Europe’s humanitarian crisis


Sir, – Richard Pine writes that the refugee crisis “is a symptom of the breakdown of European ethics in favour of bourgeois security. Someone has replaced ‘responsibility’ with ‘respectability’ in the lexicon of care” (“Refugee crisis is a Greek tragedy and EU’s shame”, Opinion & Analysis, March 10th).

Few would argue that care must be shown to all people in need of shelter and food. But migrants and refugees must be asked, without fear of their being offended or patronised, if they are capable of embracing the civilisation which they seek to enter.

Richard Pine’s article was accompanied by a photograph of refugees and migrants from Pakistan. The women’s heads were covered. It had little to do with the weather, I suspect.

Is it not reasonable to ask, looking at this photograph, whether in the event of this particular group seeking refuge in Ireland, they might not appropriately asked if they would support full equality for women in all aspects of Irish life? Equally, would it not be reasonable to ask, given that they are from Pakistan, where gay people may be imprisoned for up to 10 years, whether they would support same-sex couples in this country?

These are serious questions which should be asked of every migrant or refugee wishing to live here, or indeed in any EU country. They are not simply matters of “bourgeois security” or “respectability”, they are matters of fundamental human rights which EU citizens have taken centuries to establish in their homelands. A nation does not live on bread alone, but on every human right its citizens have fought for.

I am reminded of the advice given to passengers when they fly. In the event of a sudden decrease of cabin pressure, adults are asked to apply their own oxygen masks first, then to attend to their children. Otherwise all may die. Let us give oxygen to those who ask it of us, but let us not allow our own oxygen masks to be pulled off in the process. – Yours, etc,


Dingle, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Richard Pine’s article is a sad and moving account of the refugee crisis in Greece and by extension the EU. Though the article is lucid and well written, it offers no solution to the problem he so poignantly illustrates.

I suspect what he leaves unsaid is a belief that Europe should take in every migrant that comes to her door and claims asylum. He castigates the “Kennys, Camerons, Merkels and Hollandes”, whom he claims are more concerned about their political futures than they are about the suffering on their doorstep. This is, I think, unfair. Mrs Merkel has taken in and welcomed over a million refugees, while the British government has also taken in refugees and, with the largest foreign aid budget in the EU, has spent many billions of pounds on refugee camps in Turkey and Syria.

We live in a representative democracy; if the European leaders he mentions are not behaving exactly as Richard Pine would wish, it is because the bulk of the citizens in their respective democracies don’t want untrammelled migration from countries that are culturally and religiously very different from theirs. If it could be said that accepting a million more refugees this year would see the crisis at our boarders at an end, most reasonable Europeans would accept that as a fair price, to be weighed up against the suffering of so many.

However, there is an unspoken assumption now in the minds of many Europeans, borne out by the increasing numbers coming to our boarders, that the more migrants we take in, the more migrants that will come.

The costs of successfully integrating a single refugee into a European country are huge. €50,000 would not go very far in Dublin towards accommodating, feeding, clothing and meeting the medical costs of a refugee. The same money spent in the developing world would be much more effective in the struggle against poverty, ignorance and disease. €10,000 in the developing world is all it takes to send a poor scholar to university and consequently help lift his or her family out of poverty.

All of us who are fortunate to live in Europe are much wealthier than we suppose, and the developing world is much poorer than most of your readers can imagine. We live in a global village, and even the poorest of us in Europe are members of the world’s minor aristocracy. Rather than making ourselves feel good by extending a half-hearted welcome to a tiny minority of refugees who have the money and the wherewithal to make it into Europe, we should be thinking instead of a massive redistribution of wealth to schools, child nutrition, hospitals and housing in the developing world. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Prior to the Bush- and Blair-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on the knowingly false pretext of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, there was no flight of pitiful refugees from the Middle East.

Since 2003 that region has deteriorated into a scene of death, destruction and chaos, with many millions of internally displaced families and many more millions of refugees, most of whom reside in the small countries of Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the much larger Turkey. The numbers trying to escape to the EU , with its 500 million inhabitants has, up to now, been minuscule by comparison and are receiving little welcome in most countries. But worst of all is the fact that two countries, the US and UK, the perpetrators of all the mayhem, are among the least helpful in dealing with the dreadful outcome of their actions in 2003. – Yours, etc,