Two major international organizations, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and Doctors without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), have announced they will no longer work with the EU in resettling refugees due to moral objections. The nub of the problem? The EU, under the new plan that it negotiated with Turkey to stop the crisis, will detain new arrivals and return them to Greece. Reuters reports:
“Under the new provisions, these so-called hotspots have now become detention centers,” said the UNHCR’s Melissa Fleming.
“Accordingly, and in line with UNHCR policy of opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centers on the island.”
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it was pulling out of one center on the island of Lesbos “because the EU-Turkey deal is turning reception centers to deportation centers.
“If we continued (at the center) we would be participants in a system we deem unfair and inhuman,” the Greek MSF branch wrote on Twitter.
Marie Elisabeth Ingres, who heads the charity’s mission in Greece, added it would “not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation.” […]
Until Sunday, arrivals to Lesbos had been free to leave the Moria migrant camp and head for ferries to the Greek mainland from where they would mostly head north via the Balkans in a bid to reach western Europe, particularly Germany.
Now, they are meant to be held in Moria or one of four other centers set up on the Aegean islands of Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, pending the outcome of their asylum applications.
The logical implication of the UNHCR and MSF position is that anyone who wants to should be able to leave Greece and migrate north—at a time when literally millions of people, from Syria but also the wide swaths of nations immersed in war and misery across the Middle East and Africa, would love to do so. It is, de facto, an open borders policy. The humanitarian impulse to assist innocents fleeing a war not of their making is laudable—even admirable; as workable policy, this leaves a lot to be desired.
The simple fact is that while Syria is a war zone, Turkey (at least in the non-Kurdish sections) is not. When Syrians flee their war-torn country, they do so as refugees—but when they in turn leave the tedium and stagnation of refugee camps in Turkey for better opportunities in Europe, they then act also as economic migrants. And while there is a human right to flee a war zone, there is not a human right to live in Germany.
Furthermore, the scale of immigration to Europe has already tested to the breaking point the Continent’s capacity to assimilate and accommodate, much less employ, the newcomers. If the flow northward continues unchecked into the future, it could seriously imperil civil society in parts of Europe—which would in turn dash the opportunities and assistance that the refugee-migrants seek. Like it or not, letting the Syrians in Greece go north is neither a political nor practical solution to their problems any longer. And that means border control—including detentions—are necessary.
It’s hard not to sympathize with the migrants: refugee camps are no place to build a new life, and Syria is, through no fault of its ordinary citizens, going to be a mess for a long while. Both MSF and UNHCR are also correct to point out (as we have) that the Turkish government is increasingly authoritarian, and that there are real moral costs to Europe’s decision to do business with it. But the logical conclusion of these lines of thinking is that you need a coherent policy for Syria, not that you need an open doors policy.
A coherent policy for Syria, of course, entails the toppling of the dictator who is the root cause of the misery there, as well as the rooting out of terrorist organizations like Jabhat al-Nusra, who would quickly overrun any safe zone as soon as it was established. One wouldn’t expect an institution such as MSF—which, it must be said, does very heroic work around the world—to embrace such policies. And indeed, it’s not its job to do so. But the fact that these organizations’ decision to pull out of the EU program is being held up by many in the media—and, one expects, by many in the halls of power in Brussels—as a fatal blow points to something else troubling.
Within Brussels, and in European capitals more generally, a kind of bien pensant worldview has been completely internalized by a certain cadre of politicians and government officials, as well as by their media counterparts. Idealism and humanism are necessary and valuable components for one line of work—and, indeed, a critical ingredient in anything one would consider a good and just government. But it is far from the only component of prudent statesmanship, which has to balance pragmatism and idealism in the face of overwhelming problems. Put simply, the doubling down on unthinking, unfettered humanism, without thought of consequences, opens the door to all the most heinous forces we already see brewing in Europe. It’s an open question as to whether the Continent can survive its own good intentions.