Refugees in Europe and the Matrix of the Iran Deal

The ongoing debates within Europe about whether migrants, refugees or exiles should be welcomed or the morally dubious debates about how many are acceptable, bearable or sustainable have been widely reported in the media. To some extent there is a similar debate in the US about Syrian refugees.

Many crucial ideas have been mentioned and the idea that refugees should be treated humanely and welcomed has finally reached the headlines in spite of much opposition and the rising xenophobia and callousness fostered by the far right. Political affiliations however do not give a clear indication of how governments and people react to the crisis. Conservative German leader Merkel is more refugee-friendly than many so-called social democrats in EasternEurope. There is one thing though which appears only in alternative media on the left: only specific Western countries are responsible for the current migrations.

The Prime Minister of Slovakia declared that as a Christian country Slovakia could not accept Muslims for it had no mosques. He also added that his country had not bombed Libya and therefore was not responsible for the wave of refugees. His xenophobic attitude and callousness toward people living in despair are undeniable. At the same time, he is partially right in mentioning Libya and the responsibility of some Western countries in the current humanitarian disaster. The destruction of Libya by France, the US and the UK does not explain the whole phenomenon but certainly contributed to it.

The blame game in Europe and the US consists in not accepting responsibility for the current humanitarian crisis and blaming others. The Slovakian PM hides his callousness behind a valid point: France, Britain and the US in part caused the crisis by destroying Libya and they do not recognize it nor do they apologize. The debates take place as if foreign policy had had no impact on what is happening now, as if humanitarian crises were not related to wider political conflicts.

Libya is obviously not the only cause of this crisis, which can also be traced to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Syria. Wars in which the West was often involved even if it is not always the only guilty party in the creation of chaos. Saudi Arabia, Qatar or various non-state groups have also played their part. Systemic global injustice is a major factor too.

France is not a very welcoming country as far as refugees are concerned but points the finger at Hungary, which is even worse from an ethical point of view in its dealings with refugees, even if it was not involved in foreign wars. Eastern European countries are afraid of multiculturalism and reluctant towelcome refugees: they are obsessed with Russia and strong supporters of Ukraine, and they are sometimes welcoming toward Ukrainian refugees who are Christian and white and flee Russia and its power. No one occupies the moral high ground.

Germany and Sweden welcome more migrants than other countries in Europe and Germany is trying to put pressure on others to do the same. Germany has a very low birth rate and critics argue that it stands to benefit more from immigration than others. Germany’s generosity toward refugees clashes with Germany’s callousness toward Greeks and its ferocious promotion of austerity in that country.

The US started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that led to the destruction of these states and is partly responsible for the wave of emigration from the countries under attack. Few exiles seem in a position to go to the US where there is also strong opposition to letting in many refugees.

The US does not officially take responsibility for this crisis. It bombs places in Iraq and Syria, which does not destroy ISIS as Obama claimed it would last year but kills many innocents and encourages people to flee. The US is not entirely responsible for this crisis in which war, poverty and non-development play key roles. Obama, at least, recognizes that a full-scale intervention in Syria could only deepen the crisis whereas many on the right in the US or inEurope still dream of a military intervention that would, they fantasize, solve the problem.

Fortress Europe tries to limit the number of refugees it will accept but is ready to deal only with a symptom rather than review the systemic causes of international migrations. Economic justice and development are long-term solutions, of course, but putting an end to senseless, murderous wars can be achieved more rapidly.

Absent the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, there would not be a massive migration. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle and wars cannot “unhappen.” Yet besides the humanitarian help which decency dictates should be offered to refugees, the resort to diplomacy instead of war would also help millions of people now fleeing their countries and trying to make a new life elsewhere.

The Iran deal is actually a model or a matrix for what could be done. Former enemies could reach an agreement and thus avert war. This can be replicated in Syria. The US and Russia, which have their share of responsibility in the carnage, should get together with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and a few others and work toward a solution to the war and an end to the atrocities committed by all sides. Not easy, not likely to produce solutions in the short term but the only way to achieve peace and decency for millions of people. The Iran deal seemed unlikely a few years ago but it happened. Cooperation between Russia and the West seems a far-fetched idea but the Iran deal, again, showed it is possible.

Instead of blaming each other or grandstanding, European countries, the US and Russia, should use the diplomatic tools they have and maybe link Ukraine with Syria to stop armed conflicts. Instead of providing more weapons to all the sides involved in these conflicts major countries should put pressure on the armed groups they support to come to the negotiating table. France is now unfortunately leading the way toward the wrong solution, advocating more military intervention and thus suggesting that the Bush era mistakes and crimes be repeated.

Germany has been less involved in military interventions than the US or France and is thus in a better position to advocate diplomatic solutions. Even those who resent Germany’s European hegemony or high-handed attitude toward Greece must now see its leadership on the refugee question. Human decency toward migrants or exiles and a foreign policy that prefers diplomacy to war are the key ways out of our terrible moral dilemma.