Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. (AFP/Getty Images)
A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child's dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. (AFP/Getty Images)

Globe editorial

Migrant crisis? No, Europe is facing a moral crisis Add to ...

In a world filled with graphic horrors, the Western media have become increasingly squeamish about showing what war, famine or death actually look like. There is an understandable fear of upsetting the audience, and a well-founded reluctance to be seen making a market out of the suffering of others. But some upsetting images demand to be seen, precisely because they are a true representation of reality. They show us the world as it is, its cruelties exposed, and not the world as we would wish it to be. And by the shock to our eyes, our conscience may be stirred.

Which brings us to the image on the front page of Thursday's Globe and Mail: a tiny, lifeless body lying face down on a beach. The child was part of a group of at least 12 Syrians who drowned in the waters off Bodrum, Turkey, while trying to cross to the Greek island of Kos. This part of the Aegean Sea has long been a playground for European holidaymakers, but in the past few months it has become a highway, and also a graveyard, for an increasing number of far more desperate travellers. Today’s image is just one distressing scene from Europe’s growing migrant crisis.

There is no simple solution to the crisis. But one thing at least has become clear: Europe is mishandling it, badly. The European Union can no longer reconcile labour mobility inside the open-borders, passport-free Schengen zone with the Dublin Regulation, the rule that an asylum-seeker must make his application in the EU country where he first arrived – and normally must stay there until his case is resolved. Bankrupt and depression-ridden Greece, where many refugees are landing, cannot afford for them to stay. And Greece is not their destination.

The Dublin Regulation has to give way. It needs to be repealed or replaced. There should be no attempt to confine large numbers of asylum seekers to Mediterranean Europe, where unemployment is high and society itself is already strained. This is a European problem, and it needs a European solution. Countries on the EU periphery can’t handle it themselves, and shouldn’t be forced to.

At the same time, a continent that is working itself into a panic over the idea that it is being swamped by a human tidal wave needs to get a grip, and put the situation in perspective. The human beings trying to enter Europe are clearly in crisis – but why must Europe act as if it is in crisis?

Yes, in the first half of 2015, more than 300,000 migrants arrived in Europe. But that’s only about 0.1 per cent of the EU’s population. Canada takes in close to 1 per cent of its population each and every year, in the form of immigrants and refugees. Canada is not in crisis as a result. Quite the opposite.

The Greeks, to their credit, have exposed the nonsensical character of Europe’s stay-where-you-land Dublin rules. They have simply let migrants keep on moving into Macedonia, and thence to points farther north, if they can.

Hungary is a more desirable destination, or at least a stop on the way to the more prosperous parts of the continent, but the cultural and ethnic nationalism that now prevails in Hungarian politics has some ugly results. A razor-wire fence is going up on the southern border; it is soon to be fortified. The monstrous deaths of 71 migrants in a truck occurred in Austria, close to the Hungarian border. There have been ugly scenes involving attempts to get on trains, to get to Austria, and above all, Germany and Sweden – inconsistently, the Hungarian government isn’t helping migrants leave Hungary.

Admirably, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has made clear that her country could comfortably absorb as many as 800,000 migrants – which would help an aging labour force from shrinking. But Germany cannot and should not bear the whole burden.

Canada can also help, and it must. Last January, the federal government promised to resettle 10,000 refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war by the end of 2017. Ottawa has not revealed how many have actually arrived, but the government has admitted it has run into difficulties and is behind schedule – without giving hard numbers. Canada is relying heavily on finding private sponsorships and charities, which may be too slow an approach for this fast-moving crisis.

Canada can also help by accepting more refugees, including Syrians and others who have already landed in Europe.

The allegation by some that Europe’s asylum-seekers are merely economic migrants, and not real refugees, is simplistic. Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, Sudanese and others are coming from war zones, and war and poverty are deeply intertwined.

The 28 interior ministers of the EU will meet on Sept. 14. They must think and act boldly. Europe’s open borders should stay; the Dublin Regulation has to go. Europe needs a refugee policy that is both smarter and more generous. The same goes for Canada.

Report Typo/Error

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

Next story

loading

In the know

The Globe Recommends

loading

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular