Merkel, Europe, and the three lives of Aylan the migrant

Merkel, Europe, and the three lives of Aylan the migrant

I was told a while ago by a French official that while the level of crimes had gone down in France, the perception among French people was not parallel to that fact. The older generations especially thought that the crime levels did not go down.

It is the duty of the politicians and opinion leaders to inform the public and fight prejudices and misconceptions. But what we usually see in Europe is a trend in the other direction. Politicians especially prefer to abuse the situation and think they can increase their votes by fuelling fears in society.

But it is high time that politicians and opinion leaders prepare their societies to face the truth on the immigration issue. And that truth is the fact that Europe needs immigrants.

The average Madame and Monsieur Europe will live quite a long time. May they live quite a long time! Yet there is a high probability that when Madame and Monsieur Average Europe will not be able to take care of themselves, it will not be their children or their neighbors or a French-born Christian social worker that will take care of them. Their social worker who will take care of their most intimate hygienic needs for instance might very well be a “barbu,” or what the French would say equating every bearded man with a radical Islamist.

But in fact a bearded man, or head scarfed woman, both practicing Muslims who might be considered as radical Islamist terrorists from the French point of view, might make up the backbone of the army of social workers that an aging population will desperately need.

Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach as he drowned while trying to go to Europe for a better life, could have been that social worker if he had lived.

He might also have become a scientist that found a cure to Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, which would decrease the need for an army of social workers to take care of the elderly.  

Yet again, feeling excluded from the society, he might have ended up being a terrorist and blown up the premises where Mr. and Mrs. Average Europe lived.

All these three options depended on him, as well as the approach he would have seen in the European country he might have reached.

Merkel’s visit to Turkey

The case of Aylan Kurdi galvanized the debate in Europe. But I am afraid the debate is going in the wrong direction. As Sinan Ülgen recently wrote in the New York Times, if European policy makers’ vision for dealing with the tragic consequences of the Syrian war is limited “to hoping that Turkey will act as an eternal buffer zone for Europe; that is a pipe dream.”

To expect Turkey to act as the gatekeeper of Europe and, in exchange, turning a blind eye to the undemocratic practices of an administration sliding towards authoritarianism cannot even serve as a short term remedy, will have in fact detrimental consequences in the mid and long term.

European policy leaders need to realize that they cannot live in peace in their comfort zones while there is bloodshed in other parts of the world. Syria, Pakistan, Vietnam, Burma are not far distant countries but neighbors in close proximity because, as I keep repeating the famous Turkish saying, “When your neighbor is hungry, you cannot sleep with full stomach.”

So German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be aware of three points:

1) There cannot be a la carte remedy to the immigration crisis. Germany can’t say, “I’ll get the educated, you keep the rest.” The burden sharing should be equal on all dimensions.

2) Only a democratic Turkey can be of help to solve regional problems; an authoritarian regime will exacerbate them.

3) Europe should get its act together and find a way to stop the bloodshed in Syria, working together with United States, Russia and Iran.