In the late 1940s, large numbers of people were forced out of the lands where they and their ancestors had lived for generations, since at least the time of the Crusades. Their ancestral homes were handed over to immigrants from other parts of the world, who brought their own history with them. The displaced lived in refugee camps in neighbouring territory, where they were made welcome by those who spoke their language and shared their culture. Eventually, a concrete wall was built to separate them from friends and family left behind.
Despite all this, they never lobbed missiles into Czechoslovakia or blew themselves up on public transport in Gdansk. These are not the Palestinians. They’re the Germans, expelled from East and West Prussia, eastern Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg, Silesia and the Sudetenland. Many of them were resettled in Lower Saxony. The total number comes to over 12 million people, equal to 16% of Germany’s 1938 population. When Chancellor Merkel offers sanctuary to 800,000 Syrians, a 1% addition to the population, we can only assume that the Germans still have the means to organise these things better than most.
Has Angela set an example for the rest of Europe to follow? Or acted irresponsibly, energising a magnet that draws thousands uninvited across the sovereign territories of others who now have to play along? To be a euro-cynic one only has to see things from a Brussels perspective, that the Syrians can be the first true European citizens, spread around every Member State, a constant reminder of a common European problem with a common European solution. Too important a transformational prize ever to be allowed to return to their homeland or encouraged to dislodge those destroying it. On account of a huge range of internal political anxieties, this is one area of policy where EU unanimity is unlikely to be achievable.
Germany has waived the limits on its legal responsibility to Syrians under the Dublin Convention, but what is Europe’s moral responsibility overall? How many refugees should it take? The answer could well be far fewer than it is taking. Europeans played a relatively minor role in causing the refugee crisis. One view is that it’s all the fault of an inhumane US foreign policy: a bunch of kids with sticks poking the beehive. In which case, how many Syrian refugees have the Americans taken in? About 1,500.
Alternatively, it’s attributable to the rise of Salafism in its most militant form, promoted and funded from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Have they opened their doors to the refugees? They have not. Yet Makkah and Madinah both host gigantic mosques that could be converted into refugee camps for Syrian Christians. Why not? The Saudis would, of course, have to completely re-write their law code so that immigrants feel under no pressure to assimilate. The ban on church-building would have to go for a start. Do the Saudis have none of the basic human compassion expected to flow so freely from the ever-malleable Europeans? How many refugees have the Saudis taken?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is nil. The Saudis aren’t signatories to the UN refugee convention, though there are plenty of Syrians present in the country without being recognised as refugees. The Saudi relationship with ISIS is complicated, because officially the two sides are sworn enemies, so the Saudis are wary of who they let in. Not forgetting the pro-Assad fighters in disguise either. In any case, the Saudis are too busy bombing the Yemenis and guess who sold them the weaponry with which to do that. The flag over ‘our’ Parliament was lowered to half-mast when the bloodthirsty brother and predecessor of the present king died in January. ‘Our’ Prime Minister almost immediately dashed off to Riyadh to kiss the hand of the new ruler, just in time for the first beheadings of the new reign. Defence of the regime is considered a vital British interest. Right.
Labour’s Yvette Cooper argued this week for a clear distinction at all times between refugees and economic migrants. In the interests of population stability this surely has to involve something along the lines of ‘one in, one out’, which would mean identifying and deporting all those illegally living and working in the UK, below the radar. In short, zero tolerance of those to whom Labour turned a blind eye not so long ago, so don’t expect it to become that party’s policy. Cooper’s words are hollow because no-one believes that the distinction she makes will be respected and enforced. The legacy of past policies has made the suffering of genuine refugees far worse than it could have been.
Cooper’s other repetitive soundbite is the Kindertransport of 1938 to 1940. It’s a false and distracting analogy for four reasons. One is that even had the UK embraced the whole of European Jewry, that was a figure ascertainable and not overwhelming for a country that still had a global empire. Today, according to the International Organization for Migration, there are at least 50 million irregular migrants in the world, over one-fifth of all international migrants. If migration to Europe occurs on that sort of scale, then Europe will notice the difference.
The second reason is that the flow of refugees is contaminated with economic migrants. ‘Contaminated’ is a term used here not for effect but for accuracy, because blurring the truly desperate and those just trying their luck will provoke an ugly outbreak of empathy fatigue. Libya’s boat people include Gambians, Senegalese, Malians, Ivorians, Nigerians, Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalis. Afghans and Pakistanis as well as Syrians were camped out in Budapest. No doubt people-traffickers tell their customers that Europeans are a pushover. If the people-traffickers are proved right, the flood will have no end.
The third reason is that refugees coming to Europe through already safe countries are not in danger, and so not entitled to come (not even small boys drowning off Turkey). Escaping from danger doesn’t open up an unrestricted choice of where to live next that isn’t available to others who play fair. Arguments that ‘this is about human beings’ aren’t designed to save life but to subvert lawful authority. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán may be seen as applying the political equivalent of ‘work-to-rule’ but this is about more than being a stickler for the regulations. The regulations are there for a purpose. If you don’t like the purpose, change the regulations. Meanwhile, they are there to be enforced.
