Is Europe losing it?

Posted on 9. April 2016

by Sandra Grindgärds

sandra-grindgardsObserving how Europe manages the current influx of migrants, I wonder, is Europe losing it? How much longer can we hold on to our credibility of being a society built on human rights, tolerance, equality and social capital? Growing racism, justified hate-speeches and human beings being marked as security risks all indicate that an enhanced ‘we versus them’ culture is rising. A culture that says some human beings are superior to others, that compromises social capital and the ability to trust each other.

In Finland an anti-immigrant group called Soldiers of Odin introduced patrols to secure the streets from the so-called threat the immigration crisis poses. This was followed by several far-right protest marches, but also a flux of pro-immigration demonstrations as counteraction. At the same time, the Finnish government put forward a proposal to further complicate family reunification. In Denmark, the National Parliament recently adopted a controversial law allowing authorities to confiscate jewelry and cash from refugees entering the country, hoping – as is the government of Finland – to deter further arrivals of migrants. Across Europe, e.g. in Macedonia, Hungary and Austria, barriers are placed to keep out people in need of shelter and support. Meanwhile EU decision-makers are playing a game with Turkey, with the refugees as checkers, instead of actually addressing EU legislation.

It feels like I could go on and on, adding more examples of the hostile climate throughout Europe. Is this how Europe addresses the worst humanitarian crisis and refugee movement since World War II? As the crisis reached Europe, the walls went up, the same ones that were once so proudly dismantled in the name of tolerance, stability and equality. Europe, the peace project, the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize, is failing.

Being deployed in the UN operation in Cote d’Ivoire in Africa gives me a chance to observe the situation from the outside. When adding a broader perspective, you realise Europe is not the most affected by the current situation, even if some people seem to believe it. Currently 14,5 million people are displaced within Africa according to UNHCR; in Ethiopia alone 630,000 refugees are accommodated. In comparison, about one million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015 according to IOM. A majority entered through dangerous routes and more than 3,770 people drowned or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean. To me, the above-mentioned reactions are just not justified.

Working on a daily basis on the consolidation of peace, reconciliation and social cohesion in a post-conflict region has made me aware of the importance of these components for a society to function. In Europe as well. Once lost, the way back is long and bumpy. The ‘we versus them’ culture in Europe worries me. It challenges the continent’s social capital and social cohesion, something I always viewed as one of Europe’s greatest strengths; something Europeans preach in other parts of the world. Our social networks and relations are marked by reciprocity, trust and cooperation. At the moment, it seems to only include Europeans. An internal cohesion is created and maintained by shutting out outsiders, treating them with suspicion, hostility and hatred. But a society built on selective cohesion is not sustainable.

As much as the ‘we versus them’ culture is fostered by miscarried immigration and integration policies, it is also encouraged by EU-citizens’ behaviour and reactions. Politicians and decisions-makers have a responsibility to act on the situation. Create a more humane environment by adapting better policies. But as human beings we also have a responsibility to act, by interacting with newcomers and integrate them into our societies and create a mutual trust. View them as the assets they are; diversity can foster innovation and prosperity, if managed well.

I recently moved overseas, 9000 km away from my home in Finland, to a society that is the complete opposite of mine and where nothing functions the way it does at home. My integration process has taught me that the most valuable thing when entering a new country is people’s hospitality and willingness to help. There is no need to secure the streets in Finland. What Finland and Europe need is hospitality. I still believe the majority of Europeans disagree with the Soldiers of Odin, and would more likely join the Loldiers of Odin, a group of people dressed as clowns as a reaction to the extremists attempt to make the streets ‘safer’. Let this side of Europe shine instead of the one built on mistrust. Counteractions like the Loldiers of Odin, the fact I had to queue to attend training on volunteerism and integration in Helsinki, and all pro-immigration demonstrations show that the silver lining is still there, even if well hidden.

So, to my fellow Europeans, I would like to ask you to look beyond skin colour and background and see a person with dreams and fears, just like yourself. Offer them guidance and support, and include newcomers into your communities. Work together to change the climate and reinforce social capital built on inclusive cohesion. Furthermore, I would like to ask politicians and EU member states to create an environment that is welcoming to immigrants. Ditch the Dublin convention and create a genuine European asylum and immigration policy. Implement systems that integrate migrants into working life, enabling them to create an independent new life in Europe. Finally, it is time for leaders to show leadership and act as role models to create confidence among EU-citizens in the ongoing immigration process. Show Europeans and the world that Europe has not completely lost it. Through further strengthening its social capital, Europe will gain from the process.