Comment: The case for welcoming refugees (SOIA)

The Student Organisation on International Affairs (SOIA); encouraging political discussion and promoting student opinion on current affairs.  You can read the other opinion from a member of SOIA here.

By Catherine Lally and Eamon Farhat

On the edge of Lac Léman, cocooned in a privileged international bubble, it is all too easy to ignore the plight of refugees seeking shelter in Europe. Even easier, however, is forgetting that most of us “expats” are in fact migrants.

It should go without saying that refugees fleeing war torn countries riddled with extremism aren’t looking to impose ISIS-style laws onto the streets of Munich. In spite of this, some students persist, finding fault with refugees they believe will fail to “assimilate” into society. A room full of students in an international school complaining about refugees refusing to adopt western values – who often have made no effort to learn French – strikes me as deeply ironic. How can children whose parents have moved across the world following opportunities be so keen to pull the ladder up from the next generation of refugees and migrants looking for their own share of prosperity? Participating fully in a society is not the same thing as conforming to a homogenous view of what that country is, and abandoning one’s own values. This is how multiculturalism is born: richening the cultural tapestry of any nation.

A banner is held up by a group welcoming refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan at Vienna Railway Station Where They plan to stay overnight en route to Germany. Photo by Martin Juen. Copyright Demotix
A banner is held up by a group welcoming refugees arriving from Syria and Afghanistan at Vienna Railway Station Where They plan to stay overnight en route to Germany. Photo by Martin Juen. Copyright Demotix

It’s convenient to disregard the contributions these newcomers can and will make: immigrants to the UK from new EU-states in 2004 contributed £5 billion to the economy between 2004 and 2014, in contrast to the £591 billion “native Britons” took out.* The United States – a country so famously built on immigration – has panicked every time a new wave has surfaced. When refugees first arrive, many Europeans feel the same sense of horror, fuelling the rise of xenophobic political figures such as Nigel Farage and Marine le Pen. However, newcomers are spending money from the government and family even before they are earning. This provides an instant cash injection as money that was once sitting in savings is now stimulating the economy. When refugees do start working, the handouts given to them when they first arrive are made up many times in taxes to the government.

All economic arguments aside, as humans we should feel a moral obligation to help those escaping the hell their countries of origin have become. While Germany should be lauded for agreeing to take 500,000 refugees a year for the next 5 years, the United Kingdom’s response has been pitiful: agreeing to accept only 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. Instead of hiding behind pathetic excuses, European states and their international partners should actively help refugees who have been caught in a war they have no part in. They should go out of their way to solve the root causes of these tragedies and stop brushing off a refugee crisis they have inherently caused by meddling in Middle Eastern affairs.


* “New EU Migrants Add £5bn to UK.” BBC News. N.p., 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.

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