“Don’t ask me why I’m leaving. Let me ask you in return—for what should I stay?”, one would-be Iraqi immigrant asked the Wall Street Journal. These words could well serve as the epitaph of a generation that is fleeing the Middle East—and they point out why Europe’s immigration trouble is likely far from over. As European leaders scramble to deal with the refugee crisis, they run the risk that leniency, however humanitarian, may inspire another wave of immigrants from abroad:
Inspired by phone calls and Facebook posts from friends hiking through the Balkans, crossing into Germany or simply touching dry land in Greece, people from countries long plagued by war and instability say they are seizing a pivotal moment.
“This is a golden opportunity,” said Osama Ahmed, 27 years old, who lined up Sunday at Baghdad International Airport, heading for Greece via Turkey with five friends. “It’s totally nonsense to stay in Iraq when there is a chance to go.”[..]
“We got many phone calls and emails from friends already abroad telling us to leave Iraq now—immediately—since the European authorities are being easy on migrants,” said Mr. Ahmed [another aspiring Iraqi immigrant], who said his plan is to reach Belgium.
One of the big problems that Europe faces is that the line between refugees (those fleeing war zones, whom the EU nations are obligated by law to shelter) and economic migrants is much blurrier in real life than on paper. These Iraqi men on the one hand are leaving behind a war zone and a collapsing government; on the other hand, as the Journal and their own words make clear, their move—and their destinations—is one of choice. They are both refugees and migrants.
The character of the new immigration is confirmed by European asylum statistics: around three-quarters of new working-age asylum claimants last year were male, for instance, and as many have noted on Twitter, the photos of the immigrants waiting in Calais or on Lesbos seem to reflect a similar ratio.
Those in Europe who take a send-them-back approach often highlight the economic migration aspects, while leaders and citizens who wish to offer greater succor emphasize the refugee status. But the rhetorical distinction can only be taken so far. What Europe is now facing actually both: a hybrid of refugee and migrant crises that its laws, as well as peoples, are unprepared for.
European leaders need to start thinking about adjusting their paradigms to take both realities into account. This would likely include increased border security, revamped foreign policy, and increased aid, particularly for the victims of the Syrian Civil War. The pattern of offering humanitarian asylum which then increases the appeal of immigration, leading to more arrivals, is not sustainable. Unfortunately, there are many worse and war-torn places in the world than there are places in Europe.