Although for the few years we managed to maintain a feeling that tragedy in Syria is „someone else’s problem”, today we cannot ignore it any longer – those „someones” are already here, they are at our borders, they camp at the Slovenian borders or try to cross in leaky bathtubs across Mediterrain Sea. So we cannot stick our heads in the sand any longer: it’s time to think how to deal with the crisis.
Sadly both in Poland and in the UK the discussion is dominated by narrow-minded people, who try to wind up the fear of others by using popular misconceptions and idiotic generalisation. Many Poles look up at xenophobic manifestations in the Czech Republic or at aggressive politics of the Orban’s goverment in Hungary.
The Internet discussions are dominated by copy-paste of xenophobic texts, as it’s much easier just to click “share” than actually to do some research in order to make one’s own opinion. Facebook offers ready-made solutions that nobody question’s, as the confirmation bias is fuelled by popular youtube clips portraying migrants as a bunch of wild savages…
But the matter is too important to just settle on the blog entry shared by our friends: do we really want to trust materials shared by someone, who just recently wanted us to share some spam in order to receive free iPhone? So let’s try to look into most popular arguments of hysteric xenophobes and clear the field for the true and important discussion.
1. “My brother in law once met an immigrant and he did not liked what he saw”
Credibility of such claims is supported by the information like “I have family at one of Greek islands”, “My friends live in Callais” or “I used to work with Muslims”. But such anegdotes aren’t in any way representative for the whole Muslim population. After all each of us had met members of our own nation that were cons, benefit scroungers, drunkards or boors that believe that the world owes everything to them. But we are far from claiming that this is the norm for the whole nation, isn’t it? This is because everyone picks examples that support his already existing convitions. We tend to think well about our own nation, in contrary to a strange nations we don’t know nothing about. We are afraid of strangers, so we look for all examples that support our fears and support the opinion, that they should stay somewhere far from us.
Eastern Europeans know next to nothing about Islam. Our Muslim populations are insignifically small, and it’s safe to say, for example, that average Pole never met any Muslims. So the only “real life” stories about Muslims are brought to Poland by migrants who met them in Western Europe or from their holidays in North Africa. But is it fair portrait of Muslims? Most Poles in the UK work in the fields that do not require any higher qualification, therefore they mostly meet lower classes of the society. They often look for the low price accomodation and they find themselves in some council housing estates or bad quarters of the city. Same with holiday encounters: when you go for your holiday in Tunesia, you meet local shopkeepers and waiters, not politicians and university professors. So even if it’s thousands of Poles, who make observations in such situation, their portayal of Muslims still not be representative for the whole population.
2. „That some strange refugees, as most of them are young men. Where are women and children?”
Next accusation is pointing out to the fact, that most of the refugees that we see in TV are young men. Yes, it’s true. Why?
Let’s take Polish community in the UK. At the beginning it were mostly men who came. Builders, plumbers, HGV drivers. Heads of the family came first – to find a job, settle and only after securing some basic conditions they were bringing their wifes and children here. I don’t think there was a case where women with little children went first and her husband was to join her later. And for Pole to go to London is just 2 hours Ryanair flight, or, in worst case, two days in the coach heading for Victoria Station. Nobody risks his life, nobody have to fight for survival, journey does not costs live savings of the whole family, everything is legal and civilised. So is there still someone, who is surprised that it’s mostly men who undertake this dangerous journey that costs a fortune and many people die on the way, often from the hands of the same criminals who took their money for the promise of taking them across the border?
Ok, they behave in aggressive way and sometimes look like wild animals. But is that good enough reason to make general statements about culture of islam? Well, there is nothing strange about that as well. Internet is full of videos shoot in supermarkets all across the globe similar to this one. And now think: this people, unlike refugees, are not desperate victims of terrible war that lost everything and fight for a chance to start their lives from the scratch. Those are just some people who want to buy cheap flatscreen TV on supermarket sale. Somehow I don’t see anyone commenting “yeah, this aggressive behaviour is typical for white people. It’s all due to that Christian faith they were brought up in…”. And on those movies we also cannot see “normal” people. Because normal people just give up and are happy to wait longer or to buy their TV somewhere else for a hundred dollars more. And it’s the same with refugees. Those less aggressive, less desperate or just those who still believe in international law wait for our help in refugee camps in Liban, Turkey or Jordan. The ones we see on the youtube clips from Hungary are those, who know, that countries like Germany or UK will take only limited number, and want to get there first to win the jackpot, even at the expense of some others who are in greater need. And again: let’s remember: this is not about saving 50 bob on plazma. This is about their lives and future of their children.
