The global refugee crisis – will the EU and the world choose compassion or fear?

Images are powerful. They can shift the tide of history. The naked Vietnamese girl running away from American napalm bombings (1973) changed public opinion on the Vietnam war. The man stopping the tank on Tiananmen square (1989) showed the power of non-violent protest. The harrowing image of three year old Syran boy Alan Kurdi washed up dead on a beach finally brought home the message of the current global refugee crisis.

But what really compelled me to write this was the video of a camera operator with a Hungarian nationalist television channel kicking a refugee carrying a child. How can you do that to a fellow human being in need? The mercilessness is now complete with the country closing its border with razor-wire. It seems to me the Hungarians have very short memories. Europe and the world provided for the 200 000 Hungarians that fled after the 1956 Soviet invasion.

I should declare I am writing this as human being rather than media researcher and as a dual Australian and European Union (EU) citizen.

Having said that credit where credit is due – legacy media did, overall, publish the images of Alan Kurdi and the following stories in a measured and ethical fashion facilitating and contributing to a much needed global public discussion.

The refugee crisis connects to the genesis of the EU – the peace project. After starting two world wars Europe wanted to do better. The European Community (preceding the EU) started as an economic and trade union, but the underpinning ideology was peace – peace via close trade links.

The EU project brought freedom of movement of people, capital and goods and services within the EU borders, but it also meant that the walls surrounding the union became higher. This is very problematic with the growing number of refugees in the world nearing 20 million and several hundred thousand crossing the Mediterranean to reach safety in Europe.

The two fold crisis of the Euro currency and the refugee influx makes for a toxic mix that exposes the dark underbelly of Europe that fuelled two world wars – nationalism and xenophobia.

Warning to the world: two decades of xenophobic/discriminatory political parties (NO, I won’t call them racist, it gives them a way out) making it into the political mainstream in many European countries as support parties to governments or in government has lead to a cold and in some parts non empathic Europe.

This is splitting the EU between the strong empathic leadership of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s words ‘Wir shaffen das’ (we’ll cope) agreeing to take as many refugees as needed to deal with the current crisis and those EU member countries refusing to pull their weight. It’s even splitting the homogenous Scandinavian region where some, like Sweden, are increasing their intake of refugees and others, Denmark, are doing the opposite. What’s the difference between Sweden and Denmark politically? You guessed it – Denmark has had a xenophobic party of significant influence or in government for the last decade, Sweden hasn’t.

A sad upside to the refugee crisis is that the xenophobic parties of Europe will be called on their concrete polices. When you have hundreds of thousands of fellow human beings in need turn up at your door ‘go back to where you came from’ is not a solution.

The current refugee crisis is a global issue. And again credit where credit is due. The Australian federal government did listen to Australian public opinion and announced an increased intake of 12 000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees and $44 million in aid to support refugee camps. Every country that doesn’t pull its weight is kicking the can down the road to another country that is more compassionate.

Consider this: if the global community can’t cope with the current number of refugees, how will we cope with the estimated 50 million climate change refugees by 2050? Will Tony Abbott and his team still claim that ‘stop the boats’ is a valid and humane policy?

Alan Kurdi – I hope you and the other thousands of refugees that have died trying to cross oceans all over the world to find a life in safety didn’t perish in vain. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s be compassionate human beings. Let’s help those fleeing for their lives and not trip them. #myhomeisopen.