Migrants and refugees wait for buses after crossing the border between Hungary and Austria in Nickelsdorf, Austria. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Over the past decade, Canada has been notably absent from the world stage in leading humanitarian initiatives, such as during the recent refugee crisis. With more than 11 million Syrians displaced thus far, Canada can and must do more. While Syrian refugees are fleeing unimaginable violence, global responses have ranged from indifference, to building walls and closing borders, to practices of detainment or “push back”. Migration is mostly portrayed by receiving nations as a calamity, to be dreaded and prevented at any cost. The coming election is an opportune time to change this and to hold politicians directly accountable, making the refugee crisis a priority campaign issue. Party leaders must respond to the call for action and commit to the following.
Canada must first resettle greater numbers of refugees annually. Considering its annual immigration intake, Canada has the capacity to welcome 30,000 refugees per year. The government could initiate a “matching system”, sponsoring one refugee for every refugee sponsored by a private organization, as was done for the Indochinese forty years ago.
A pro-immigration demonstration in Los Angeles on May 1. Sandy Huffaker - Getty Images
All over the world, cities have been much less fearful about migration. Since cities haven’t had walls for several centuries and because they had to absorb the 20th century rural exodus, thus growing to be multiple times as big as they were, cities have learned to cope with migration, to adapt to change, and to benefit from the influx of energy, ideas, creativity and wealth that migration produces.
Migrant girl in Hungary reception centre, 8 September 2015. Photo: AP.
”Germany can cope with at least 500,000 asylum seekers a year for several years, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said.”
At long last, a mainstream politician is adopting a public discourse which runs contrary to all the fantasies, stereotypes and prejudices of the nationalist populist discourse.
Yes, Germany has the capacity to take half a million asylum seekers per year. This means that France, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Australia, and other rich countries can provide shelter to a proportionate number of migrants as well. What was lacking until now was the political will, and one German politician, Vice-Chancellor Gabriel, has finally found the courage to take on the nationalist populist politicians and their fallacies head on.
Rohingya refugees on a boat off the coast of Indonesia in May. Januar, Agence France-Presse.
The Australian model seems to be the worst possible: deterrence through mass human rights violations. It has “stopped the boats” for now, but this is only because of the relative geographical isolation of Australia. This would not work in Europe, and would also be prohibited by local tribunals, the European Court of Human rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Prohibition pushes migrants deeper into the underground and entrenches the market for smugglers and unscrupulous employers. Mobility solutions offered by States – such as resettlement programmes for refugees directly from transit countries and smart visas for people to come and look for work – allow individuals to enter legally and come forward to register with the authorities. Territorial sovereignty is about controlling the border, and controlling the border is about knowing who enters and who leaves: any mechanism that incentivises people to come forward to the border guard because they have appropriate papers is better than mechanisms that actually will push the migrants to find mobility solutions with smugglers and leave the authorities in the dark as to who enters the territory.
A police officer at a train station in Budapest, right, tried to enforce new ticketing rules for migrant passengers bound for Austria. Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
The present chaos serves perfectly the nationalist populist movements. There will be electoral consequences to the present inability of European leaders to rise to the political occasion. They seem incapable to explain to their electorate that borders are porous and migration can’t be stopped in the long term by police methods, to develop a positive discourse on mobility and diversity as foundation stones of contemporary European societies, to build a realistic collective long term plan that includes a massive resettlement programme for refugees, with efficient distribution keys, and many more legal ways to enter Europe to look for work, and therefore to start organising the migration movements – thus taking over the mobility market from the smugglers – rather than try resisting them – which only creates more precariousness for migrants and entrenches smuggling operations –.
The first major political casualty risks being the free movement of persons inside Europe: this would be a huge step backwards in time and a recoil from one of the key philosophical foundations of the Union. The second probable consequence of the present chaos could be in the UK: based on the fears stoked by all domestic political parties of an invasion of migrants and the destruction of the British way of life, there’s now a reasonable chance that PM Cameron will lose his referendum and that UK will exit the EU.