Personal angle

Personal Angle

February 2016

More than safety, the migrant crisis is about achieving a decent quality of life
Amanda Isabel Ramos, M.A. in Human Rights Candidate,
Intern at the CDRSEE (December 2015-February 2016)

 “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” This line from Warsan Shire’s Home rings all too familiar.

Despite this, asylum-seekers are subject to much hostility. They are accused, among other things, of ‘welfare shopping,’ of looking for the country with the best welfare system to settle down in. Such an accusation suggests that any country without war should be enough for anyone fleeing it. This of course is not the case. For example, many educated Syrians speak other languages in addition to Arabic. These abilities would help them adapt to a new way of life, find a job, and continue their education in specific countries, as opposed to whatever EU country they arrive in first. Many asylum-seekers also hope to join their relatives in different parts of Europe. These rights – the right to education, the right to family life – are protected by international treaties, and cannot be dismissed simply because asylum-seekers no longer face the dangers of war.

Other hostilities stem from Europeans’ own fears that they will no longer have access to their own rights: that refugees will overwhelm social security systems and change the religious climate. There has been little to allay these fears, or dispel the myths behind them, even if research shows that many refugees are well-educated and highly skilled, and tend to put more into the social security system than they take out of it in the long run. Further, population studies show that even if all of Syria’s Muslims were to live in Europe, the Muslim population would only increase from 4% to 5% - far from an overwhelming majority, or even a minority significant enough to warrant fears of being overwhelmed. Even in places in Germany that have taken in the most number of asylum-seekers, the ratio of asylum-seekers is 5 for every 1000 local inhabitants.

The conflation of economic migrants – people who are not fleeing war, but simply looking for better economic opportunities – with refugees has only complicated matters. Border guards seldom have the resources to effectively differentiate between someone from Syria and any other speaker of Arabic. This deficiency in resources, along with the growing black market for Syrian passports, has only made things more difficult.

It is far too easy to be uncharitable to the migrants who claim to be refugees when they are not. We return, however, to the premise that a life without war is not automatically a good life: where war may be absent, other rights may still not be easily accessible. For example: in Idomeni, a town along the Greece-FYR of Macedonia border, asylum-seekers have camped out for days, unable to cross the border into the FYR of Macedonia due to a protest among taxi drivers. The drivers are angry that police officers direct asylum-seekers toward the railways. The police are complying with new provisions that allow asylum-seekers free use of public transportation for 3 days, but taxi drivers have lost the portion of their income that depends on the movement of refugees. A similar logic can be deduced from the sale of counterfeit lifejackets in Izmir: they are livelihoods dependent on an influx of the desperate, a manifestation of a lack of access to economic, social and cultural rights.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” The Mediterranean has become one of the deadliest waters to cross, yet it is still safer; and even with malnutrition, reports of violence, and the obstacle of razor blade fences, this land across is still safer. But this is not enough – not for the refugees and not for its local inhabitants. It has long been accepted that all human rights are interdependent, interrelated with, and indivisible from, one another; yet reality shows a continuing separation between rights. There remains much to be done to ensure all human rights for all.