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by Paula Grabosch,
“It pains me that Sweden is no longer capable of receiving asylum seekers at the high level we do today. We simply cannot do any more.” With those words Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, ended Sweden’s open-door policy towards refugees last Tuesday. More specifically, fewer refugees will be granted the right to stay, more residence permits will be limited, and getting family members into the country for those refugees already there will become more difficult. That this decision was not an easy one for Sweden, was clearly seen when the visibly moved Deputy Prime Minister, Åsa Romson of the Green Party, made the announcement in tears and later referred to it as a “terrible decision”.
With this announcement, it is not just another country backing out of the responsibility of the refugee crisis, it is one of Europe’s most liberal countries. Until now Sweden has taken in the greatest number of refugees in the EU, in proportion to its population size. Looking at the estimate of 190,000 refugees arriving in Sweden by the end of this year, can the country really be blamed for setting some boundaries? With a population size of only 10 million, Sweden has been welcoming refugees at a rate of up to 10,000 per week. It is obvious that there is a limit to the number of refugees that can be accommodated, particularly for a country of this size. But what implications does this policy change have on a larger scale?
For one, it means that the countries that still have an open-door refugee policy, Germany being the most prominent example, basically stand alone. Even though Angela Merkel still vigorously insists on her famous sentence “Wir schaffen das” (we will manage) with regards to the refugee crisis, the EU member states seem to disagree, and she is receiving more and more criticism from within the ranks of her own party. Admittedly, it sometimes seems as though Merkel is a bit too optimistic when announcing that there will be no limit to the number of refugees Germany takes in. Maybe there won’t be in the next year, but if refugees keep coming at the rate they are now, it is evident that eventually there will have to be one. At a certain point, the capacity of a country, even one as wealthy as Germany, to accommodate refugees in humane conditions will be exhausted. Nonetheless, Merkel makes a very valid point: there is and there should be no limits to the fundamental right of asylum.
However, right now it seems like there will be a limit placed on this fundamental right. Does this have to be the case? Only yesterday, I watched Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, speak on why the UK could and should be taking in more refugees. She quoted a figure that summarises the absurdity of the behaviour of many EU member states: the approximately 600,000 refugees that have come to Europe so far this year, have led to a 0.32% increase in the European population. This clearly shows that in terms of population, the refugees fleeing to Europe present a minor issue. The problem right now however, is that most of these 600,000 are concentrated in a few nation states, such as Germany and Sweden. Evidently, these countries will be overwhelmed with this challenge if they have to deal with it alone.
This is why to deal with the refugees that are on their way to Europe or stuck in camps at its borders, all EU member states must accept a proportion of them. Of course there are differences in the financial means different member states have at their disposal to deal with this crisis, but this is exactly what the EU was designed for. The member states will not be left alone to deal with the financial costs of accommodating the refugees, the EU can aid where necessary. The main problem is not the feasibility of accommodating refugees, it is the political objections of individual countries that hinder a collective effort.
Understandably, countries are concerned with how the face of their country and the face of Europe will change once all these different people of different cultures and backgrounds come together. But this crisis is not a political or economic one, it is a humanitarian crisis. The cost of human lives is too high a price to pay for Europe to remain in its comfort zone. Long-term solutions are of the essence and it is no doubt extremely important to bring order back into the countries the refugees are fleeing from, but right now they are fleeing and need somewhere to go. Integration will be a difficult process and there are endless factors and risks that need to be considered, but that does not justify watching people drown and starve right on our shores.