Columns 19.9.2016 06:44 am

Refugee wars will be on us

Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer

The hardline stance of some EU countries to keeping Syrian and Muslim refugees out, should be condemned – but it also has to be understood.

Hungary is not far away from issuing orders to open fire on refugees – so said one of the European Union’s foreign ministers on Tuesday. And he called for Hungary to be suspended or even expelled from the EU.

Furthermore, it’s true that Hungary has built a 175km-long razor-wire fence along its southern border to keep migrants out. It has deployed 10 000 police and soldiers along that border, and is recruiting 3 000 “border-hunters”, equipped with pepper spray and loaded pistols, to help them in their task.

And on October 2 it will hold a special referendum asking Hungarians: “Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?”

The answer that Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants is “No”, and he is certain to get it. The EU foreign minister who made that incendiary remark about Hungarians shooting refugees was Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, the smallest of the EU’s 28 countries, and the foreign ministers of several bigger EU countries, including Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, immediately condemned it.

Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called Asselborn patronising and arrogant and a “classic nihilist”, who works tirelessly to destroy Europe’s security and culture. Szijjarto will not be alone in his views on Friday, when 27 EU foreign ministers gather in Bratislava for an informal summit.

They will also be debating what to do about the million-plus migrants, most of them Syrian, Iraq and Afghan refugees, who arrived in the EU in the past eighteen months. It’s not just Hungarians who want to keep Muslim refugees out of the EU.

Right-wing nationalists in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and even Austria feel the same, and they dominate the governments in most of those countries. They see the more relaxed attitude of the big Western European members to “multiculturalism” as a slow-motion form of cultural suicide.

One can and should condemn this attitude to desperate and mostly harmless refugees (even though there will inevitably be a few “sleepers” among them, who are loyal to Islamic State). But you can’t just ignore it.

Global refugees are more numerous today than at any other time since 1950, but in twenty years’ time there will probably be five or ten times as many – and the borders will be slamming shut everywhere.

The immediate driver of this tsunami of refugees will often be wars, but what drives the wars will be climate change and runaway population growth. Africa’s population will double in the next thirty years, just as global warming cuts deeply into the continent’s food production.

The population growth rate of the greater Middle East, from Morocco to Pakistan, is lower than Africa’s but higher than any other region. Many countries can’t grow enough to feed their own people even now, and intense heat and semi-permanent drought will make it worse.

There will be tens of millions of refugees, and their destination will be the relatively well-fed countries of Europe. This quite small problem will in 30 years’ time be bigger – perhaps much sooner.

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