3. „Nobody was here to help us when we were in need”
Really, seriously? Especially when it comes from Poles it sounds really ridiculous. Of 60 millions of Poles alive today, 1/3 lives outside Poland. And even when, as it’s often pointed out by right wing publicists, taking Polish refugees was imposed by greater powers, as was the situation in Iran during second world war, when decision was made in London over the head of Iranese people, Poles still felt welcome. Nobody was setting fire to their flats, nobody attacked them on the street due to their different skin colour, nobody wrote in leading newspaper “we don’t want those savages here, they are Catholics, and we all know that Catholics are paedophiles, they are going to rape our children!”. Poles after the turmoils of Second World War were ending up all across the globe. Some countries, like Mexico, were giving them shelter only temporarily. Other, like New Zeland, were treating arriving Poles as settlers from day one. But even if they weren’t welcomed with open hands, like in post-war Britain, nobody ever was placing fences along the border to stop them coming.
And Second World War is not the only period when Poles were welcomed amongst other nations. From the times of Great Emigration of XIX century up to 1980’s Poles were emigrating – and not only to save their lives, but also simply to get a chance of better life. Two boys, who escaped to Sweden hidden under the trailer of the truck in 1980s were welcomed with open arms, given a flat and pocket money and put into best education possible. And is there really a difference between them and those who try to get into the trucks heading towards UK in Callais?
And this is Poland, nation that had to struggle for survival for centuries, country, that was a battlefield of the biggest military conflicts of the recent history of the humanity. Meanwhile millions of Britons also head abroad in search of the better life. What excuse they have?
4. “But they are young men. Shouldn’t they be fighting for the freedom of their country”?
Today’s situation in the Middle East is not as easy as situation of Poland, that was attacked by it’s three neighbours in 1939 (and even then various partisan groups had different interest, although they mostly fought against the same enemy).
The borders of North Africa have nothing to do with the real ethnic divisions: they just reflect agreements done by the colonial powers in XIX century. At the same time this region is a battlefield for the interest of all major powers of today. And it’s not only about oil. So in result there are several groups fighting for their interest. There are partisan groups based on the tribal affilation. There are islamist group sponsored by the rich Arab countries. There are pro-democratic forces supported by the west. Then there are loyal soldiers of Assad regime supported by Russia. And then we have just some armed gangs just trying to make some money and gain local power. To which of those groups should join a young Syrian student who until recently studied at the university in hope to become a doctor? Which of those groups will bring peace and normality to his country? And even if one of them really aims at this, what chances they have in this complicated struggle?
Polish martyrology, praising victims who gave their lives in hopeless struggle is more like exception than a norm. Most of the people are not willing to spend their lives in trenches if they have a slightest chance for a normal life. And, last but not least, would Poles or Czech liked if, during communist times, all refugees from beyond the iron curtain were returned back on the basis, that they are not in immediate danger, and if they want better life for themselves, they should got to arms and fight against their regimes instead of trying to be parasites of the Western wealth?
5. „But what we are about to do with them? We have no jobs for them, we don’t even have enough interpreters!”
This is for me personally the most irritating argument. Refugees are not little kittens or children that they have to be taken care of and be given “something to do”. If there is few millions people fleeing Syria, there has to be the whole spectrum of the society amongst them. There will be farmers, labourers, but also barbers, teachers, doctors and architects. When Polish refugees during the war found themselves in Iran or Mexico, they created a fully functioning communities in their camps, they even had theatres, papers and dental clinics. Surely Syrians also are able to take care of themselves. Let’s take Syrian doctor in, and not only will he be a valuable addition to our health system workforce, but also he will reduce the need for translators, as he will take care of everyday medical needs of his countrymates.
This argument is a mirror image of what Nigel Farage says about Poles in the UK “There is no jobs even for our own people, and our services are overstretched as it is” and so on. But despite over 2 millions of expats from Eastern Europe who settled in the UK over last decade and despite fact, that net migration is now about 300 000 per year, this country still manages very well. NHS is supported not only by taxes paid by Poles or Pakistanis, but also strenghened by doctors, who were educated outside UK – so in fact NHS get’s highly skilled specialists without a need of spending a penny by British taxpayer for their education. Immigrants compete with local people for some jobs, but also fill the gaps in the work market and often create new vacancies. If just on one street in Slough one can find three Polish supermarkets and a Polish restaurant, surely that solves the problem of several Polish jobseekers. And even most of it’s customers are also Poles, at least they spend their money in Britain – and the British state budget still benefits from taxes paid by this businesses and it’s employees..
