A month ago I published ‘The long sustainability shadow of the refugee crisis’. Today, with hundreds of readers and about 200 reactions richer, I am writing a sequel to this blog. It sums up what I heard, both negative and positive, both disgusting and heartening. My inbox was a showcase of how torn our society worldwide seems to be.
First, what struck me most was the fact that there seem to be just two camps on the issue: those that see refugees as the source of all evil, and those that see refugees as the opportunity to learn and thrive in a future to come. There’s no difference between that in Germany, UK, US, Netherlands (reflecting the countries most of the reactions came from). And there’s nothing in between.
Secondly, it was strikingly clear that those in the haters camp are simply not able to envisage a positive future mindset. All of their argumentation stems from whatever source from the past they could find and sucks up all negative provocation of current refugee misbehavior without reflecting the why. Furthermore they are amendable to all the hoax and purposefully faked stories. A German website (see http://hoaxmap.org/index.html) collects these fake stories and uncovers the bullshit.
What doesn’t come to mind to them at all is the fact that the way that we in the Western world exploited the refugee’s countries of origin in the past might have been unfitting, that we were for a couple of hundred years protagonists for creating the situation we now face, from stuffing dictators to exploiting resources just for our own benefit, from climate change up to being asleep at the wheel and cynic when the first signs of the refugee crisis showed up (see Lampedusa). Their mindsets stop at their very own boarders, it doesn’t even need fences for that. I refuse to see them as Europeans; their national pride, their distorted sense of belonging and belongings (my home is my castle) evaporates a potential to develop a higher level of consciousness. The fear that refugees will take away what belongs to them is the primary source of the hate.
They are ice-cold when looking at the situation, there is simply no appreciation about what the refugees have gone through. In spiral dynamics terms they are stuck in blue and orange mindsets in which self-interest prevails and dominates all thinking. The fact that Europe has a huge solidarity problem is something that they of course refuse to accept, they totally ignore it. The below map shows the whole dilemma frighteningly well:
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Bertelsmann Foundations recently published a study in which they state that the majority of the EU citizens wants a European response to the refugee crisis and is in favor of fairly distributing the burden amongst all member states. They strongly reject the idea of individual countries acting unilaterally. 79 percent of all Europeans are in favor of a common European asylum and migration policy. Also 79 percent want a fair distribution of asylum seekers across all countries of the EU. A majority of around 70 percent also supports the demand that those states, which refuse to accept their share of the responsibility, should receive less money from EU coffers. While this is positivity news, the study also shows how decided Europe is between East and West. While a majority of 85 percent in the old EU member states think that the burden of asylum seekers should be fairly distributed, only 54 percent in the new member states support that view. Also, whereas in the old member states 77 percent demand that those states, which refuse to accept their fair share of asylum seekers, should be subject to financial penalties, only 41 percent of the citizens in the new member states are in favor of such a measure (see study here).
Thirdly, and funny enough, I was accused for not being able to exactly prove why I think that the refugee crisis will in the end be a blessing in disguise for Europe. As if one is not allowed to have an opinion without having a glass bowl at home that accurately proves future predictions scientifically. Or for not having a time machine ;-). Of course, nobody can predict the future, and what will come out over the next years and decades will mainly be dependent on how much Europe will now unite (its called a ‘union’) and be able to manage. The European question will stand or fall around this issue. To me, this is all connected to how we will develop the innovation potential of the refugee inflow. For many years we crow about ‘Diversity’ – and here it is. Fresh blood, cultural views and interpretation of whats needed for the world that is a village, knowing that scalability of solutions will be essential globally. The crowd wisdom of refugees can be a game changer.
Fourthly, let me thank all those that shared positive comments on the blog. Looking at the percentages – which are of course not representative – there was a 85% positive halo effect on this first blog. The haters camp always repeated their one-dimensional backward-looking argument: immigration didn’t succeed in the past, so it can’t succeed in the future as well. It costs us money that our own people should get. It takes jobs away that belong to us. They get our apartments that we subscribed for. There is no understanding that Europe will fall apart – damaging all economies multiple times more (see alone the Schengen discussion) – if we continue segregation, division and mercilessness.
Summing it all up, what we can state so far:
- The majority of Europeans have a different mindsets than the refugee-haters; it doesn’t make sense to try to convince them, their experienced life conditions won’t let them change easily. The only way to dry up their dangerous mental matchboxes is to educate the next generation of Europeans that will make them run into opposition every time they light up one of the matches. Constant dripping wears away the stone.
- Europe so far has a devastating track record in explaining to their citizens what give and take as well as solidarity and values really mean in the European context. It has both to do with awareness about Europe’s history in leading to some of the current developments (a connection often not made as it seen as ‘normative’) as well as to help citizens understand the need for immigration, the management of integration and designing circumstances in which the value added by immigration can come into full fruition. I appreciate the outcome of last week’s German Summit of Industry Federations that wholeheartedly supported Angela Merkel’s resolution towards the ability to gain strength through a proactive immigration policy, despite all opposition inside the country and from the European countries that are backsliders in taking their fair share of the solidarity value effort (see here).
- Eastern European countries are in a cocooning mode while asking Brussels to pay for the cocoon and support if the cocooning doesn’t work and will have negative economic impact. This is the opposite of how Europe works and what to expect. If you take, you have to give. The developments in Eastern European countries, now having affected Austria (that historically always saw itself as the gateway to Eastern Europe) as well, is stubborn, demagogic and dividing. It also shows that becoming a member of the European Union was mainly built on economic benefits than on values like solidarity. Nation egos are still the main ‘elephant in the European glasshouse’.
- We have yet to understand that a 500 million people strong European Union has not only an obligation, but also a benefit from one million refugees per year and that we need an ongoing capacity to deal with these numbers every year, spread over the whole EU. We haven’t understood the impact of climate change and have yet to define the term ‘climate refugee’. It doesn’t make sense to define ‘secure countries of origin’ when the life conditions don’t allow a life in dignity in these countries just because the political system wouldn’t imprison or kill someone that got deported back. It is in my view therefore already problematic to distinguish between ‘political’ refugee and ‘economic’ refugee. There are more than enough economic reasons to flee, based on the underlying sustainability context. Of course checking the circumstances is still an appropriate means of differentiation, I don’t believe in ‘one process fits all’.
- The current discussions about ‘healing the problem at the source’ needs to take the broader and holistic/systemic developments into account. Otherwise we continue to throw money at countries with little to no effect.I do believe that we will continue to have 1-2 million refugees in Europe every year, no matter how many fences we build at the boarders. Refugees will find other routes. Defending our borders at that massive rate of refugees will be a bloody undertaking and will ruin Europe’s reputation. Already now there are hundreds of thousands of new refugees waiting in Libya. If we find a way to agree on a fair share in Europe and find the resources to reduce the worst conditions in the country of origin, further escalation can potentially be prevented. The systemic aspects around climate change, poverty and demographic effects won’t go away for at least another 30 years. Let’s also please keep things in relation: 1 million refugees per year mean 0,5 % of the total European population and will just protect us from social systems drying out and declare bankruptcy. It will be some of the refugees that will pay part of our pensions in the future. Yes, it does cost money in the beginning, but the payback will be rich.
In finishing this blog post I was reminded of David Suzuki’s words below. What was written to describe environmental degradation in my view also applies to Europe’s future if we’re not finding minimum agreements on how to manage the refugee issue in the long-term, making it a major success story of the EU and support its reason to be. And by that it is also a true sustainability issue. Let’s prove ‘homo homini lupus’ wrong!