Humanitarian crisis: Solidarity below, business above

Following the media commotion provoked by the wave of immigrants, what is behind the phenomenon is beginning to come clearer.

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Following the media commotion provoked by the wave of immigrants, what is behind the phenomenon is beginning to come clearer, from the wars unleashed by Nato in the Middle East to the interest of German big business in obtaining cheap labour to increase their exports.


The European population swings between two extreme reactions: solidarity and rejection. There have been many hands outstretched in various countries toward the foreigners who seek shelter under the umbrella of European development, demonstrating an internationalist sentiment that is much alive in spite of the criminalisation by the media. But the fascists also show their claws, ready to jump to the jugular of the new migrants, whom they consider guilty of all the evils that assault the old continent.


The principal news of this week was the announcement of Angela Merkel that her country was ready to receive 500,000 refugees every year, something that in her opinion would involve a profound change in the country. This year they will accept 800.000 foreigners, four times the amount that came the previous year. The other European countries are far behind. According to the plan of European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, the whole continent should receive 120,000 refugees "as a first step".


For his part President of the European Union, Donald Tusk, warned that "the wave of immigration is not an isolated phenomenon but the beginning of a real exodus, which means that we shall have to deal with this problem in coming years ' (Página 12, September 9, 2015).


Nevertheless, the country where the massive arrival of refugees threatens to worsen the crisis is Greece. The Minister of Migrations said that the island of Lesbos is "on the point of exploding". Some 30,000 persons are in various islands of the Aegean; 20.000 of them in Lesbos alone, whose population is barely more than 80,000 inhabitants.


SOLIDARITY BELOW.  The initiative of Pope Francis, that every parish provide hospitality for a refugee, is only one expression of the fraternal sentiment that covers a good part of the continent. While the Spanish government continues trying to reduce the number of refugees it can harbour "a wave of rebellion is growing in city halls and streets, calling for the opening of borders and the reception of refugees who attempt to seek asylum in Europe". (Diagonal, September 90015)


Dozens of Spanish cities have joined the network, under the impulse of the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, called "cities of refuge" where they are "organizing a census of thousands of families willing to offer their home for receiving [refugees], lists of professionals that can offer psycho-social, legal, health, linguistic or other help, accommodation of municipal spaces", among others.


Beyond the institutional response, self-organized groups are emerging, such as the German "Refugees Welcome" initiative. "On September 3, a meeting organized by the Asociación Sin Papeles of Madrid to channel the frustration and indignation of the citizenry towards proposals for action, ended up overflowing their expectations; it became a huge assembly that had to be moved into a plaza in the capital and has sown the seed of an movement organized from below and that wants to move beyond mere assistance" (Diagonal, September 9, 2015).


SOS Racisme, Stop Mare Mortum, Refugiados Bienvenidos, The Red Asturiana de Familias de Acogida de Refugiados are some of the platforms that are calling for opening borders and freedom of movement. The city administration of Barcelona announced that it would not make a distinction between refugees from different countries, nor between refugees and other migrants, opening a debate that minimizes the differences between wars and economic crises as causes of the massive movement of people to Europe.


“It is time to begin to change the concept of refugee and broaden it to include the refugees for economic motives”, signaled the spokesperson for Stop Mare Mortum, who considers the European Union is responsible for the sale of arms to countries in conflict and for promoting economic policies that are behind the massive migration.


Nevertheless, the British newspaper Sunday Express noted that: “more than four thousand terrorists from the Islamic State have arrived in Europe pretending to be refugees" (Russia Today, September 7, 2015). According to this media outlet, the destination of a large part of the supposed terrorists will be Germany and Sweden, a question that the security services of European countries apparently know. The ultra-right have thus found support for their xenophobic campaigns that will surely grow during the next few months.


BUSINESS ABOVE: “If we are able to rapidly integrate them into the labour market, we will not only help the refugees but also ourselves", said the chief of the powerful Federation of German Industry, Ulrich Grillo (Business Insider, September 7, 2015). The principal German employer is a strong partisan of immigration in the face of the accelerated aging of the European population.


According to a report from the European Union, cited by the Italian daily La Repubblica, in Europe there are four working-age persons for every retired person but in 2050, there will be only two if things don't change (Página 12, September 9, 2015). The continent will need 42 million "new citizens who pay taxes and contributions in order for the aged population to continue to get their pensions and other benefits".


But the industrials make other calculations. Unemployment in Germany is at its lowest level since reunification, but it is estimated that they need 140,000 additional engineers, programmers and technicians in industry, while in health care, the lack of qualified workers is some 40,000 places for this year alone. The think tank Prognos anticipates that "the shortage of qualified workers will reach 1.8 million in 2020, and up to 3.9 million in 2040, if nothing is done (Business Insider, September 7, 2015).


Before contracting and training an immigrant, business firms have to demonstrate that there are no German candidates for the post. But once the decision is taken, "they want a guarantee that the apprentice that they have acquired will not be deported overnight". The State, for its part, will finance the learning of German.


"The people who come here as refugees should rapidly become our neighbours and colleagues", said the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, whose ministry flexibilized the rules in order for foreigners to be able work on a temporary basis as practice.


Two thirds of the refugees are economic migrants and only the remaining third come from countries at war: Syria (20 per cent), Afghanistan (7 per cent) and Iraq (3 per cent), although other sources assert that half of those who cross the Mediterranean are Syrians (Russia Today, September 10, 2015). The immense majority are not families but men travelling alone, from 18 to 34 years of age. From this age and gender group, major German industries, that are the most robust of the continent, hope to recruit new workers.


Grillo stated it unequivocally: "I distance myself very clearly from the neo-Nazis and the racists who are meeting in Dresden", he said at the end of last year. "Due to our demographic evolution, we guarantee our growth and prosperity through immigration" (AFP, December 23, 2014). What he didn't say is that the wages paid to immigrants are much lower than those paid to his fellow citizens.


But the German policy is awakening resentment in other countries of the Union that are not enthusiastic about the proposals of opening to immigrants.


The ultra-right French candidate, Marine Le Pen, criticized Germany for its policies that affect the whole European Union: "Germany is looking to lower wages and to recruit slaves through massive immigration", she said in Marseilles (Russia Today, September 7 2015) She added that Merkel's country "wants to govern our economy and oblige us to accept hundreds of thousands of people asking for asylum".  Le Pen added that France would not open their doors to the "misery of the world".


It appears evident that the cohesion of Europe would be sorely tested by the massive immigration, since not all seem to approve of the German wager and many fear that the social fracture may deepen by adding immigration to the economic crisis.


(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
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