If you look at Daily Mail archives from half a century ago, you would find a prophecies that influx of Hindu and Pakistani people will end in tears. And somehow not only Great Britain is still going strong, but also benefits from their culture.
Coming back to the job market, both Poland and Britain has some vacancies that can’t be filled by the local people. Many people comment online “I won’t rise my bum from my bed for that, even if I had to eat rubble”. Well, many refugees are so desperate to get to Europe for this very reason, that in their own country “eating rubble” is not just a figure of speech. They know that compared to what they have at home, picking vegetables in Scotland, or even Hungary, is a true paradise.
6. „But migrant’s don’t work, being lazy is part of their culture!”
This argument is often supported with a graph showing statistical data from Holland. But one has to know how to read stats to be able to draw conclusions.
According to those stats, people from Syria claim benefits much more often than, for example, Poles. But this is due to the fact, that Poles started coming to Holland 10 years ago, when EU opened it’s borders to Polish workers, or even before that and if they fail to find employment, they use their EU citizenship privilleges to go to another country or move back home. Syrians who found shelter in Holland are there as refugees – they have no easy option to move elsewhere. And since they arrived just recently, they had no chance to learn local language yet. It’s just enough to look at Poles in the UK: many of them still struggle to speak even basic English despite living in the country for decade. So why we expect refugees from the warzone, often suffering from traumas, grief after murdered members of their family or PTSD that they will come with better results?
But it’s just enough to look at migrants who live in their new country for a longer period of time. When after 2nd World War Great Britain accepted influx of migrants from Jamaica, Pakistan and India, arguments of “defenders of Western Civilisation” were identical as those used today. Yet after half of century when walking average British street, one will pass several Pakistani cornes shops, Indian take-aways and mobile repair shops run by black man of Jamaican descent. Those migrants not only integrated well, but also added what they had to offer to enrich British culture. It’s just to mention that curry has beaten fish and chips as a favourite meal of Britain.
Moreover, those people owe everything they got to their hard work. Pakistani shopkeepers can be seen in their shop from early morning till late evening. Many of them spend 70 or more hours per week behind the counters. I would like to see all those Europeans, who shout that migrants are “lazy”, working that hard…
7. „We can’t afford taking refugees”
Come on, seriously? Poland spends more than a billion Polish zloty every year paying for religious education in public school, despite that this has no grounds in Polish law and concordate does not make it our duty. Western world organizes sporting events that cost fortune and vast majority of profits are scooped by corrupt organizations such as FIFA while taxpayer has to pay for everything. Can’t we really spare some money to help people in need?
Let’s imagine, that our neighbours house has burned down. I guess none of us would think twice before putting our inflatable bed in our living room’s bedroom. If we said “oh, we can’t afford to take you, we are poor, I still have eight months payments left for my new convertible and I have only one plazma TV on which I am willing to watch Strictly Come dancing… I am afraid that if you wanted to watch Discovery Channel at the same time, there might be some conflict… We have to think about something else, what about giving them some plastic, so they can build themselves some shelter in the ruins of their burned-down house”… At this time our neighbours will sit with their kids at the kerb in a pouring rain, looking with hope in our windows…
Pope Francis expressed his expectation that every parish should take one family of regugees. There is more than 10 000 catholic parishes in Poland. So if Polish catholic church actually listened to a pope, they would provide shelter of the most of migrants that Poland is expected to accept under European agreements (and we have to remember, that European Union assigned a sighificant funds to cover the costs involved). If we optimistically assume, that every second Pole is Catholic, that would mean that every Syrian family would be taken care of by 1900 people… Is it really impossible for 2000 people, supported by EU funds, to take care of one family?
Catholic priests could give an example here, proving that their nobly preaching is more than just words. There would be no harm to priests, most of whom live in relatively comfortable parsonages, to take refugees under their roofs. It would do no harm if the parson swaps his pork chops for kebab prepared by his guests and his houskeeper, freed from the need of cooking for the priests, will be able to spend her time on helping the Syrians to settle…
But it’s not even necessary to place refugees in parsonages. Since religion in Poland is taught in schools, in many parishes building that used to run religion classes are empty and could host many migrants. Due to educational reforms and demographic decline several village schools also lay empty and the few kids that still live in the villages travel to schools located in the bigger localities by buses. Surely it would be possible to host refugees in such building and allow them to use the same buses to go to the bigger town to work?
