Humanitarianism in the refugee crisis

This article is a translation of "Menslievendheid in de vluchtelingencrisis"

The coming of more than hundred thousand migrants to Europe last month and the prospect that this flow will only increase, is the main news these days and will remain so for some time.
This morning I saw groups of young men, from what I could tell Eritreans, through my neighbourhood in the western outskirts of Amsterdam, and in the local newspaper, Het Parool, of yesterday I read that this part of the city and the other low-income quarter to its south-east will sign for the largest intake. For not unlike the banking crisis, the consequences of the Western war policies in the Middle East and North Africa are being borne by the lowest segment of the population.


According to research by the public broadcasting company NOS, low-income municipalities in the last ten years have accommodated more than three times the number of people as top-income municipalities. ‘In the Netherlands 25,283 beds in emergency shelters are made available to asylum seekers annually. The one hundred poorest municipalities in the Netherlands accounted for almost half of those. The one hundred richest municipalities jointly accommodated only 3354 asylum seekers.’

The mayor of New West Amsterdam, Achmed Baâdoud, has pointed out that this quarter of the city, on top of the refugees, also has to take care of people who make use of temporary accommodation arrangements and asylum seekers whose claim has been judged unfounded. From 2016, so-called urban nomads too will be directed to New West.

It appears that love of humanity has taken root notably in the well-off community, whereas the consequences are borne by those who already struggle to make ends meet. As a result of the banking crisis and the EU policy to protect capital at all costs, a mass impoverishment has taken place in Europe. According to the most recent figures (Eurostat 2012), 20 to 23 percent of the population in Rumania, Bulgaria, Spain and Greece live under the poverty line. For Portugal, Italy, Poland and the Baltic states we are looking at 17 to 19.5 percent; Britain, Germany and Belgium, 14.5 to 17 percent, and so on. But even the countries of the EU which are relatively egalitarian, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, still have around ten percent under the poverty line. And would things really have improved after 2012?

And then, this is relatively prosperous Europe. In our country even the poorest still have something to spend. When one looks at what the lowest income groups have to spend on food, the Netherlands stands at slightly more than 10 percent, Norway at 20. The remainder is for shelter, medical costs, and other consumption. But in countries like Argentina, Sri Lanka, India and Uganda, 60 to 70 percent of the income of the poorest is necessary for food, and in Armenia and Niger, even more than 80 percent. So there, hardly anything remains after subtracting for shelter.

Germany has won a lot of goodwill with the announcement to accommodate 800,000 people. After showing a particularly ugly face in the Greek tragedy it was obviously time for a humanitarian gesture. But the German government also has drawn up a report about which we hear a lot less and that deals with the urgent shortages in the labour market. This mainly concerns hospitals, care homes and other sectors in the low-paid care industry, and now the German governments wants to recruit among Syrian and other refugees for these professions. In addition the UN expects that in 2050, France will have a larger population than reunified Germany! In sum, the humanitarianism has demographic and labour market aspects that are taken into account too little. Because, as has transpired from the influx of eastern Europeans into Germany, immigration works to enlarge the reserve army of labour and to bring down wages, with which other European countries in turn are being out-competed.

Isn’t it time to reconsider our love of humanity and recognise the price paid by the Palestinians, the inhabitants of Iraq and Libya, Syrians and Afghans, Somalis and many others for the Western invasions and interventions in the Middle East and North Africa, the drone attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere, the continuing support for the Israeli occupation and the alliance with the reactionary monarchies of the Persian Gulf from which radical jihadism is being financed? Or is our humanitarianism only activated when a small proportion of the victims reaches our countries?

Kees van der Pijl

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