Europe's Migration Challenge and Opportunity

The islands of Greece lie as close as only five kilometres from the shores of Bodrum peninsular in western Turkey. The typical price paid to people smugglers is USD 1200 to arrange passage to cross this divide.  2015 and 2016 witnessed a huge movement of people, mostly ordinary folks, escaping the continuing and unresolved conflict in Syria.   However, there have been individuals and families from the north western corner of the Indian sub-continent, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia all joining the persistent urge to get into Europe through difficult physical, regulatory and health conditions.    

In the biggest movement of people not seen since the end of the second World War last century, Germany, Sweden and Italy accept most applications to stay, with Romania the least.   Increasingly there is an emphasis to differentiate refugees from other migrants when deciding on acceptance by Germany. Many of these people on the move last year may not have validated identity documents with them, but most of them have cell phones with which they could communicate with relatives and friends already settled in the West.

There have been so many unselfish acts by German families voluntarily inviting refugee families to share their homes for several days instead of having to live on the streets.

A Gallup poll in 2016 indicated that as high as 13 per cent of Earth's human population would like to move to another country, especially to the USA.    The benefits to a receiving nation are offsetting declining population in the host country, fostering innovation and boosting entrepreneurship.

The flow of such migrants is so obviously skewed and headed in one way, to Western societies. It has been rare for Asian, South American, Central American and Eurasian nations putting up their hand to accept such migrants.

The second half of 2015 witnessed the beginning of masses of human beings literally and desperately walking for long distances in south-eastern Europe to their hoped for destinations, despite fences, prejudice and fatigue.

WhatsApp and Google maps have been guiding stars in the 21st century version of the exodus. The smart phone recharger has turned out to be critical when making this journey.

Many are just children, who increasingly made this sojourn alone without family. Casualties have included the drownings of would be migrants crossing the seas between Libya and Italy or Malta, and between the Turkish coast and Greek isles.

Those making this trek westwards are not only from Iraq and Syria, but also from Pakistan, Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan. The risks have culminated in one tragic image last September, when the world learnt of the drowning of three year old Alan Kurdi, whose body, bereft of a life vest, washed ashore on a Greek beach. In reality, many family members have not made it despite having paid their borrowed or saved monies to smugglers arranging their illegal transit to Europe.

Overcrowding of boats, money lost to fraudulent people smugglers, dramatic separation of family members and having to leave everything behind of the past add to the tensions and dangers for such controversial migrants.

Many of those from Syria are well educated. Yet an individual on the migrant trek was later involved in committing the horrendous killings in the November 2015 attacks on the streets of Paris, when around 120 innocent people were shot and killed.

Turkey currently hosts the largest number of refugees, around 1.9 million. One of every four persons residing in Lebanon is a refugee from Syria.   The demographic background of refugees in this recent movement not only belong to the Muslim cohort, but include people of different faiths.

An immediate impact on the social-political landscape of several members of the European Union has been the rise of parties looking inwards and moving towards the political far right in popular sentiment and pressure.    This has also weakened the bonds between nations in the EU, especially after the still unresolved question of financial debts chalked up by some members and the increasing incompatibility of different rates of economic maturity amongst such member states.