The summer of 2015 will be remembered for the unprecedented European refugee crisis that, at the cost of more than 3000 lives, galvanized public attention, prompted alleged policy changes and caused an apparent although inconsistent and perhaps short-lived shift from apathetic indifference. “There is an enormous response from the public,” said an aid-worker in Malta, “The tide of indifference is shifting.”
Faced with extraordinary challenges, some European leaders are offering support and money they should have pledged earlier. Although the effectiveness of such emergency expenditures remains to be seen, European heads of state appear to be cognizance of the moral imperative of doing what is needed irrespective of financial cost and socio-cultural ramifications.
Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 10 billion euro over two years to settle a record 800,000 refugees representing a one percent population growth that will profoundly impact German society. She remarked, “The fundamental right to asylum does not have a limitation. As a strong, economically healthy country, we have the strength to do what is necessary and ensure that every asylum seeker gets a fair hearing.”
After criticizing rescue operations in the Mediterranean, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that the UK will receive 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years and pledged millions of pounds to assist frontline countries in the biggest, yet repeated, refugee crisis in decades. Speaking to the House of Commons he remarked, “In doing so, we will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion.”
President Francois Hollande offered 11 million euro and stated that France will take 24,000 refugees over the next two years. He urged the European Union to make a collective effort to ensure that the European ideal of open borders would continue to be respected. Facing strong right-wing opposition, Hollande wants the French to accept a shift in policy regarding migrants.
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila went a step further by offering his second home to a refugee family, as he no longer used it after moving to the capital. Meanwhile a German daily ran a popular article with advice on how to take in refugees, following the lead of lawmaker Martin Patzelt who hosted an Eritrean family. Patzelt wrote on Facebook, “I am trying to do my part … by giving a home to refugees and helping them to integrate into our country.”
Meanwhile Pope Francis invited every parish, convent and monastery across Europe to open their doors to homeless refugees who are “fleeing death from war and hunger and are on the path towards a hope for life.” He remarked, “Faced with a tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees, it is not enough to say ‘Have courage, hang in there.’” And the Vatican will welcome two refugee families.
Not without a hint of hypocrisy, riding the wave of public opinion distraught by photos of a dead toddler (hardly a unique occurrence), many European leaders have sprung into action. Citizens of Austria are sending convoys of private cars to assist refugees stranded at the Hungarian border. The first arrivals in Vienna were greeted with warm meals, blankets and shopping carts of food, water and hygiene products. Spaniards have gathered in street protests urging a better reception of refugees in Spain. A demonstration is planned this Saturday in London in solidarity for refugees.
In Hong Kong however refugee discourses hinge on securitization patterns. Death is a potent wake up call for the public. Does Hong Kong need to see some toddler dying in this city’s streets to finally question Hong Kong Government’s abysmal track record. Reports reach Vision First of asylum seekers engaging in the perilous journey to cross the sea between Hong Kong and China. Like Europeans a few days ago, these travelers are called migrants, or more precisely “illegal economic immigrants”. What will it take to shift for Hong Kong’s negligent indifference to refugees?