During the summer of 2008 I spent several days on the Greek island of Patmos. Every morning on my way to the beach I would stop for breakfast in the port to meet my friends. We would sit in a little café next to the police station. Eventually we noticed the island’s sole jail cell, which was adjacent to the café.
The cell was small—maybe three by five meters—and packed. Arms were hanging out of the two windows that faced the main square. Eventually one of my friends went over to see what was going on inside. There were about 15 people—men, women, and children—locked up. They often pled for cigarettes, which we happily provided. We got to know some of them. The men who spoke English were educated. One was a scientist. They had come from Iraq. War refugees. They were being held indefinitely. No one knew what to do with them. Fortunately, Patmos isn’t a bad place to be locked up. But Greece isn’t exactly where one wants to be at the bureaucracy’s mercy.
The hot-button issue in Switzerland these days seems to be asylum and immigration. Switzerland currently hosts nearly 62,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Cantons are struggling to absorb the influx. Permanent shelters are full, and additional accommodations are in demand.
The increase is attributed to changes in North Africa. Asylum-seekers are mostly from Eritrea, Nigeria, and Tunisia, comprising roughly 2% of Switzerland’s total number of foreigners. Some locals worry that they’re a safety threat. Others are more concerned with humanitarian principles.
So how responsible are the people from stable countries for refugees from unstable countries?
If we lived in a world without borders, the burden of responsibility would fall on everyone, no matter how distant our points of origin. But as we do not live in such a world, there is only a moral responsibility to one’s immediate community. Any further responsibility is an individual’s choice—in theory, anyway.
The system is flawed. But which system? Is the Dublin agreement causing problems, or is it the Geneva Convention itself? The latter was drafted in WWII’s aftermath and set an international standard for dealing with war victims. Sixty years on, the face of war has changed, and so too its victims. But war itself seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
War’s victims shall exist in perpetuity, or at least it looks that way. This is bad news for stable European communities. Eventually, the burden of instability will spring up from within, especially if immigrants fail to adopt European conventions and culture. We see this happening already in England and France.
Big alarm bells are not yet sounding off, but with an ever-growing population and ever-expanding wars, these issues will become more critical. Instability in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia is often the result of Western efforts such as “nation-building” and the selling of “democracy.”
Does this mean the West is responsible? Are Americans and Europeans responsible for Iraqi refugees since the invasion? Absolutely.
But are Europeans responsible for Tunisian refugees since the Arab Spring? Definitely not.
Switzerland has absolutely no direct responsibility for asylum-seekers because it is not a member of NATO or the EU and has not invaded a foreign country in over 700 years.
The collateral effects of promulgating democracy are far greater than politicians seem to realize. A peace-loving country such as Switzerland should not have to carry the burden for aggressive nations such as England and America, though they do so willingly and despite its impact.
Asylum-seeking is a political problem. But the moral issue is greater. Who is ultimately responsible—the countries at war or the countries at peace?
The only humane way to solve this problem would be a widespread and permanent cease-fire.
I wouldn’t hold my breath banking on this, though. So in the meantime, I say ship ’em back!
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