The topic of accepting and welcoming refugees into Europe is deeply contentious. And the recent massacres in Paris and the stories of a Syrian passport have not helped matters.
But whatever one feels about this issue, it’s surely important to remember that ‘Europe’ is not a monolithic power bloc. Human minds are inclined to think in abstractions like ‘Europe.’ To a degree, this is unavoidable…
But do all Europeans bear an equal responsibility for accepting refugees?
I must be honest, and say I take a pragmatic approach to this question. Even if pragmatism isn’t always my stance, as some would no doubt be willing to affirm.
Let me be brutally honest.
The foreign policy of some countries in Europe has contributed to the destabilisation of many other countries. Yes, it is not the only reason (contra the far left). But it is still a significant factor (contra the far right).
If so, then surely, the governments of some countries have played a bigger role than others. (I add in passing that the question of whether these roles were played opportunistically, carelessly or naively may well be important, but it is not the crucial point here).
This being the case, I cannot deny that the government of the UK (for example) must show some responsibility for the wellbeing of many of the refugees.
But at the same time, I ask:
But what about countries where the government have had very little to do with the misguided foreign policy measures in question?
If the acceptance and welcoming of refugees is to be advocated (at least partly) on the basis of accepting responsibility and accountability for recent tragic policy measures, then:
Is it correct to blame and judge all countries where the government appears unwilling to accept refugees?
Is it reasonable to judge such countries for even being perfunctory about this responsibility, let alone dismissing it out of hand?
Surely some distinction should be made on this score. Are all European governments equally responsible; let alone all European individuals?
Also, economic factors are important:
Do you think that Greece can welcome and integrate as many refugees as Germany?
Let’s not forget, at the risk of sounding patronising, that many countries in Eastern Europe are not as prosperous as some of the more fortunate Western European countries.
So, if you have a sturdy lifeboat that can accommodate 30 people, and a rickety one that can accommodate 15, and Libya is currently a sinking ship, wouldn’t you want to take the differences between the vessels of safety into consideration?
The metaphor is problematic in some ways, but I would hope it will be read charitably and in the cautiously open-hearted spirit intended.
Of course, it may well be that such discussions have been made already, on a larger continental level. But that brings me to one last point: who decides?
More on that question tomorrow.