18 September 2015

Europe's refugee problem in perspective

If you read European news websites at all, you know that for at least a couple of weeks they've been thoroughly fixated on the wave of Syrian refugees entering and crossing Europe (or trying to do so) to escape the civil war in their own country.  European popular reactions range from welcoming to threatening, while national governments are going every which way, arguing among themselves about which countries should take how many people, and in some cases (notably Hungary) actively trying to stem the flow.

Rather than throwing around words like "hordes" and "flood" and "siege" as sensationalist websites are prone to do, let's look at some hard numbers.  The highest estimate I've seen for the number of Syrian refugees in the European Union is about 350,000.  That's a lot.  However, the EU is a group of 28 countries, most of them wealthy, with a combined population of 508,000,000.  That is to say, the Syrian refugees in the EU are equivalent to substantially less than one-thousandth of its total population.

Jordan, the country immediately south of Syria, has a population of about 8,000,000 and a per-capita income less than one-third of the EU average.  Jordan has taken in, by latest estimate, about 1,400,000 Syrian refugees, four times as many as the entire EU, and equivalent to almost one-fifth of its own population.

Lebanon, Syria's western neighbor (and long-suffering victim of the Asad regime's meddling over the years) has about 4,500,000 people and a per-capita income less than half the EU average.  Lebanon has received an estimated 1,200,000 Syrian refugees, more than three times as many as the entire EU, equivalent to a quarter of its own population -- though in truth Lebanon had little choice in the matter, given that the hard-to-control Lebanon-Syria border runs close to several major Syrian cities.

Turkey, north of Syria, is a rather different case.  With 78,000,000 people and a per-capita income slightly higher than Lebanon's, it's also a military colossus by Middle Eastern standards, and unlike Lebanon could easily have sealed off its border with Syria.  Yet Turkey has taken in more than 2,100,000 Syrian refugees, six times as many as the EU.

As if these numbers weren't daunting enough, even more people -- something like seven million -- are "internally displaced" within Syria, meaning they've fled where they normally live due to the war but ended up somewhere else within the same country, and are thus technically not classified as "refugees" even though their situation may well be worse, without benefit of whatever assistance a stable government and international organizations can offer in places like Jordan or Turkey.

Which makes the relatively small contingent of refugees in Europe a sideshow to a sideshow.  I don't know why Europe is suffering such tremendous chaos and political upheaval dealing with a problem one-fourth as large as what tiny Jordan is handling with far less fuss, but it's difficult to feel very much sympathy.

Remember, too, that when the bathtub is overflowing, it makes little sense to focus only on mopping the bathroom floor -- what you really need to do is turn off the faucet.  The "faucet" driving this flow of human misery is the Syrian civil war, especially the expansion and brutality of ISIS.  And most of the burden of fighting ISIS and ultimately restoring peace is being borne by Middle Easterners as well -- primarily the Kurds and Iraqis and various forces in Syria, who are bearing the brunt of fighting ISIS on the ground and making most of the sacrifices involved. In this, they're supported primarily by Iran, though the US and some European countries are also providing important air support (as are Jordan, Iran, and other Middle Eastern states).  If the Europeans really want to stop the flow of refugees, or even just the relatively small portion thereof which is reaching Europe, they'd be well advised to ramp up their support for the Kurds and other fighters who are trying to crush ISIS.  The problem isn't going to stop until that is accomplished.

In the meantime, maybe we should take pity on the frazzled Europeans and take in their 350,000 Syrians for resettlement in the US.  In light of the recent episode of Ahmed Mohamed's clock and some of the reactions from the dregs of our own society, I frankly suspect it would improve the gene pool here.

[Image at top:  Syrian refugee children at a clinic in Jordan]


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Thanx for all the figures and incomes and such you wrote up here, I didnt even know about the figures in any of this (just catching bits and pieces in MSM), and especially that Jordan taken in 1.4 million, that is quite a crowd! Geeezzz. Wonder wassup with EU eh? ... you think maybe they are scared to open the gates, wondering if it will lead to a flood of immigrants later? I mean, many EU's it seems been worried about immigration especially from some of these countries because of things like Islam being pushed in some of their cities and countries, something you and I have both covered in the past.

18 September, 2015 07:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Concerns about Islam are legitimate. There have been problems with Muslim groups trying to force their religious values on European societies (rather the way the fundies do here) and even terrorist attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo case. But the descendants of the earlier wave of Muslim immigrants are mostly assimilating, the troublemakers being a minority. And the current cohort of war refugees is actually pretty small by any reasonable perspective. I can understand Europeans being concerned -- so would we be if 350,000 war refugees flowed over our own border in a few months -- but it's nothing like the magnitude of issue the media over there are making it out to be.

Researching this, I was actually surprised at how high the income levels for Middle Eastern countries are. Jordan's per capita income is one-third of Europe's? It certainly didn't look like that when I was there in 1979. It may be that, as Latin America is starting to catch up with the US economically and socially, the Middle East is starting to catch up with Europe -- except, of course, for the few pockets of sectarian warfare like Iraq and Syria.

19 September, 2015 18:42  

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