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Commentary | No excuse for exclusion

Why Europe should embrace the Syrian refugees

Many of us realize, with some discomfort, that there is no place unaffected by the global socio-economic crisis. Today, Europe experiences an influx of war refugees coming from Syria and entering Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the Greek islands and mainland. Of course, European countries should accept Syrian refugees on humanitarian grounds. What’s more, many Western governments have directly contributed to the crisis in the Middle East. For this reason, the welcoming of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees of war is not only about humanitarianism – it is a minimum act of war reparation. But even those who do not prioritize these moral concerns ought to welcome the Syrian refugees, as they are not a burden for their receiving countries – and reactionary claims to the contrary are nothing more than veiled racism.

Historical examples show that refugees largely make positive contributions to their host countries. Between 1922 and 1923, one and a half million Anatolian Greek refugees followed the same path as the Syrians now follow to migrate from Turkey to Greece as a result of the 1919-22 war between the two countries; half a million Turks followed the reverse route into Turkey. The 1922-23 Greek refugees did not receive a particularly warm reception in Greece. Financially destitute, they were initially sheltered in tents. However, contemporary Greek historians agree that these migrants helped the country develop socially and economically, and contributed to the modernization of Greece’s political system. Many of them were highly educated and brought new ideas to the newly founded Greek republic. Europe also saw a current of emigration when more than 100,000 Jews fled Germany for Canada and the U.S. to escape the rise of Nazism. They made powerful contributions to the post-war cultural, academic, and economic development of their new countries. Despite having been uprooted and having lost everything, refugees managed to rebuild their lives and have a remarkable impact on the communities that they joined.

Many Western governments have directly contributed to the crisis in the Middle East. For this reason, the welcoming of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees of war is not only about humanitarianism – it is a minimum act of war reparation.

Let’s return to the Syrians. Having liquidated their properties, they struggle their way into Europe illegally, on rubber boats, since the legal way is effectively blocked by the European governments. Ostensibly, the 250,000 Syrian refugees who made it into Europe belong to a relatively exclusive group. They represent only 2 per cent of the total population of displaced persons in Syria – the only ones who had the financial resources and physical and mental health to make the expensive and exhausting journey. Even if they’ve spent the last of their savings on their way to Europe, they are left with something they can never lose – their education. In their baggage, these people carry the social resources and courage necessary to restore their livelihoods. Many of them young, they also represent a promising demographic of potential citizens for the aging European countries.

Both socially and economically, Europeans only stand to gain from opening their doors to Syrian refugees. European governments should look past the bigotry of their racist and xenophobic constituents, and embrace migrants and the life experience they bring with them.


Constantinos Yanniris is a PhD candidate in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education. To contact him, email constantinos.yanniris@mcgill.ca.

 


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