The refugee crisis is clearly the biggest challenge facing Europe today. The fact is that it poses a threat in many different respects, some that are immediately apparent and others that will appear over time. The leaders of the European Union’s member-states seem to have finally understood this and are now scrambling to find solutions.
However, there are no simple solutions to the sudden arrival of the huge numbers of people pouring into Europe today, nor is there a way to ignore the responsibility of the West’s most powerful countries in the destablization of the regimes in Iraq, Syria and Libya in the events that led to chaos and facilitated the appearance of jihadist radicals. The old regimes were without doubt autocratic but in contrast to Islamic State they were also secular at least.
Greece and Italy are at the vanguard of this influx but the problem has swelled well beyond their borders. It has become a pan-European problem and the only leader who seems to have acknowledged this is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has, it must be said, shown great sensitivity toward the issue while also taking steps to safeguard her country’s interests. At one point, in an unrelated statement, she had said that because of its shrinking population, Germany would have to invite some 6 million new citizens into the country by 2025 in order to cover the jobs generated by the country’s economy. Of course she was referring to skilled workers that could be handpicked by Germany, but the reality today has far surpassed her plans.
As things stand today, and without any end in sight, if the situation in the Middle East and North Africa is not stabilized soon, the vision of a united Europe will face even more obstacles than it already does.
Xenophobia and racism have already been on the rise for the past few years and this huge influx into Europe will pile even more pressure onto the political leaderships of all European countries for a reaction. The far-right is gaining ground in France and Sweden; in Germany, neo-Nazis have been instigating violent attacks against migrants; the United Kingdom is determined to keep its borders closed to the incoming wave; the situation in Calais is getting more urgent with every passing day, and Hungary is busy building a wall in a bid to keep the problem out of its borders. And this is just the start. In short, one of the many things that are at stake is the free movement of citizens and the Schengen agreement, which are fundamental liberties of the European system.
On the other hand, it is exceptionally difficult for many countries, Greece among them, to meet the challenge of the refugee crisis because they have neither the organization nor the infrastructure needed. They would need a large amount of funds and would also have to address the concerns of their citizens, particularly in regard to the jihadist elements that may be infiltrating the incoming wave.