"Displaced societies are of value. Their issues are our issues."
– Cynthia Basinet.
As I was checking in my luggage at the Qatar Airways counter in a Swiss city on a flight heading to Doha, I noticed the smiling face of the airline representative. She had pleasant facial features and obviously had roots in North Africa. She started chatting more than what’s usual and I felt she had something to confide. Since there was no one behind me in line, and I was not in any particular rush, I decided to accommodate her.
Let’s call her Samar. She spoke from her heart and with pain. She said that she was born in France but no longer feels comfortable here… here, as in Europe. She is Muslim. And never thought that she would have to leave. She continued to divulge that all her siblings had returned to North Africa to start their own businesses in Morocco. She had plans to leave for UAE. “Europe is finished!” she declared emphatically.
I REALIZED that her talkative manner stemmed from the fact that she was looking to find a job in the Gulf. She calculated that one of the passengers flying to the Gulf may open up some opportunities. Perhaps I was the one to offer her that opportunity? She was not aggressive but Samar obviously was trying to take the reins of her future in her own hands. She did not see her future in Europe, despite the fact that she was a native to France. She was a young hard working talented woman and France was about to lose her.
She continued, “I feel the worst for my father who immigrated in the 70s and now witnesses his family break up and separate to all corners of the Middle East.” All of his children retreating back to where he had uprooted them from, only four decades ago. The irony.
Her personal story echoed in my mind as I traversed the deserts to Qatar at 30,000 feet altitude. However, as I reached the Doha Forum in Qatar, the irony of her story became more evident. The topics at the conference focused on the refugees and asylum seekers from MENA and sub-Saharan Africa who are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to arrive at European shores. Syrian refugees from camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Displaced people from within Iraq. Libyan asylum seekers. African migrants seeking a more stable life. All gathering their last pittance of savings to cross into Europe and risk their lives.
Due to the complacency and indifference of European policymakers, there is an immense and tragic population exchange unfolding. The latency in response from these leaders stems from increasing xenophobia on the European continent, as well as viewing the human tragedy as something remote and distant. They are exempt from assisting the migrants until they wash up on their shores.
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IN 2014, a record 626,000 people applied for asylum to the European Union with the largest bloc fleeing the Syrian conflict. This represents an increase by 44 per cent compared to the previous year. According to the European Union's statistics agency, Eurostat, the number of Syrian asylum applicants rose to 122,800 from 50,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, the EU is planning to intercept refugees in the Mediterranean.
“We do not have the right institutions and policies in place to deal with the huge influx of refugees,” warns a European Parliamentarian from Brussels in Doha. “We need to move faster to put them in place.”
People will move when they are desperate and when their life is threatened. One of the summary points of the discourse at the Doha Forum is that the host countries (i.e. Jordan, Lebanon) should let the refugees stay, integrate and work. The statistics point to the fact that refugees end up staying in their host countries on average 17-20 years. Therefore, they might as well permit them to work and try to assimilate as much as possible and avert the extra burden on an already struggling economy.
THE REFUGEES, after being traumatically uprooted from their cities are now a weight on the health, education and natural resources of the host countries. The youth are growing up without a proper education and are at risk to be recruited by terror groups, which are currently flourishing across the region.
And here we have Samar... an educated, talented, ambitious young woman that Europe is rejecting. The slight difference is that she has the luxury of time to choose her next destination and port of call. She already has an education and the assets of foreign languages to help transport her to the Gulf region.
The new refugees or immigrants who replace her will not contribute – at least not in the short run – to the European capital as she did. She will export her contribution and her incentive will be directed to a new home in UAE. In her stead, the new migrants will arrive with extra demands, often seen as a burden to the already xenophobic societies. If they receive asylum, they will most likely be residing in isolated pockets of low-income areas, which fester negative feelings and potency of crime.
A RECENT Economist commentary really hit the nail on the head: “Europe cannot put an end to the violence and desperation that leads people to flee, but in the longer run it should do more for its neighbours. Engagement makes sense in itself and may eventually help stem the flow of refugees.” If the EU attempts to work for a settlement in Libya, the criminal networks may become less entrenched. If it accepts North African produce, it may face fewer North African people. If more of the EU offers help to the one million refugees in Lebanon, fewer will turn up on the streets of Paris and Berlin and Lampedusa.
And as for Samar, I may add that if Europeans recognize the potential of their own citizens and their value to the society, they would not lose increasingly rare talent to the Gulf emirates, North Africa, and Asia. “Europe is finished!” she repeated, as she handed me my boarding card and passport.