Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture
2015-10-01 14:29:20 -
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Last time I encouraged readers to take personal action to alleviate migrants’ suffering by lobbying their respective leaders to admit more refugees, and by donating their time and/or money to organisations working to help these refugees. For my part, I followed through on my promise to donate the equivalent of €3 a day to relief organisations by making three separate donations, which all received matching donations of the same amount.

 

 While the total contribution was a mere drop in the bucket of the $7.4bn international aid agencies have requested in 2015 to address the Syrian crisis, every dollar counts. And while I still believe the US government could do much more than it has thus far, I also want to thank President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for pledging more economic aid and agreeing to increase the number of refugees America accepts every year from 70,000 – including 10,000 Syrian refugees – to 100,000.

 

Unfortunately for refugees from Syria, American counterterrorism laws passed in the wake of 9/11 require extensive background checks designed to weed out potential terrorists, which can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months to complete. The Republican-controlled Congress is also refusing to appropriate the money required to perform these background checks on the large scale necessary to accept refugees en masse. I don’t expect this to change, given the anti-immigrant sentiments expressed by many of the Republican Party’s presidential candidates.

 

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Bob Goodlatte from Virginia, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, recently issued a joint statement explaining why Republicans were opposed to admitting more refugees. Their press statement claims that “Isis and other terrorist groups have made it abundantly clear that they will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States. The administration has essentially given the American people a ‘trust me.’ That isn’t good enough.”

 

Other Republicans such as Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, chair of the Senate subcommittee on immigration, claim that it is better to resettle the refugees somewhere else in the Middle East. Sessions argues: “The most responsible way to address the Middle East’s mass migration is to establish the goal of resettling the region’s migrants as close to their own homes as possible.” Sessions ignores the fact that Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people, already has 1.1 million refugees, while Jordan has 630,000 Syrian refugees out of a population of 6.5 million citizens.

 

On the other hand – and with the lone exception of the United Arab Emirates who have accepted a quarter of a million refugees thus far – the other wealthy Gulf states who are funding the Islamist rebels in Syria have collectively refused to give asylum to any Syrian refugees. How can one justify fuelling a civil war but then refusing to accept responsibility for any of the war’s refugees?  

 

Some European countries are also doing their part to deal with the migrant crisis by providing a safe haven where thousands of war-weary refugees can live and raise their families. For example, Germany has pledged to accept as many as one million refugees this year and up to 500,000 a year for the foreseeable future. But there is another motive here: with a fertility rate of only 1.39 children per child-bearing female citizen, German politicians are also well aware that they need an influx of immigrants in order to maintain a strong and vibrant economy.

 

Other European nations with more sustainable fertility rates, such as France and Sweden, are welcoming more than their share of immigrants. France has 66 million people and has committed to resettling at least 24,000 more refugees in the next two years, while Sweden, with a population of 9.3 million people, has already accepted more than 64,000 refugees, the most refugees per capita in the entire EU.  

 

But it also stands to reason that if Sweden can absorb over 64,000 migrants, then Ireland, with a population of 4.5 million people, and the UK, with over 64 million citizens, could both do better than their current respective commitments of 4,000 and 7,000 refugees each year. Still, while I believe Ireland, the UK and the US should all accept at least twice as many migrants as they have currently agreed to, at least they are trying to be a part of the solution to this problem.

 

Hungary, on the other hand, represents the other extreme in terms of its response to this humanitarian crisis. Even though its fertility rate of 1.35 is one of the lowest in the EU, Hungary has chosen to ignore the adverse economic consequences of a declining population in favour of erecting razor-wire fences to keep migrants from passing through on their way to Germany and Sweden. Apparently Hungary’s political leaders, and the Hungarian citizens who support them, don’t remember what happened to the 200,000 Hungarians who fled to western Europe in 1956.

 

What would have become of those Hungarian refugees if neighbouring countries like Austria had erected fences to prevent them from entering their countries?

 

 

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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