Monday, February 8, 2016

Dealing with refugees

Old Europe, when the going gets tough, reverts to its tendency toward a bit of fascism lite and with a heavy dose of xenophobia. This is not to say that things haven’t been tough for Europeans since more than 1 million refugees have been poured into the continent last year. But its reaction to tough times is more knee-jerk rather than thoughtful, hysterical rather than deliberate.
The behavior of some refugees is lamentable, but must be dealt with swiftly and decisively. The sexual assaults against women in Cologne, Germany, allegedly by some refugees are disgusting and inexcusable on any level. But the fatal stabbing of an aid worker at an overcrowded Swedish asylum center by a 15-year-old war refugee points to a much larger problem that Europe is apparently ill-equipped to handle.
How to deal with refugees traumatized by war and displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome? Swedish law authorities have reported that police response to threats and violence at asylum centers have more than doubled from 148 incidents in 2014 to 322 in 2015. The Swedish police commissioner is seeking an additional 4,100 police officers to strengthen Sweden’s counterterrorism units, but the country’s staffing to deal with the steady stream of refugees remains woefully thin.
As the incidents of violence increases, European governments’ first reaction is to focus on deportation and imprisonment. Neither is a solution. Expelling traumatized war refugees will only exacerbate the problem by sending violent offenders elsewhere and who could very well return radicalized and a much more dangerous threat. And as Europe and England have discovered, prisons are breading grounds for extremists to recruit young men into their ranks.
Already, Europe is heading toward a slippery slope with a series of policies that are reportedly designed to protect countries admitting migrants, but in reality only marginalize them. In a move that echoes Europe’s past, Denmark this week passed legislation to strip refugees of their possessions valued at $1,435 or more. Migrants are allowed to keep watches, mobile phones and wedding rings as long as their value is not too high. The Danish government reasons that the possessions might pay the expenses to accommodate refugees.
Unfortunately, Denmark demonstrates a collective amnesia suffered by some European countries. Nazi Germany occupied Denmark from 1940 to 1945 and seized the assets of its Jewish citizens. Many surviving Jewish Danes returning from concentration camps after World War II were lucky enough to have neighbors who protected their homes in their absence, but for most European Jews the recovery of their possessions was impossible.
In Cardiff, Wales, a private company responsible for feeding refugees, issued red wristbands to easily identify individuals eligible for evening meals. However, the wristbands, which must be worn at all times, also identified them as war refugees and as potential targets for xenophobes to abuse. The wristband requirement was rescinded following media reports. To be fair the idea might have sounded good on paper. But there are enough people living in England and in Europe to remember — and to have first-hand experiences — of either wearing or seeing people with yellow stars on their clothing.
There is no question that Europe is grappling with how to manage the burden of migrants, many of whom are damaged by the ravages of war. Yet it’s clear that 20th century thinking, even well intentioned, will only create more problems than it will solve. Swift action to mitigate the damage already wrought by war will also minimize the threat of extremism. This means psychological treatment for PTSD and providing jobs and housing. Courses in European culture to help with assimilation also should be provided.
There is a tendency to treat migrants in the abstract and not as real people. Europe must recognize that these people have really suffered and are victims of Bashar Assad and Daesh. If the European Union implements policies to set them on the right path, then it can serve as a model instead of a cautionary tale. The EU is on the threshold of doing some great things, but if it fails to get a grip on managing the migrants they have welcomed, then the cycle of violence will continue and perhaps further engulf Europe.

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