Refugees: Let them in, let them work, make them welcome


Europe's politicians have been fretting about what to do about all the refugees trying to enter Europe. For a long time, the answer they seemed to give was to make the walls of "Fortress Europe" higher still. Hungary's Prime Minister, along with several others in the former communist East and right-wingers throughout Europe, still adhere to this view. They are part of the reason that the head of the European Commission yesterday proposed a plan to distribute 120,000 migrants across EU countries--when over 400,000-800,000 are expected to enter Europe this year with another 450,000 coming in 2016. For its part, Germany, no doubt in part due to a feeling of responsibility after the Holocaust, which created a refugee crisis of its own, has seemingly opened the gates. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there were around 226,000 asylum seekers in Germany as of December 2014. Reports this year allege that around 800,000 will arrive by the end of this year, and Germany has made heroic efforts to accommodate them and accelerate processing of their cases. At the same time, there were 150 right-wing attacks on hostels for asylum seekers in Germany in 2014 and the number this year has surely risen further. Can Germany, or any country, accommodate and integrate such a wave of refugees? What sort of security threat might they pose?

Although the topic has not come up that often in the liberal Western press, likely for fear of being branded xenophobic, the topic has come up in people's minds. A concerned friend of mine, who had hailed German Chancellor Merkel's humanitarian efforts, nevertheless recently asked me furtively, "Do you think some fighters from Islamic State could be slipping into Europe among the refugees?" My answer was simply "yes". Islamic State has expressed a desire to perpetrate more attacks in Europe, particularly in France, and Europe's porous borders provide a golden opportunity. Why wouldn't Islamic State try to infiltrate fighters into Europe? The people coming in are crossing the borders illegally, which means no one knows who they are or where they are from. Even if they did, it is doubtful that European authorities could always or even usually tell the difference between a member of Islamic State and a person fleeing an area now controlled by the group. The security risk is real and should not be downplayed nor those voicing concerns over it necessarily accused of xenophobia.

So what should be done? Close the gates? A few points on that. The first, the gates cannot be closed completely. Refugees have been coming in for years. The second, even those smaller numbers of refugees may have included IS fighters. As mentioned, even if the authorities can identify the newcomers, they surly often cannot tell if they're IS fighters or not. This means closing the gates will not prevent another terror attack. Finally, those very refugees may also be the best defense against attacks. Why? No one is better placed than Syrians fleeing Islamic State to identify unsavory elements among their ranks. The vast majority of the people fleeing are doing so to get away from fighting and war. The vast risks they are willing to take to get to Europe are evidence of how badly they need to get here. A terror attack could turn mainstream Europe against the refugees and cause problems for those already here. Migrants thus have every incentive to work with the authorities to stop those who made their lives hell in Syria from doing the same in Germany. The only caveat is that the refugees must like where they have landed enough to feel a responsibility to protect it. That shouldn't be hard considering the horrors they have faced back home, but European governments have a way of making newcomers feel unwelcome.

This leads to the question of integration. Can European countries like Germany really take in so many migrants without Sweden-like ghettos forming around them, which later become hotbeds of extremism? My answer is yes, but only if European governments rearrange their priorities. One of the greatest integraters of all if employment: Working closely with people from your host country and socializing with them creates a sense of mutual belonging. Supporting oneself and family through work also creates a feeling of self-worth. Paying taxes, furthermore, gives workers a stake in the current government. This doesn't always work, of course, but it usually does. Just compare the US, where migrants are generally allowed to work but cannot receive benefits, with EU countries, where the opposite is generally true. Immigrants to America are more likely to report they feel at home in their host country, and to feel that way more quickly, than immigrants to European countries. Dependency on skimpy social payments and the controls that go with them create dependency, a sense of entitlement, and resentment among the recipients. They also, obviously, can lead to resentment among taxpayers. Letting migrants work is key. Processing applications and deporting the ineligible swiftly is central to this.

The resentment among the native-born is the next factor. Many EU countries like Germany have not generally thought of themselves as countries of immigration, unlike America, where this is part of its national identity (despite its very strict immigration laws). The fact that US taxpayers do not pay for immigrants (the evidence is that they, including illegals, pay far more in taxes than they receive in services) also helps, however. Being gainfully employed and interacting with co-workers is essential. So is being generally welcomed by them. This, of course, is a hard thing to legislate, but Chancellor Merkel is on the right track by leading by example. It is also vital to provide language lessons and classes helping immigrants to navigate the host country's laws and bureaucracy. It may be a good idea to make their stay contingent upon pledging to abide by the host country's constitution as well. This can avoid misunderstandings later.

Refugees are desperate for a better, safer life for themselves and their families. They want to live in Europe. They dream the European dream more than most native-born. If they can work and feel welcome, they will love their host countries. That will make everyone better off--and safer.


  1. Comment thread from my Facebook account (posted with Kyle's permission):

    Kyle Marshall: Nice article - there is another argument regarding the threat of terrorists posing as refugees that may be worth mentioning. ISIL has not had a problem recruiting europeans to leave their lives behind in Europe to fight in Syria. It would not make sense to send them back at huge expense and risk when they can already recruit them in large numbers from vulnerable people already in Europe.

    Charles Kirchofer: Good point. That's true, but there are benefits in having "your own people" on the ground in Europe, rather than ones you've recruited remotely. This is easier sending Syrians yo Europe than doing a round-trip, because anyone who leaves Europe for Syria and then comes back is closely monitored by the security services and may be jailed. It may very well be that IS is not currently worrying about opening a new front in Europe by sending vital commanders there, but it is certainly still possible, not least because harming traitorous and heretical refugees fleeing it while also harming Europe and causing it to shift towards greater callousness and militancy towards Muslims would serve its purposes well.

    Kyle Marshall: Of course, although i meant that ISIL would have a logistically easier time to encourage home grown terrorism instead of sending its own forces from Syria. Also I completely agree with your point that it is imperative that europe provide a welcoming atmosphere for refugees. In a few years their numbers will swell to well over a million, many of them muslims. If they encounter bigotry and belligerence here, it lends justification of radical preachers who claim the west is the enemy of muslims. This is an opportunity to demonstrate on a massive scale, instead, that we support a common humanity.


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