We are witnessing something extraordinary – the mass movement of nations to what are perceived to be places of safety and opportunity. Loyalty and ancestral attachment to lands of birth and community stretching back thousands of years are superseded by, sometimes, desperation and, sometimes, by envy.
The decision to leave may be forced or voluntary, but either way ancient countries are being abandoned, leaving a vacuum to be filled by poverty and instability in an already volatile region. Those who are left behind watch the hazardous but, for many, successful voyages by land and sea to countries of riches in Europe, and follow if they can. It is an exodus to a promised land on an immense scale involving many nationalities, and it will change the world.
For EU countries, which are the preferred destinations for migrants, the evidence of a problem that has been foreseen but unaddressed for many months highlights starkly the weaknesses of the European model as well as the dilemma between heart and head: a compassionate welcome to this sad tide of humanity encourages more to come after them, but the implications of accommodating them financially and politically are enormous. Creating new refugee camps in their home countries, as has been suggested, will not deter those wanting a better life from paying others to help them escape – particularly now the precedent for such journeys has been set.
As the EU wrestles impotently with the weight of numbers coming and the internal disagreements that make a unity of response impossible, other observers, including President Obama, the UN and aid agencies, chastise European leaders for not doing more to help the migrants. The problem, however, is a global one, and it should be seen as such. The countries where life is impossible, such as Syria, were destabilised after years of Western interference or inaction in the region, and we who live in the West have a shared responsibility for how the world is today – destabilised, unequal, war-torn and governed by violence, whether through liberal gun laws in America or IS in the Middle East.
Illegal immigration and asylum-seeking is an issue in many countries besides Europe, and it should be seen from this bigger, international perspective. The heart of the issue is inequality and unfairness in a world in which people will do anything for safety and comfort, and, through modern technology, they know where to find and claim them.
It will be a while before the world comes into a place of balance and harmony, but meanwhile all developed countries should work together to help the lands and the peoples that are so much in need. This is far more than controlling the people-smugglers. A first step would be to share the burden of immigration to make it a global and not just a localised problem – but already I hear the cries of protest reverberating across the seas.
Images by Dura Ace and Jonskonline