Event Report: Europe at a Historical Crossroad – The Refugee Challenge

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As Academics Network of Belgium, we discussed the potential social, political and economic outcomes of accepting refugees to Europe and their naturalization as citizens. On this subject we  hosted Bleri Lleshi, a philosopher, to give his insights on the issue and have a fruitful and interactive discussion.

Bleri Lleshi began by giving information about the present situation of refugees. He refused to call it a “refugee crisis”. According to the figures of United Nations, there are 17 000 000 refugees but only 2.5 % of these refugees are in Europe. It is more or less the same for Syrians. 95% of Syrians are in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Therefore, for him, it is strange to say Europe has a crisis because of housing 2.5% of total refugees.

He stated that we are talking about Syrian refugees now but two years ago we were talking about refugees from Afghanistan. It is striking to see that today we say we are in a crisis because of Syrian refugees but two years ago we were saying that we were in a crisis because of Afghani refugees. It is probable that in the near future, there will be other groups coming to Western countries as refugees.

472d5e59-940e-4420-a2ea-d42b48ca94d0Additionally Lleshi said that politicians were not happy about Afghani refugees coming to Belgium and they stated that they should do something to avoid it. Also, many opinion makers and writers started to take over this discourse. However, according to the figures, when there is a war, most of the time people are running to spaces within the country. That is the main space where they move. Secondly, they will move into the region because going to other countries requires a lot of money. From this point of view, he questioned why politicians said thousands of Afghani refugees came to Belgium and they should do something about it.  The figures are very clear. There were two thousand six hundred refugees coming from Afghanistan. He added that each time we have to be confronted with this discourse from politicians. They think that these people coming to Belgium want to profit from their welfare, and social security. What he wanted to show with this is how European migration policy that is valid for decades is problematic. He argued that this policy cannot work. One of the main reasons of its not working is that two billion euros has been transferred to Fortress Europe between 2007 and 2013 to protect Western civilization from refugees. He added that if they invested this money to refugees, they would certainly tackle with this issue. He said it is impossible to stop people entering to Europe. When they prevent refugees coming to Europe, the research shows that the only ones who are profiting from this are human traffickers. The more Europe invests in Fortress Europe, the highest the prices of trafficking will be. So that’s why he said Europe is the richest part of the world, but at the same time it is the most dangerous part of the world to migrate to since forty thousands of people died in Mediterranean sea trying to enter to Europe. It shows that Europe is not taking its responsibility.

He argued that the problem of investing to Fortress Europe is double. It is double in the sense that not only you are focusing on protection of Europe; you are also focusing on criminalization of refugees. He stated that in essence, criminalization of refugees is a very important aspect that needs to be taken into account. By putting walls or fences all over the way, we cannot any longer talk about refugees since they are criminalized. He also argued that how politicians used Paris attacks to legitimize the need to control entrance to Europe. According to Lleshi, this has been systematically taking place and that is why many citizens take this as a true discourse and many people see danger in refugees. They do not see them as regular persons who are looking for a better life, because that is what they hear from the politicians and that is also what they see in images.

Apart from Europe’s migration policy, he pointed out a second reason why Europe is failing in Syrian refugee issue. It is unwillingness of European countries to accept their share in this crisis. The countries where refugees are coming from are always the countries where Western countries were in war with. He added that the share that Western countries have in Middle East and Africa is huge. And he thinks it is impossible to advance if Western countries do not take their responsibility for that.

As a solution, he proposed a few things that can be done. One of the first things to be done is to inform people and speak about solidarity. He discussed that people are always misinformed and everything is exaggerated. Decent politicians, media organs and intellectuals can take that role to inform people. Also we have to tackle with the misinformation people have. We have to deconstruct misinformation and he said that is not easy. He added that another thing is to know and understand what we are talking about of who we are talking about. Some politicians and media organs have no idea about the daily reality of migrants and refugees. So he asked how you can decide policies about people of whom you do not have any information. He remarked it is important to demand from politicians and policy makers to get in touch with the reality. Intellectuals should do more by forcing policy makers to see that this not only a humanitarian problem; this is also a political problem.

He concluded by saying that we should realize that a stricter migration policy will not solve the problems. What will solve the problem is first of all to focus on the country of origin and see what we can do in those countries to solve the problem. He said he does not think these 4.2 000 000 million refugees loved to leave their country. They wanted to stay in their country but since they faced a hard reality in their countries, they left for Europe. So Western countries should focus on the country of origin to see what they can do to better the situation there. The second one is that we should invest in developing safe and legal roads for these people to come to Western countries. According to Lleshi, if we can develop safe trajectories, we can tackle with the whole problem of human trafficking.  The last point he made is that Europe is the only continent that is losing population, so that is why United Nations has been urging Europe to let migrants come to Europe. Moreover, research has shown that migrants have contributed to Europe’s economy so he refused to call this situation a crisis but an opportunity as a conclusion.