The great European refugees and migrants debate

Posted by Olderiswiser Editorial

What should the UK's role be in resolving the exodus of people from war-torn Syria? This Intelligence Squared debate addresses some of the key issues.

The great European refugees and migrants debate

As Europe experiences its biggest migrant crisis since the end of the Second World War, the UK has remained a peripheral figure and taken in a fraction of the numbers accepted by EU partners. The parallels with the mass migration that preceded WWII cannot be ignored.

In 1938 tens of thousands were fleeing Nazi Germany and the rise of fascism, not a single European country agreed to raise its quotas. In response the Nazis observed that, while other countries complained about how Germany treated the Jews, no one else wanted them either. This is one of the points that Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg made in the Intelligence Squared Great European Refugees and Migrants Debate. With the squabbling last month between the countries of Europe over the quota system, the Hungarian government erecting a steel fence on its southern border and Germany and Sweden reintroducing border controls, will this period go down in history as another one when Europe closed its doors?

Some would argue, however, that humanitarian pleas to give a compassionate welcome to the refugees may be admirable, but the numbers entering Europe are simply too high for everyone to be accommodated. Over a million people have already crossed into the continent this year, and the European Union estimates that another 3 million will enter by 2017. Angela Merkel – who of all the European leaders has been most generous in welcoming the refugees – has seen her popularity in Germany plummet amid anxieties about a surge in support for the extreme right. Meanwhile, the declaration by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that he is defending Europe’s ‘Christian identity’ against a vast ‘Islamic influx’ has given him a boost in the polls.

And now the situation has been further complicated by the horrific attacks in Paris carried out by Isis terrorists on Friday. Evidence has emerged that one of the killers may have posed as a Syrian refugee to enter Europe. Whether or not this can be proved, more European countries look set to impose border controls as a response. What will this mean for refugees who are likely to be trapped in a backlog in the Balkan states, and how will the rising tensions be dealt with?

Watch the debate

Joining Rabbi Wittenberg in this major event were: Lord Ashdown, who played a key role in putting Bosnia back on its feet after the war in Yugoslavia; Pia Oberoi, a migration adviser from the UN High Commission for Human Rights; former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and Hungarian migration expert Balázs Orbán.

This event was recorded on Wednesday 25 November 2015. 

For more debates and discussion visit iqsquared.

Have your say

What are your thoughts on the passage of migrants into the European Union? Should borders be open with all states accepting equal numbers or should migrants be repatriated? Add you views in the comments box below. 


Photos: Syrian people in refugee camp in Suruc. These people are refugees from Kobane and escaped because of Islamic state attack.  © RadekProcyk

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