Mikhail Iakovlev examines the contradictions surrounding the rhetoric of the EU refugee crisis.
Would you house a refugee? (This is not an excuse to start ranting about how high the rents in London are, and that your room in halls resembles Harry Potter’s cupboard) The answer is “no” for the new Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo of the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice Party. She called for a review of the EU’s compulsory refugee quota system, two days after the Paris attacks of Friday 13th November. Reuters quotes her as saying that “in our view, we are not prepared to accept those quotas of refugees”.
However hard-line and extreme her opinions might sound, they are broadly representative of the anti-refugee sentiments that have been propounded by those on the right of European politics since long before the attacks. The Huffington Post reported this October that the refugee crisis itself was “fuelling the rise of Europe’s right”, not only in traditionally conservative countries like Poland – according to Warsaw University’s Centre for Research on Prejudice 69% of Poles do not want non-white people living in their country.
But even the traditionally left-wing-verging-on-socialist Scandinavian countries have been slowly but surely restricting their borders. So much so that even Sweden has had to introduce border checks, although this mild move is in sharp contrast to some of its neighbours, who have embraced a right-wing nationalist agenda in the elections this year. Closer to home of course, Nigel Farage’s UKIP gained a significant number of votes in the general election, although as yet they have been marginal in parliament.
Clearly, the re-emergence of the European far right and the hardening attitudes towards refugees are trends with deep roots, and last month’s Paris attacks are not the sole reason. However, it has somehow become more socially acceptable for nationalist governments and individuals to openly endorse more strongly right-wing views.
Before the attacks, those in favour of “sending em all back” argued that their views were justified since the majority of refugees are making they way here for economic rather than humanitarian reasons. Sometimes this rhetoric included the supplementary argument that their lack of desire to integrate would have a destabilising effect on the host nation’s culture. For example, Nigel Farage was quick to criticise the number of refugees the European Commission was planning to accept, by claiming that most of them were economic migrants. Heeding this rhetoric, David Cameron’s government chose to opt out of the compulsory refugee quota long before these attacks (it was the only EU state entitled to opt out to do so).
In the aftermath of the attack, the rhetoric shifted to portraying the refugees as an immediate violent threat to our security – with some success, it seems, since few would be prepared to compromise their security for some set of abstract humanitarian values. This seems to have emboldened those disagreeing with the Angela Merkel and J.-C. Junker’s EU refugee policy, to an extent where they actively dissent. In a high profile example, the Hungarian National Assembly, dominated by Victor Orban’s centre-right nationalist coalition, voted 151 MPs to 41 to turn to the European Court of Justice to repeal the mandatory quota. Although they have previously agreed to comply with the decision of the EU, they voted against it openly in parliament.
There does seem to be something fundamentally dishonest about the discourse that lays the blame for the Paris attacks on the refugees. First, even if some of the refugees were involved in the bombing, we need to ask ourselves the question: would the bombings have been impossible without the refugees coming to Europe? It is clear that the bombings would have been possible whether there were refugees or not. The simple truth of the matter is that only two of the seven identified perpetrators had used non-EU identification, and even then the French justice ministry believe their Syrian passports to be fake. The fact that the perpetrators were European begs the question of why the blame seems to have been laid, even partially, on refugees.
It seems that the very same right-wing rhetoric that claims to try to protect us may put our lives in an increasingly precarious position, by contributing to (if not driving) the marginalisation of certain individuals in our society, thereby encouraging them to seek alternative, sometimes violent, loyalties.
So let me ask you again, are you prepared to house a refugee?
Featured image credit: srbin.info