Syrian refugee camp
A displaced Syrian woman collects aid provided by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to set up a tent at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate in northeastern Syria on December 17, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

I occasionally receive messages from Arab nationals from countries free of conflict who are keen to relocate to Europe which in their eyes is the key to their future prosperity and happiness. My message to them is blunt. Forget it! That dream may have been viable in earlier decades and, indeed, I have Arab friends who left home in the 60s, 70s and 80s who’ve been very successful. Today there is a very different climate. Racism and bigotry is on the rise. I advise them to resist false ‘grass is greener’ illusions and to instead work hard to improve their situation at home.

Far-right parties blame newcomers for citizens’ woes and are raking in parliamentary seats. Italy’s ‘Italy First’ government has passed harsh anti-migrant laws. Hungary, Poland, Austria have turned sharply to the right and the Neo-Nazi movement is experiencing a resurgence in Germany. There is also a belief that a large percentage of Britons who voted for Brexit did so because they wanted to keep European migrants out!

Islamophobia has been on the rise since the beginning of the refugee wave in 2015 throughout Europe as various surveys attest. A poll published in Die Welt found that 44 per cent of Germans believe Muslims should be banned while 55.8 per cent maintained Muslims made them feel like strangers in their own homeland.

While it is understandable that people in war zones flee their countries to find sanctuary elsewhere, in most cases economic migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa face humiliation, deprivation and hostility. Those who survive the journey to the Italian island of Lampedusa or one of Greece’s Aegean Islands languish in massively overcrowded soul-destroying unsanitary camps for months until their asylum applications are processed; only a minority are approved.

The few lucky enough to be resettled find their problems are far from over. Once the initial euphoria dissipates they suffer from language barriers, culture shock, racist attacks and daily humiliations. The days when the doors of Germany were opened when Syrians and others crossing the border were met with a warm meal, clothes and flowers are long gone.

The compassion once displayed by Europeans for refugees shivering under canvas under bridges has turned to resentment and disgust, feelings that are being cynically whipped up by populist politicians riding a wave on the politics of fear. Refugees have been dehumanised, seen as a scourge responsible for unemployment, low wages and a burden on welfare systems. Sadly, even the highly-qualified/skilled have no option but to accept low-paid menial jobs.

Whereas hundreds of thousands of Syrians are returning home to rebuild their lives in semi-demolished cities and towns, the numbers of unemployed Tunisians illegally heading to European shores have doubled this year. In contrast, migrant boats from Egypt have been curtailed asserts the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Now that Europe has become a virtual fortress, over 56,000 would-be migrants have arrived in Libya and 6,000 are imprisoned in Libyan detention camps where horrific abuses have been reported. The EU has done a deal with Libyan authorities to intercept migrant boats and to prevent NGOs from carrying out rescues. Turkey receives billions of euros from the EU to contain migrants.

The EU has severe problems of its own. Austerity measures and rising costs have resulted in growing poverty. Some 14.5 per cent of French nationals live below the poverty line. Working couples cannot make ends meet. One in every five Britons (14.3 million) is classed as being poor. Food banks are mushrooming. The BBC reports that a million children under ten are facing “Dickensian levels of poverty as they prepare for Christmas”. As we have witnessed this month, Europeans in France, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Serbia and Portugal are engaging in often violent anti-government protests.

“No room at the inn” screams Europe, a message that should be sent to the dreamers as many who have made perilous journeys find to their cost only to conclude there is no place like home.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.