Author: Rasa Sarwari
Milos Zeman, the Czech Republic’s President, sees the “integration of the Muslim community [as] practically impossible”, prompting him to state “let [Muslims] have their culture in their countries and not take it to Europe”. The obligation to accept and care for people fleeing conflict and persecution, with all their cultural and religious diversity, is seen as a burden by many. Moreover, asylum seekers from the Global South do not always fully assimilate to the host country’s culture, as they may keep their religious beliefs, language and customs or traditions.
What was once only the plight of Syrians and Iraqis has turned into a mass exodus, as peoples throughout the Global South are fleeing from ethnic conflict, poverty and poor living standards in their home countries. The demographics of this mass exodus has begun to demonstrate the shift in migration from the Global South, as Afghan’s accounted for 25% of asylum seekers coming to Europe, since the beginning of 2016, compared to Iraqis who accounted for only 16%.
In 2015, more than a million people from the Global South reached Europe in hopes of a new beginning, and those numbers are to be matched in 2016 as well. Over 90% of the asylum seekers coming to Europe in 2016 are from Muslim majority countries, thus this mass exodus has been seen by many as a breach of European customs and culture.
Coping with the Migration crisis
The cultural distinction between migrants and the host country population can foster enmity. Accordingly, this animosity has led some citizens of the host country to see refugees or asylum seekers’ as stealing benefits, jobs and social services that should be for citizens. Some thus label refugees as “illegal” and not welcome, as to postulate their burden on state infrastructure and their inconvenience to the host populace. Some European leaders such as Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister are further escalating tensions; by stating that “those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture … There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders”.
Many European countries try to stem the flow of asylum seekers who are threatening their cultural homogeneity. They have done so by building walls and fences across their borders to halt migrants from entering into their countries. Additionally, some countries have put a daily quota on the amount of asylum seekers that can pass through their borders, or deny access to those who aren’t from Syria and Iraq, and some EU countries have went as far as denying all asylum seekers entry across their borders, as is the case of Macedonia.
These reactions have barred tens of thousands of desperate individuals from reaching Northern Europe, as they are stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border, which has created further tension that is leading to clashes between border police and asylum seekers. In some cases, Macedonian border police has used tear gas against asylum seekers, after they had destroyed a section of a border fence. Hundreds of thousands of additional asylum seekers are expected to arrive in Greece, with around three thousand people arriving every day The closing of the Macedonian border can only promote an escalation of the dire situation.
The Global North seems to be preparing to defend itself from religiously and cultural diverse people from the Global South, who are fleeing poverty and conflict. As the plight of Global South asylum seekers becomes more salient, there is a pressing need for further dialogue between representatives from the North and the South. The escalating tensions need to be mitigated, since the migration crisis only gets worse and threatens to intensify already fragile North-South relations.