Similarly, when it comes to schooling and healthcare: a full profile of the society flee this war-stroken country. Amongst refugess are not only uneducated shepperds, but also doctors and teachers. Poles who were taking shelter in refugee camps during 2nd World War were able to create there fully functional societies, surely Syrians can take care of themselves as well if they have a conditions to do that?
And when it comes to finances: Poland likes to look up at Western Europe and see how much poorer we still are. But if we look at the whole world, Poland is actually one of the richest countries. Surely, richer then we were in 1950, when our almost completely demolished country was milked by the Soviet Union, yet we were able to accept 14000 refugees from Greece and to give shelter to children fleeing Korean war…
8. „But there are lazy people and islamists amongst refugees!”
Of course there are. There are lazy bums and islamists. There are sick, disabled and criminals. Boors and louts. Because the whole society has to run for their lives.
But there are also social activists. Enthusiasts of many kinds. Mathematical geniuses. Future successful enterpreneurs, Noble prize winners and inventors. The idol of all hipsters, Apple’s Steve Jobs was also a son of Syrian refugee…
Denying access to anyone on the basis of the fact, that some islamists might sneak through our control system is not fair (especially, that both Britain and Poland was first to join Americans in their quest to “introduce democracy” in Iraq, we should take resposibility for the complete failure of this enterprise that ended up in complete destabilisation of the region. Especially that if we refuse to do that, it will only strenghen anty-Western sentiments amongst Muslims).
Of course question of terrorism cannot by ignored. But this is yet another reason to do it right, to take refugees on our conditions and with proper security screening. They will come here anyway, so surely it would be right if we had some say about who is allowed?
Right wing prophets of doom often point out at some countries of Western Europe in which islamist fundamentalism thrives. It’s true, but it’s worth to analyse why is that happening? Isn’t it the fault of useful idiots who stretch as much as possible to subject everything to their vision of Political Corretctness on steroids? It’s only treating Islam as a holy cow along with religious privilleges granted to our churches in the past that are creating this explosive mix.
But the most funny thing is that those right wing publicists, who try to scare our societies with islamist fundamentalism fail to see that what they are afraid is already happening in Poland. Recent Muslim plot to take over schools in Birmingham seems to be really nothing compared to what Catholic Church is doing to Polish education system…
So perhaps this wave of refugees can become a prompt for us to sort out our own back yards? You don’t want to be told by islamist preachers how to leave in your own country? Remove privilleges for religion in Poland, and you won’t only protect your homeland from Islamic extremism, but also benefit from taking power from hands of Catholic church. And money that are now sucked from the state budged by this parasitic organization will be more than enough to help sever thousands of refugees.
Britain could also do with some reforms. Are you afraid that newcomers from Africa will sponge out your benefit system? Well, maybe you should reform it in such away that instead of encouraging people to sit at home and watch Jeremy Kyle with two-liter bottle of cheap cider at hand, the money will be directed to ensure decent conditions for those who are really in need?
9. “Cultural differences are the main issue here!”
Despite I am strongly opponent to this flawed understanding of muliticulturalism promoted by the lovers of Political Correctness, that de facto means that newcomers can do whatever they please and we have to sit quiet to avoid being accused of racism, I am a big fan of the mixing of cultures. I already mentioned about how dull and bland British cuisine benefited from the influx of migrant from indian subcontinent. Similar examples can be observed in Poland. For example Polish rock music would not be the same without musicians that came from Greek refugeee families, such as Milo Kurtis, Mikis Cupas or Kostek Joriadis. The Golden Age of Polish History fells into the period when everyone was welcomed here. Poland proved to be a safe haven for people persecuted in other parts of Europe – from Arians, through Jews, Husyts and Tatars to Scots. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence.
Yes, we have to say it loud and clear that our state laws is superior and if it is not compatible with one’s religious beliefs then such person is free to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia. But centuries of peaceful cohabitation of Poles and Tatars canm show that even Muslims that at the time of their settlement in Poland were seen as a complete savages had no problem to blend in. And we have to remember that not only not all Muslims are extremists, but even not all refugees are Muslims!
