From idyllic Greek islands to the fertile plains of southern Hungary, an avalanche of human misery, deprivation and increasing desperation has massed, gathering momentum, overwhelming the flimsy processing agencies which have proven inadequate to manage the sheer numbers of applicants who are desperate to reach the security of Europe. Twenty thousand are wedged on the picturesque little island of Lesvos, west of the Turkish coast. Crossing the Libyan desert, paying out their life savings to unscrupulous and cynically passionless bounty hunters for a square foot of space on an unseaworthy little boat, many have perished en route in the greatest mass migration since the end of the Second World War. Some are escaping persecution because their brand of Islam is insufficiently jihadist. Others are fleeing because they are Christian, hence targets for persecution, imprisonment, or worse. Others have been bled dry by incompetent and corrupt governments incapable of performing the one single task justifying their existence, that of looking after and protecting their citizenry. Some just want to work and find a better life for them and their children. Still others may have a more nefarious agenda, to infiltrate the land of the kuffar and plot its takeover. They are given names like ‘economic migrant’, ‘refugee’, ‘asylum seeker’ or ‘illegal immigrant’ to attempt to distinguish and classify them, to decide whether or not they have a right to be here.
Of a party from Eritrea who all left together, almost one hundred and forty souls, bound for Europe, twenty survived. People are dying in trucks, bodies are washing up on Turkish beaches, dead as starfish. So many stories, making all of us sit down, appalled, and ask what we, or our government can and should do.
The sheer scale of the invasion and its rapidity this summer has taken everyone unawares. It is naive to criticise the use of the word ‘invasion’, since so many are using ingenious means to circumvent the authorities. Agencies are supposed to fingerprint new arrivals at their place of entry but some migrants do not wish to settle in Italy or Greece, where processing them could take months, even years, and the social security packages are paltry compared to those offered in Scandinavia. So, they burn their fingers with lighters or use the liquid goo from a burned plastic bag to make their fingerprints unreadable. Such is the scale of the problem, the authorities simply wave them on so the next country in the chain can take responsibility for them. Fake passports are on sale in Rome to make journeying easier.
An Egyptian billionaire has offered to buy an island from Greece or Italy to house everybody temporarily until they can be processed. A brave idea, but not one which many of the hopeful travellers would be prepared to invest in, I suspect. After all, islands have been prisons for centuries.
Why is it that Germany seems to be welcoming so many? Perhaps it is, brutally, a matter of demographics. The German population is shrinking, and there are less able-bodied and, above all, young workers to keep the industrial wheels turning with legendary German efficiency. Cynical as it seems, the Germans may have hit the motherlode by tapping in to a source of cheap labour for a generation, whose taxes will pay for an increasing number of pensioners in their system, assuming, of course, that new arrivals will be able, indeed willing to assimilate and not huddle in racist ghettoes as exist in parts of France. The rightist Government in Hungary, however, whose demographic problems are not dissimilar, is building a fence along its border with Serbia to just keep them out. A Syrian lawyer desperate to reach Germany, scrambled under its razor wire, leaving a bright, bloody trail behind him. The Slovaks are only admitting Christians, not Muslims; they can thank ISIS, bin Laden and all the other bloodthirsty crazies for that. And, how many are the GCC countries, the ideological home for Muslim refugees, taking? None. Not one. Someone should be asking them some hard questions.
As Angela Merkel pointed out, the world is watching us. How we deal with this as governments and individuals will speak volumes to those who detest our democracies and spit on our way of life.
A government has the moral responsibility to protect the welfare of its citizens. At the same time, each individual has the responsibility to love his neighbor. Many of us will shortly have new neighbors with strange, unfamiliar customs, curious, unintelligible speech, different social norms. We can choose to tread this unknown territory of rapprochement with fear, as children who fear the dark, the unknown, or, we can take firm hold of our own heritage, confident in its ability to protect us emotionally and spiritually to reach out, one-on-one and in our groups, to do justice, love kindness and, above all else, remember mercy.