The European migration crisis is filled with horror. Boats sink in the Mediterranean, drowning hundreds. Macedonian police push back desperate refugees at the Greek border. Then, yesterday, police in Austria confirmed that they had found 71 migrants, including four children, dead from suffocation inside an abandoned lorry. They were packed together like animal carcasses. This inhumanity cries out for an intelligent, compassionate response.
Europe has not witnessed such a movement of people since the end of the Second World War. The difference then was that the migration was internal. Today, it seems as if great swathes of the developing world have decided that their only hope is resettlement in the West. Some are refugees and some are economic migrants. The line between these two groups is often blurred.
Technology is playing a big role in this great migration. Twenty years ago, a journey to the West was a leap into the darkness. Today, people can remain in touch with their families via mobile phones. Websites and social media provide details about life in Europe, advice on legal rights and routes of travel. Although many people die, many more take a voyage that is arguably safer than ever before – it could even be described as routine.
The conscience of other governments is easily pricked. Though many are complaining that Angela Merkel’s willingness to take up to 800,000 asylum seekers in one year has made matters worse by offering hope to others – and, therefore, encouragement. In public, Germany’s establishment is trying to occupy the high ground, chiding those who refuse to welcome the world’s huddled masses. But there has been violence: in Berlin, asylum centres have been set alight, Right-wing protestors clash with police. Aside from the pressures on schools and hospitals that unmanaged migration brings, moderates also have to consider the danger of rising xenophobia. If rational men and women do not address this problem, reckless demagogues will.
Of course, these demagogues are to be found on the Left as well as the Right. They typically share an opinion that if Britain withdrew further from the world, then the world would leave it alone: end the wars and you end the flow of humanity. This is bad logic. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the two largest groups of people crossing the Mediterranean are from Afghanistan and Syria. Afghanistan was unstable before the West drove the Taliban from power. It has only become more unstable since the West left.
The Syrian civil war certainly has nothing to do with the West. On the contrary, it has arguably been prolonged by a lack of international action – the British Parliament voted against military intervention in 2013. Even today, it is not known whether Labour would formally lend its backing to military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Jeremy Corbyn and the hard Left tendency argue that intervention would make the crisis worse. It is hard to imagine how. Since 2011, 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes and four million forced to flee abroad. They leave behind a dystopia in which the Syrian government kills its own citizens and the rebel army butchers non-believers. The lesson of the past 10 years is that if Britain tries to withdraw from the world, then the world will arrive at its doorstep pleading for help.
It is also clear that order has to be brought to European borders. The EU cannot cope with the magnitude of this flood and the fantasy that it can will only attract more people, leading to yet more tragedy. Europeans are probably in the mood to reconsider the Schengen principle, while the awful scenes in Austria prove the need to invest in law enforcement. Western leaders must also acknowledge that what is taking place is not unique but that it is bound to continue, which is all the more reason to do more to re-establish control now. Will Europe be ready for another crisis next summer? For the sake of its own citizens and for the desperate refugees, it must be better prepared.