I attended a lecture at the University of Maastricht titled “Solving Europe’s Refugee Crisis”. The speaker was Dr Khalid Koser, Deputy Director and Academic Dean at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Suggesting a reformulation of our understanding of the refugee crisis, Dr Khalid suggested two points. Firstly, the refugee crisis has to be reinterpreted as a crisis of compassion rather than a crisis of numbers as so often portrayed in the media. Secondly, political statesmen may not prioritize compassion in the present context of rising terrorist activity in Europe by Jihadist groups. This causes leaders to be more weary of whom they open their borders to.
Dr Khalid expounded on the lack of compassion by demonstrating how many European nations are weary of welcoming refugees due to their sheer numbers and the potential costs incurred. As of 2016, 3,000,000 refugees and migrants have left their countries of origin in search of a better life. Most of them are Syrians. Some make it, some drown on the way, others get denied entry. However, Dr Khalid suggests that European nations must not be deterred by the number of refugees but instead work together to alleviate the refugee crisis. Currently, most countries in the European Union are not following Germany’s lead of openly welcoming refugees and granting them asylum status. Germany seems to be the least concerned with numbers, evidenced by the fact that to date, Germany, along with Italy and Greece, have welcomed more than 1.1 million asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. While it could be argued that Germany had a strategic reason for admitting these refugees so that they could invest in their labour power for their own economy, this strategy could be translated into a show of compassion whereby the Germans view refugees as welcomed talents. Such a translation could not be seen in the rest of the EU who are thus not united on the refugee issue due to the large numbers of incoming refugees that alarm countries such as France.
This fear is not entirely surprising. After all, after Europe was shocked by several Jihadist terrorist attacks recently, a show of compassion seems like a counter-intuitive method for leaders to decide who can enter their countries. France is a case in point. With the slew of Jihadist terrorist attacks in France this year and last year, France thinks it wise to prevent more refugees from entering their country, especially since most of them are Muslims. However, while Islamic extremism is no doubt a threat engulfing Europe, Islamophobia stemming from the lack of compassion threatens the social fabric of Europe as people develop hostilities towards the Muslim refugees.
How though, can European countries reconcile their fear of the terrorist infiltration into their countries with a show of compassion? I believe that if leaders can develop a better security mechanism to filter terrorist threats, European nations may then channel their focus on tackling the refugee crisis with compassion. This compassion may also be nurtured through education in European schools. While it may be difficult to change the mindsets of adults who have not been educated on compassion, educating the young may stem the tide of Islamophobia and nurture a future generation who care deeply for the wellbeing of their fellow brothers and sisters in humanity . Unfortunately however, it is a crisis of compassion that currently permeates Europe as leaders bicker over how many refugees should be allowed entry into their countries rather than reframe the situation as one requiring human compassion.
After the talk, I asked Dr Khalid a question: What may countries which are geographically separated from Europe such as Singapore do? He said Singapore could admit some refugees themselves. While he could be forgiven for his lack of understanding on Singaporean politics and society, he does make a point that countries all over the world have a duty to contribute to helping the refugees in any way they can.