“It cannot be that in the Europe of 2015 people are left to fend for themselves, sleeping in fields.”
That’s a quote from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and he’s referring to the EU’s effort to create makeshift “holding camps” along the Balkan route to Germany designed to house some 100,000 asylum seekers as they make their way north. Eastern Europe is struggling with the influx of refugees from the Mid-East and while Hungary has simply decided to close its borders, other states in the region are attempting to strike some sort of middle ground between relenting and allowing migrants to turn the countryside into a superhighway to Germany and implementing a Viktor Orban-style crackdown that lacks any semblance of humanity (say what you will about a country’s right to protect its borders and cultural heritage, but using tear gas and water cannons in conjunction with an attempt to ignite an ultra-nationalist, religious fervor amongst the populace is dangerous at best and outright irresponsible at worst).
While the effort is admirable - we suppose - it may nonetheless backfire. That is, while it’s certainly not ideal to have hundreds of thousands of people sleeping in the middle of fields and building campfires out of flammable garbage, these ad hoc way stations will almost invariably become overcrowded, unsafe refugee internment camps and they’ll likely be easy targets for vociferous anti-migrant protests or worse.
That said, there really are no viable alternatives which is frightening considering we’re now headed into winter. Put simply, the “Schengen” concept is rapidly falling apart and unless Europe figures something out soon (and by “soon” we mean in the next couple of weeks) migrants could start to freeze to death. Here’s The Telegraph:
Migrants crossing the Balkans will begin freezing to death as winter approaches, the head of European Union has said, as leaders warned the continent was "falling apart" trying to deal with the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said a solution was urgently needed or thousands of refugee families facing winter temperature on the hillsides and freezing river-banks of Eastern Europe, would die.
"Every day counts," he said. "Otherwise we will soon see families in cold rivers in the Balkans perish miserably."
Miro Cerar, the Slovenian prime minister, said the EU was days from collapse as his country buckled under an “unbearable” influx of migrants.
"If we do not deliver some immediate and concrete actions on the ground in the next few days and weeks I believe the EU and Europe as a whole will start falling apart," he said.
Poorly dressed and under-fed, there are mounting fears they will fall victim to rougher seas and the Balkan winter that can reach minus 15C as they attempt to reach Germany and Sweden.
Aid agencies and human rights groups have also weighed in on the crisis. "As winter looms, the sight of thousands of refugees sleeping rough as they make their way through Europe represents a damning indictment of the EU’s failure to offer a coordinated response to the refugee crisis," said John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International.
If you thought the firestorm surrounding the images of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi was bad, just wait until the pictures of frozen migrant children start to surface on social media.
In many ways, Europe is damned if they do, damned if they don't. If refugee families are left to freeze in the Balkans because a confederacy of supposedly advanced nations couldn't figure out how to cope with the influx of asylum seekers from the war-torn Mid-East, the history books will be replete with references and images to migrant families freezing to death trying to get to Germany. Then again, if the whole of the EU adopts an open door policy and something goes wrong - or even if nothing goes wrong and the people flows simply serve to change the character of European society forever - the bloc will likely be blamed for not taking a more measured approach.
Meanwhile, note the bolded passage from The Telegraph article excerpted above: "...the Balkan winter that can reach minus 15C as they attempt to reach Germany and Sweden." Well, if you though anti-migrant sentiment was on the rise in Germany (see the latest PEGIDA rally), just have a look at Sweden where as yet unidentified groups are literally torching refugee shelters. Here's The Telegraph again:
Sweden’s migration authorities on Wednesday moved to hide the locations of buildings earmarked for housing refugees, after attackers set more a dozen prospective refugee centres on fire in a matter of months.
Mikael Ribbenvik, chief operative officer at the Swedish Migration Agency, made the decision after the thirteenth centre, a home for unaccompanied refugee children in the city of Lund, was set alight on Monday.
“We have decided today that where asylum centres are located will from now on be classified information,” Johanna Uhr, a spokeswoman for the agency, told The Telegraph. “We will no longer be sending out any lists of locations.”
The populist Sweden Democrat party has been harshly criticised for last week publishing a map listing the addresses of all asylum centres in and around the city of Lund.
“I find it hard to see that this is anything other than an incitement to commit hate crimes,” Veronica Palm, a Social Democrat MP, told Expressen newspaper.
And so sadly, the choice appears to be between bullets, bombs, and sword-wielding jihadists in Syria and freezing to death in the Balkans or else being burned alive in Sweden - and that's assuming you don't die at sea in transit.
The reports from Sweden underscore our point that Europe's plan to establish makeshift "holding camps" is likely a bad idea. Anti-migrant sentiment is running high among Europeans predisposed to nationalistic ideals and while the facilities torched in Sweden were apparently empty, the migrant camps along the Balkan route won't be. That said, the alternative is to force asylum seekers to sleep out in the cold and risk going down in history as a union of advanced economies that couldn't even manage to cooperate enough to keep tens of thousands of people from freezing to death.
Of course the tragic irony is that whatever fate should befall the legions of refugees seeking asylum in Western Europe, it will all be blamed on brutal Mid-East dictators and while autocratic regimes should unquestionably be held to account for their role in creating disaffection among the citizenry, at some point the West needs to wake up and come to terms with the fact that playing Mid-East kingmaker everywhere and always has tragic consequences. Europe's refugee crisis is just the latest example.