Assimilating refugees the great challenge

THERE seems an inevitability that each time Europe’s leaders meet to try to cope with the escalating refugee crisis that measures that not so very long ago would have been considered an impossible over-reach are put in place in the hope that further chaos might be averted.

Unfortunately it seems that the terrible hardships faced by tens of thousands of refugees — political or economic — will continue as long as their home countries are torn by war or terrorism and as long as they insist on celebrating a medieval culture that makes them irrelevant, impoverished outliers in the world economy. This changing landscape, one offering fewer and fewer options, is no more than a recognition of the scale of the challenge — if not threat — an unending march of refugees poses to regional stability.

Late on Thursday evening EU leaders pushed very hard to try to win Turkey’s co-operation in trying to control — if not stop — the flow of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Europe. Considerable concessions, though not all as yet agreed by Europe’s national leaders, were made including a promise of €3bn if Turkey agreed to accommodate up to 3m Syrian refugees and prevent them reaching Europe. The greatest concessions however were not monetary.

An ever-more desperate EU offered visa-free travel to Europe for 77m Turks and promised to reopen negotiations on Turkey’s EU membership. This seems a tremendous off-the-cuff concession and it will be some time before its full implications are understood especially as some states have adopted a no-more attitude to refugees. The concession is however a stark expression of the scale of the problem facing Europe. Some of our politicians may have reached a Pauline conversion on the crisis but have Europe’s citizens?

Attitudes are hardening in pockets, intolerance is growing, and all of these emotions are driven by fear and uncertainty. It would be dishonest though not to acknowledge that some opposition to accommodating refugees is rooted in a profound distaste and unease at the prospect of some facets of rigid Islam, especially the treatment of women and the aggressive contempt sometimes shown to non-Muslims, even those who offer refuge to the destitute and impoverished.

Demands that Sharia law should replace legislation enacted by democratically elected parliaments fall into the same category and frighten tolerant largely Christian — in the very broadest sense of the word — democrat Europeans. These demands for a legal system based on religious beliefs rather than secular legislation designed to support and protect all citizens irrespective of their beliefs suggest that those making the demands have an utter indifference to our societies’ mores and have little or no intention of even trying to assimilate to our way of life.

This attitude will prove a far greater challenge than today’s refugee crisis. Already the opening skirmishes can be seen on the fringes of European cities with largely self-ghettoised Muslim communities. Nevertheless we must find the humanity to offer refuge to those in need of it — but we must also find the backbone to confront and expel extremism.


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