The fourth reason is that Jews aren’t in open war against European values. Whatever one may think of their cultural and economic influence, they aren’t waging violent jihad against Europe, as a rather dangerous number of Mahometans clearly are. The fact that many migrants are apparently fleeing from this violence doesn’t of itself dispel mistrust. What are the implications of so many being young men of military age, apparently more interested in coming to Europe than in staying behind to defend their beloved homeland against somewhat harder targets than the Hungarian police? Do they perhaps, so the argument runs, care less about their homeland than about stamping the will of Allah upon the world? Chants of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ outside Keleti station certainly aren’t the way to win friends and influence people. When Orbán tells the world that he doesn’t want to see Europe’s cultural and religious character transformed beyond recognition he knows what can happen in such circumstances. For over 150 years, almost the entire Carpathian Basin suffered a brutal occupation by the Ottoman Empire before the tide began to turn at the gates of Vienna on 11thSeptember, 1683. The attitude of ‘Old Europe’ to co-existence with Mahometanism is one based on hope. The attitude of ‘New Europe’ is one based on experience, optimism being too great a risk to take.
Can Europe be the same with different people in it? It’s the question posed recently by Christopher Caldwell. In one sense it’s a misunderstanding, because the people who make up Europe are forever changing as births and deaths occur. Demographic trends do matter though. If Europe’s deaths continue to exceed births, as in many countries they currently do, then the future will be formed by substitution, not inheritance. For the far Right, Europe’s woes are caused by the traitors who let the immigrants in. On deeper analysis, they’re the result not so much of what immigrants or anyone else has done as of what natives have not done. ‘They’re taking our jobs!’ (So why aren’t you taking them?) ‘They’re taking our homes!’ (So why aren’t you taking them?) ‘They’re replacing our whole population!’ (So why aren’t you replacing it?) The solution to the demographic winter isn’t a European armed resistance; it’s ‘make love, not war’.
And so the questions continue. Was it the fault of the Left? Of feminism, encouraging women to have careers instead of babies? Of environmentalism, encouraging Europeans to sacrifice themselves for the planet while others multiply like there’s no tomorrow? Of anarchism, desiring society’s downfall in favour of something a bit more edgy, and potentially much, much worse? Was it the fault of the Right? Of consumerism, valuing stuff and experiences over children? Of individualism, believing that personal choices do not have social, selective, evolutionary consequences for others? Of economic liberalism, treating humanity as one enormous labour pool that does not come with other, sometimes very illiberal values attached?
In 1973, the French writer Jean Raspail published a controversial apocalyptic novel apparently set in the early 21st century. Since translated into English as The Camp of the Saints, it records the arrival in the Mediterranean of a vast fleet carrying Third World migrants (hostile or desperate, according to viewpoint), a crisis which finds Europe lacking any concerted idea of how to respond. The book explores the quandary: What will a liberal society do, or not do, to protect its way of life when confronted with the consequences of its ideals? Will it allow itself meekly to be infiltrated, overwhelmed and ultimately trampled underfoot because of hyper-liberal trust in the good intentions of others? In the south of France, an old professor finds his historic home invaded by a hippy, who expounds his hopes that the migrants will trash the place and go on to end European civilisation. Won’t this mean, asks the professor, that you lose your own identity? That’s exactly what I want, replies the hippy, before the professor, bored with the conversation and preferring to spend his remaining hours more pleasingly, reaches for a shotgun and kills him.
Europe has plenty of hippies, for whom boundaries do not define home and responsibility, for whom boundaries are no more than the foul scars of history. Migration is‘inevitable’, because it’s always happened. True, it has, but so too has racism. We have laws to manage migration’s impacts, just as we have hate speech laws and anti-discrimination laws to manage the strife sometimes emerging in response to migration that isn’t welcome. If the first set of laws are no longer respected, the second set will be the next to go in reaction. ‘Inevitability’ is a powder keg, more an attempt to frame political debate than a serious objective commentary.
Weston-super-Mare’s derelict lido, once Europe’s largest open-air pool, is currently home to ‘Dismaland’, an exhibition of contemporary art curated by Banksy. In one of the more overtly political of the themed areas is an image of a butterfly, captioned ‘Migration is Beautiful’.
Is it beautiful to flee for your life, your male relatives beheaded, your female relatives enslaved, your people’s contribution to world culture burnt or blown to dust? Europe’s jesters perennially miss the point: migration, external or internal, is always a means to an end. Safety. Prosperity. Education. Retirement. Re-joining family. Leaving family, to marry. The sense of power your followers give you as you ride at the head of a conquering army. Viewed from the other side there are other ends. Filling rubbish jobs. Filling skilled jobs for which we can’t be bothered to train. Assuaging post-imperial guilt. Self-loathing. Getting more interesting sports players, clothes, music and restaurants. Who is it we really care about?
Folk have indeed moved throughout history, but reasons vary enormously. To say that you’re for or against migration, regardless of origin and motive, regardless of receiving capacity, regardless of the potential for things to develop badly, is to lump all those reasons together. That single reason can mean either swamping the boat of your own society or ignoring the genuine plight of those whose own countries have become uninhabitable for them. So let’s do something really unfashionable. Let’s not be afraid to draw distinctions, and ensure they’re firmly upheld. (If we say we’re full, then we do have the right to defend ourselves against those who disagree, otherwise defence has no point.) Let’s also ask if we can do more as a world to make migration an informed choice, with respect on both sides, and not a terrifying necessity that neither side would wish was happening.