28th Oct 2020 | Greece By Sahar Rabbani
In the ever-changing world, we have been witnessing an increase in the globalisation of cultures and identities across borders. This spike in cultural assimilation in different nations has been caused by many different factors, most notably of which being the increase in immigration, as outlined in the recent recognition of the “refugee crisis”, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has counted the total global refugee population in 2018 to be the highest level ever recorded- 25.9 million people in total. Such an unprecedented influx of people seeking refuge, primarily in European nations, has led to an overwhelming anxious mood towards the refugee crisis, a questioning of the solidarity left in the continent, and whether or not the increase in refugee migration has caused solidarity to be stripped away from these nations. Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action; mutual support within a group”, and perhaps the refugee crisis is decreasing the wholly level of solidarity and sovereignty left in Europe, but not in the way that we may expect.
One way in which the European Union has responded to the refugee crisis and the huge increase in immigrants trying to settle in Europe has been the EU-Turkey agreement of 2016. This outlines that irregular immigrants and asylum-seekers who have arrived on Greek islands would be returned to Turkey, and in turn European Union member states would take one Syrian refugee for every Syrian refugee retuned from the islands. This was one of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s high points, and was met with high praise from other nations for meeting refugees with welcome arms, creating legislation that would promise them with basic necessities and shelter. This was heavily supported by the European Union member states as well, as it gave them the benefits of a lesser strain of refugees to manage and provide resources for. Despite this, the political and social climate in Turkey has also been evaluated several times, and has not been deemed acceptable for the level of immigration that this EU-Turkey deal has set out, and this has been characterised by the number of unnecessary deportations that have been occurring, and due to the nature of the agreement, there has been a huge increase in deporting refugees that are not Syrian, thus causing the unnecessary deportation of hundreds of Iraqi and Afghan refugees. The agreement was hotly regarded, as there has been a rise of right-wing xenophobic political parties in Europe, and such an agreement would stifle their outcry, as well as still providing aid. Therefore, one can easily begin to understand the reasons that such agreements have been made, in an attempt to meet one another at a compromise, with little regard to what matters need to be addressed urgently, and equally.
On the other hand, we should also consider Turkey’s motives in agreeing to the EU-Turkey refugee deal, because despite popular belief, due to their legislative aid which sets out to promote refugee rights, there is a high level of xenophobia and hostility shown towards the more than 3.4 million immigrants that have settled in Turkey. The Turkish government has been continuously attempting to join the European Union, as it would benefit their trade abilities and boost their economy. This is highlighted by the increase in the number of trade agreements made between Turkey and the European Union. Therefore, the EU-Turkey refugee agreement was likely to have been heavily swayed by the fact that by becoming a helpful figure to European member states, they could improve European relations and increase the likelihood of a better environment for trade. Thus, we can see an emergence of political solidarity shown by nations in regards to the refugee crisis, as they reform legislation to create a more accepting nature at their borders, whether it be for political or economic advantage, it has still yielded legislative tolerance in the context of the refugee crisis. However, this is the opposite within the context of the nation’s social atmosphere, with an unprecedented increase in anti-refugee sentiment and inter-ethnic rivalries, creating a hostile atmosphere towards migrants, resulting in many cases of hate crimes, which has caused at least 35 migrant’s deaths in 2017 alone. This overwhelming social mood has been prevalent in forms of verbal abuse, aggravated behaviour and even cases where small businesses set up by refugee families have been targeted and destroyed. This prevents any situation of easy assimilation into society, and achieves the opposite of what the nationalist, xenophobic individuals in society want, for people to become economically independent, as they create an incredibly difficult atmosphere to begin businesses, or be accepted in job applications. It has become ingrained in many facets of metropolitan mainstream Turkish ideology, where any foreigner is met with distaste, as I have witnessed myself, being an Afghan national, where my family has constantly been bombarded with invasive questions and rude comments on the assumption that we were refugees and had created a jobless, all-welfare-consuming trend amongst “other foreigners” like ourselves. This shows a poignant difference between the attitude of the state and the people, where solidarity is prevalent amongst nations that share similar experiences at their borders, the population is more divided than ever, feeding into a toxic and hostile environment which is constantly being battled by those who wish to stand up for refugees, understanding their struggle and wishing to make change.
In comparison, Europe has also seen a rise in right-wing nationalist parties in light of the refugee crisis. In my own experience in England, I have witnessed the increasingly hostile environment directed towards immigrants and those who were fleeing war and famine. This stretches across many areas, whether that be policy or party. The United Kingdom has undergone the constant discussion over leaving the European Union, some argued for economic prosperity, or for political sovereignty, but one of the most noticeable points of reason was to leave the European Union to decrease the free travel that was allowed under EU law. This created a polarising opinion of pro-Brexiters who wanted to leave the EU in hopes of decreasing an influx of migrants in search of job or social opportunities. The increase in this anti-immigration view has created a hostile atmosphere in the United Kingdom, where Brexit has now become a way to enable nationalist policies and create an exclusive and xenophobic atmosphere. This has been proven true, as we have seen many right-wing campaign policies centred around creating hostility towards irregular immigrants, whether that was previous Home Secretary Theresa May directing vans to drive around telling immigrants to “Go Home”, or United Kingdom Independent Party leader Nigel Farage plastering posters claiming to have reached a “breaking point” in the United Kingdom from immigration, the two share a link with the Brexit campaign that is no coincidence. Their shared ideologies that are deeply rooted in each of their advocated parties has created a false notion that with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, they can enact a change and rid Britain of such immigrants that they have displayed with hostile attitude. This played with people’s fears and anxieties about immigration, encouraging falsehoods in order to increase people’s support towards policies that they believe will be in their own favour. Thus, politicians have utilised the refugee crisis to divide the population on issues of immigration for their own political gain, which has caused a split amongst the people, and an increase in racially-motivated prejudice and hatred.
By monopolising on people’s innate fears and anxieties towards change, right wing, conservative and nationalist politicians have created an extremely divisive attitude in much of the European population. This has made xenophobia rampant, and has almost made it seem justifiable by creating legislation that panders to these fears and insecurities towards migration, whether it be overtly creating campaigns across Europe misconstruing the effects of immigration and labelling it as a threat, or covertly creating agreements to stifle the numbers of immigrants seeking refuge despite the clear issues in regard to available resources in the regions where EU member states have agreed to keep refugees in. Thus, solidarity has been questioned- is it under threat? As long as politicians use issues such as the refugee crisis to divide the nation, the populations’ solidarity is under threat, but perhaps not as society has inferred it might be. By refusing to open our doors when others are suffering, refusing to offer shelter or peace, how can we remain united? Solidarity is not threatened by the refugee crisis, where many had assumed by allowing immigrants to seek shelter, nations would be divided, but instead solidarity has been threatened by a selfish and impending fear of not having enough space or resources to provide peace and shelter for others. If anything, we would grow stronger together as a population by joining together and agreeing to help others, in any way we can. By educating ourselves and the people we surround ourselves with, perhaps we can create a deeper level of understanding towards other’s plights and struggles, otherwise, how can we be expected to remain in solidarity as individual nations if we cannot stand in solidarity with others?