…to Finland from Greece from Deir al-Zor

Last time I was in Athens I met the young man from this post. 

He finally got news he was being resettled in Finland a few months ago.

He says things are better there, but that he has not learned any Finnish yet.

One main complaint of his after being ‘temporarily’ in Greece for two years was that the EU resettlement plan was a lottery, so he did not know to where he would be relocated, and hence, what language he could start learning in preparation — two years of limbo, he didn’t invest in Greek and obviously not in Finnish (though his English improved). Safe to say, if he picked up a couple phrasebooks in the bookstore, or watched some youtube videos… none of them had much to do with Finnish.

I was introduced to the work of Hein de Haas at the beginning of this year by a friend here in Athens. She has a lot of experience working with refugees in Africa and the Middle East, among other places.

Over dinner some essential points were restated.

1) We are not living in an age of unprecedented migration (just look at the numbers).

2) Europe is not being invaded, particularly because refugees and migrants stay close to home. This is a silly trope that seems to be repeated by left, right, and middle everywhere, with the difference that some say compassion is the answer and some say send them back. But the premise is mistaken.

By far the majority of Syrian refugees are in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan — refugees take refuge overwhelmingly in neighbouring countries. And this is to some degree by choice: in Gaziantep many people have family, farms, businesses, spirit in northern Syria and they already feel sufficiently displaced. One family I know, when asked about Canada, said Canada is like the moon. “We’ve already come so far.” (They had come less than 400km). A tailor in Antep likes to remind me “we can smell the breath of Syria from here.” South Turkey is also culturally close to Syria, in Antakya (though not Gaziantep as much) people speak Arabic.

3) Development aid is no panacea to migration, the opposite is true.  This point hasn’t come up in this space that much yet, but it is important. The truly impoverished people living in squalor never get to the West. It is the middle classes of places like Nigeria, Syria, Haiti, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who end up migrating because mobility and migration require capital.

So, when the EU commits to funding development in Libya or Turkey or anywhere, in an effort to better the lives of the people whom it refuses, they are not creating a ‘stay’ factor or stymying a ‘push factor’, such that people will be more likely to stay Turkey or Libya, because it is more developed or is developing at a faster pace. Effective development widens a country’s middle class, a certain proportion of which then migrates. The more educated and better off the middle class, the more mobility they exhibit.

Why would the EU fund development then, under the auspices of reducing migration?

One answer suggested to me last night is that the EU has to justify policies of sending people back to places where those people don’t and won’t have a full slate of human rights; and human rights is of course something the EU supposedly stands for.

An accessible introduction to Hein de Haas’ work can be found here.


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