Yes, it’s true. In Quran one can find verses calling for murdering infidels and other teachings that are in no way compatible with XXI century civilisation. But so are some verses from Bible, such as stoning infidel wives, avoiding using the same furniture that is used by women during her period or prohibition of wearing clothes that are made of two different kids of cloths… Even in New Testament Jesus says that he brings us not peace, but a sword…
But nobody in his right mind is taking Bible literally. Even the most crazy Polish Catholic publicist, Tomasz Terlikowski shaves hair on both sides of his beard. The Pope himself blessed disabled people and children born out of wedlock can be baptised without any problems, despite the fact that the Bible prohibits even 9th generation of their descendants to participate in the live of the Church… (Book of Deuteromy).
So how is that? It’s simple. The power of tradition is great, but even religious people are aware of the absurdity and contradictions of the Bible, and even though most of them will deny it, they pick and mix the rules that are suitable for our times, while ignoring or bending interpretation of those that are hard to apply to the modern life.
And Muslims arer people like us. Most of them do exactly the same in their everyday life. People born and raised in the culture of Islam want to have normal life instead of trying to achieve impossible and live along the rules set for goat shepperds 15 centuries ago. As every other religious man, they juggle between respect for their tradition, their beliefs and realities of the modern world. Yes, some of them try to literally read the holy scriptures and build a state based on the Sharia law, but those are the very ones that those refugees are fleeing from.
But of course cultural differences are not limited only to religious matter. One of my Muslim friends has went to the university and got a really good job in IT. At this point his parents stopped working and expect him to support them. It’s looks shocking, but is it really so different?
Even today many Silesians believe that it’s humiliating if the coalminer’s wife has to work. At the same time all across Europe generation of blue-birds lives at their parent’ houses well into their 30’s, rarely contributing to the costs of running the home. Is the situation in which son has to support his father so different to the situation, in which it’s the son, who decided to live at his parent’s expense?
10. „We have no duty to help, we don’t owe anything to anyone!”
Well, it’s quite risky coming from Poles, if we remember that there is 60 000 000 Poles in the world, and less than 40 000 000 of them actually live in Poland. And we still have to remember how proud Polish nationalist were from “good job done by our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Of course, countries like Great Britain should be first to help out here. Current problems in the Middle East and many other parts of the world have roots in the colonial era. Current stability in the region was also destroyed by Blair and Bush’s invasion of Iraq under false pretext. But if someone expects Americans to come and “save the world”, he or she propably watched too many Hollywood blockbusters. Americans are not going to get involved into any enterprise that won’t benefit them in the first place. Britains are similar as well – as the old saying goes “Britain has no friends – only business partners”. We, Poles, like remind Britons how betrayed we were by them in Yalta and how they left us alone to fight Bolsheviks in 1920. Yet, when it’s our time to show solidarity, it suddenly turns out that solidarity is required only when it’s Poland that requires international assistance…
* * *
Discussion about refugees and migrants from Africa is needed. Sadly, both in Britain and in Poland it turned out to be a world-battle of radicals. Right wing extremists foaming at the mouth with their xenophobic slogans versus naive left-wing hippies who react hysterically to the slightest mention of the fact, that taking refugees is a bit more complicated than cliking “like” under some lefty meme on Facebook.
This is why he have to bring this discussion down to earth and stick to the facts. And this has to be not a discussion IF we are to take refugees in, but HOW to do it. Because there is no other option, so we have to do it right and on our own conditions.
Of course it won’t be easy. Nobody says it will. Thousands of migrants who turn up in our countries will create many problems – from basic, logistic issues to cultural ones. But the fact that something is not easy does not mean, that we don’t have to do it. It’s not easy to give first aid to the victim of the accident as well, and one can get dirty in the process, some people even die while trying to help others. But if everyone would just stand aside and expect others to help, finally the victim won’t get help at all…
Boarding the doors and windows up and waiting for the problem to “solve itself” is also not an option. It won’t solve itself. Even if there was no war in Syria, the migration from Northern Africa to Europe would soon begin anyway. It’s not only about political issues, there is also a problem of climate change. The lands that were fertile only few decades ago, are just a sandy deserts today. The current influx of migrants is just a prelude to what our kids will have to face.
So let’s use this chance to learn how to deal with the crisis caused by mass migration. Let’s work out how to integrate those people into our societies while preventing our way of life and democratic standards. Building fences at the border will only push the problem few years away in time. And in the longer run it will cost us much more.
Photo: Freedom House (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).