately unable to accept. But this response should not just focus on the borders of Europe, it must start at the root of the problem: the war-zone itself.
Unfortunately, instead of a politics of empathy, the politics of fear has been all too readily wielded by nervous politicians in Europe. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, has proclaimed that this is a “battle” against migrants and refugees, and that this battle is one against the prosperity and “Christian identity” of Europe itself. Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right, alluded to similar themes, speaking of an “Islamic invasion” that “threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and our identity”.
Tolerance and compassion, rather than hatred and fear, towards those Muslim minorities who are desperately in need of our help is surely a large part of a much-needed antidote to a violently extremist Islamist ideology. Instead the reality has been a form of fascism that has slithered, largely unnoticed, into our day-to-day lives. This hateful response is not only morally bankrupt, but will surely only fuel the fire of extremism on the other side.
This kind of fascist propaganda is sadly not an anomaly in twenty-first century Europe; as societies have fragmented and tensions have risen along socio-economic lines, politicians have desperately searched for somewhere to place the blame. A dissatisfied, divided electorate is a hard one to govern, and a hard one to control. It has been proven time and time again that a society will more readily band together and feel a united sense of “us”, if there is a perceived external threat in the form of “them”. The effects of this on societies throughout history have been terrifying.
Moreover, it would be naive of us to think that far-right groups have not at least in some way “won”. These groups, such as Britain First and UKIP in the UK, have not won general elections, however is that ever their true aim? The primary goal of these groups is to alter the political discourse and influence public opinion so as to force mainstream politics to move in a direction that is in line with their ethos. Sadly this seems to be exactly what is playing out across Europe at the moment. Unfortunately many people seemed to have forgotten that, no matter what the extreme far-right would have us believe, our lives do not matter more than others.
We need to open our eyes, reject this slithering fascism and shift our perspective in order to ensure that the migration of those in need improves the lives of both the immigrants themselves and the citizens of the host country. And this is not an idealistic dream. Migrants inject undeniable economic energy into Europe and their contribution into our societies is indisputably beneficial; quite simply, without them we would be left with too few workers to provide the services our citizens want.
Clearly there are limits to the number of migrants we can accept, however as self-proclaimed liberal democracies what we need is a coordinated and compassionate response; we cannot let this hateful far-right fascism win.
Image courtesy of Freedom House via Flickr