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At a safe distance – we thought – people are making a mess of this world. Tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, and many African countries force thousands of people to leave all they have or had behind and start an uncertain and precarious future. Many end up in refugee camps where conditions are dire and prospects for a better future close to zero. The bravest among them, the youngest, the toughest, the most talented, undertake the dangerous routes to Europe. Our Europe, where things are safe and living conditions are among the best in the world.
Only, Europe does not exist. When it suits politicians, it exists, and when it does not suit them, it does not. In this case, it does not suit our politicians that Europe exists, so refugees have to “register in the first country they arrived at”. This means the vast majority of refugees end up in Italy and in Greece, and these countries are therefore necessarily overwhelmed. Not only is this unfair to these refugees and to these countries, it is also unsound from an economic point of view.
There is precedence. Not too long ago, hundreds of thousands of Jewish people tried to flee Nazi Germany. The Nazis made it hard for them to get out, and many countries - including the Netherlands as an example - made it hard or impossible for them to get in. At the time the extreme danger these people were in was not known. Today, it seems - thankfully - clear that current migrants are mostly not exposed to the same absurdly extreme threats as the Nazis posed to our Jewish world citizens. Should that be a reason to try to stop migrants from joining us in Europe? I believe the answer is no, for three reasons.
The first reason is a humanitarian one. How is it possible to refuse someone who has left everything and everybody behind, who has travelled through extreme danger, and probably has paid to some rogues what last money he had? What justification do we ask to such a person? Is the mere fact that he (or she, of course), is there, with only his cloths as mere possessions, not more than enough justification? Why would the person need to prove in a long and complex process that he is in some kind of danger in his homeland? Is having taken the extreme (and brave) step to flee and leave everything behind not sufficient on its’ own?
The second reason is practical: we cannot stop them. Try as we may, we may hinder a few attempts here or there, but we cannot make the whole of Europe into a giant inverted watertight prison. Nor that even this would work – thousands of people crossed the iron curtain when it was still operational. We can stop a few here or there, but we will not be able to stop the vast majority. Politicians claim the problem must be “remedied at the source.” This sounds nice, but what is the world community doing to “remedy” the situation in Syria, or in Somalia, to name just two examples? Even IF the community would start doing something – and I do not claim to know WHAT could be done – it would take years and possibly decades to improve the local situation. (Which is not to say we should not at least try). Clearly, what politicians say maybe true, but not very practical for people running the risk of losing their lives TODAY.
The third reason is economical. Most of Europe has an ageing population, and most of the immigrants are young. This is good. Also, we do not need to worry that immigrants will cause giant unemployment. It is a socialist fallacy that there is only so much work for so many people, and the more people come in the less work there is for them. The contrary is true: people, also immigrants, bring work. Lots of work, as they have to start from scratch setting up their livelihood and buy washing machines and TV’s. For this, they need money.
Of course immigrants need to get some emergency funding to get over the first couple of weeks. This, is not why they have come here, contrary to what is being expressed by extremist parties. They have come to build a new and better future, and they have come with the best of their skills and intentions. Which is why they need work, and for this they need work permits. The longer we take to “process” their applications, the more it costs to us as a taxpayer. This should be avoided.
Immigrants should receive full papers and a work permit in the shortest possible time. This way, we convert a problem into an opportunity for the good of Europe, and for the good, of course, of the immigrants. This is a classic win-win situation.
So, if we let in hundreds of thousands of migrants, will this change our world? Ultimately, of course, yes. It has changed the United States of America into what it is now, and it will change Europe into what it will be tomorrow. Is this a bad thing? Remember, the only constant thing in life is change…
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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