A few days ago I had a conversation with some people I usually really like (and think of as reasonable human beings) about the problem of the huge numbers of refugees coming to Europe at the moment. See, I normally avoid discussing controversial political topics, be it with friends, family or strangers, because I don’t need that stress and see no point in trying to persuade somebody of my worldview. I think the basis of tolerance is to allow somebody his own opinion and belief, whether you can understand it or not. But there are some limits, and that’s for example when it comes to the basics of human rights and justice – things everybody should share because of common sense. The question of the refugees is one of these basics.
When the conversation turned this topic, I first tried to bite my tongue because that’s what I usually do to avoid an argument when there are opinions uttered that I don’t agree with. But in this case I couldn’t do it. I would also like to share my thoughts on this topic here because I think we should all be aware of how close we are to lose our humanity in this discussion.
What are the facts?
- There are thousands of people coming over, mainly from Africa, to Europe. They come because of civil war or religious or ethnic prosecution in their home countries, but also simply because they dream of a better life in wealthy Europe.
- In the African countries along the Mediterranean Sea, especially in Libya, the facilitators developed whole businesses. Their goal is not to help, but just to make money. They use boats that are not fit for such the long journey across the Sea, or just packed too full with people.
- The result: People starve on these boats, or drown when the boats turn over – if they are not rescued, for sure.
- Italy stopped it’s Rescue Program “Mare Nostrum” in the end of 2014 because it became too costly for the country. Instead, the EU established “Triton”, operated by “Frontex”, an organization whose main purpose is not to rescue refugees but to protect the EU borders from illegal immigration. Therefore they only patrol within the realm of the EU, close to the shore. Their budget is only a fraction of the budget of “Mare Nostrum”, although it is an European rather solely an Italian program.
I can’t and won’t summarize the whole political debate about this, but I would like to highlight and comment on some points that I heard very often from people around me – also in the little debate I had a few days ago.
To rescue or not to rescue? Seriously, you ask that question?
Some people claim that there will be only more refugees coming if they were all to be rescued. How cynical – and wrong, in my opinion. Firstly, I think these people are desperate enough to take the risk. They probably know there is no – and never was, even with Mare Nostrum – a guarantee to reach Europe alive. They keep coming anyway. Secondly – the question if we should try to rescue shipwrecked people is actually no question. If we are aware there are people drowning – if we know – it is our duty to rescue them. Everybody learns that it is a crime to not help in case of an emergency. Failure to render assistance will eventually bring you to jail in Germany. So why are we still talking about this?
Where should they stay?
So this is the real question and I admit we have a problem here. I have always been a realist. And as such I know it’s not possible to let endless amounts of people into our countries, because of simple reasons: lack of facilities and capacity. The bureaucracy of the applications for asylum, integration into society, shortage of affordable living space – these are topics to be worried about for sure. There is desperate need for political decisions for a just distribution of refugees over all countries, I think.
But the negative attitude of many people here about taking refugees in Germany is something that goes beyond this. I agree that there is a potential for conflict when cultures meet that are fundamentally different. But when I hear people say that they don’t want the refugees living in their neighbourhood because they would certainly cause problems, steal, damage things and fight – then I get upset again. These things may happen, but there is no reason at all to prejudge these people and there are many positive examples of living together, too.
Just put yourself in their position.
I am proposing this as a simple solution for everybody who refuses to host refugees in Europe and Germany in particular: Just ask yourself what you would do. Imagine how life is where these people come from. Watch a documentary, if you need help to visualize it. Then open your eyes and look around in your nice clean home with your TV and your computer and tell me these people are wrong to want this, too. Tell me, you wouldn’t want it, too.