ISLAM IN EUROPE – ON THIN ICE

The unfortunate events that have unfolded in Europe in the last few days have shaken up the world. The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris seem to have left an indelible mark on the minds of the French. While some are quietly mourning the loss of innocent lives, others are seething with anger against the Muslim community in their country. They blame Muslims and their religion for the events that so tragically transpired in Paris.

Until now, France has been among the most tolerant and secular countries in Europe (It is home to the highest population of Muslims in the region). Muslims have lived peacefully in this part of the world for a long time now. However, after the recent terror attacks, their lives have taken a turn for the worse. Reports of hate crimes against Muslims have seen a sharp increase. They are afraid to step out of their houses in some parts of the country for the fear of getting attacked. They have reported feeling scared and ostracized. While it is wrong to blame innocent Muslims for what happened, and associate them with the twisted idea of religion that the attackers had probably been brainwashed into believing, the anger of the French is understandable.

The ongoing refugee crisis had been a bone of contention among European countries over the last few months. They were finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the seemingly endless number of refugees washing up on their shores every month – they were trying though (every country in its own way). However, with the growing anti-Islamic  sentiment in Europe, and the West in general, not only will it become extremely difficult for refugees to gain entry into these countries, but we might even see a “mini-exodus” of the Muslims already living there. This statement may seem a little too far-fetched at this point in time. Surely, it would take a lot more than a few isolated incidents of violence for Muslims living in these parts of the world to want to, or indeed have to, leave the region and move elsewhere in order to feel safe. One hopes things don’t reach this far. Will they? Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure though – Europe’s patience with Islam, and the problems that it considers to be stemming from it, is fast running out.

 

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WHOSE REFUGEE IS HE ANYWAY?

The immigration crisis in Europe has been bad for a while now, and it appears to be getting worse. Violence, a poor quality of life, political unrest, fear of persecution and other reasons have led to a large number of people from Northern Africa and the Middle East, fleeing to Europe, in the hope of being able to lead better lives there. The situation in these parts of the world has become so bad over the last few years that every day, thousands of people, with little regard for their safety, board fragile boats that are not fit for the sea by any means, and set sail for Europe. Now, a number of these boats drown on their way, but miraculously, quite a few of them make it to European countries such as Italy, Greece etc.

On reaching the shores of Europe, these refugees feel that the worst is over and that they can finally get on with their lives by moving to European countries of their choice, or even settling down in Italy. However, little do they know that their struggle for survival is not quite over.

This is just the beginning of another struggle; a struggle to find a permanent home. Countries such as Italy and Greece initially help these refugees. They accommodate them in their refugee camps, feed them and provide medical aid to those who need it. However, what follows is an unfortunate, human Ping-Pong match – A match played among the countries of Europe to determine who will take care of these refugees permanently.

No one country wants to accommodate and help rehabilitate all of these refugees on its own. Italy, for instance, has accommodated a large number of refugees over the last few years. However, it wants other countries from the European Union to help shoulder the burden. The Italians believe that just because their country, due to its location, is among the most accessible countries for these refugees, they should not have to take in all of the refugees and resettle them in different parts of Italy. The Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, feels that Europe is not doing its bit to help resolve the problem. And he is right.

Under to the Dublin regulations, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country of their entry to Europe. Italy believes that this rule is unfair. Why should Italy, or Greece for that matter, have to accommodate all of the refugees that wash up on their shores, only because they are the most accessible of the EU countries?

Until recently, people in Schengen countries could travel to other countries that are part of the Schengen agreement, without any problems. However, in light of the ongoing immigration crisis, a number of countries such as France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland have tightened security at their borders. This has resulted in the accumulation of a large number of asylum seekers within the borders of Italy. The French security forces have been catching refugees in their areas and dumping them back into Italian territory. A number of other countries around Italy are doing the same. It has become like a human Ping-Pong match. Men, women and children are being treated like objects. They are picked up from different parts of France and Austria and dumped back into Italy.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, refused to take back migrants who applied for asylum in Hungary and fled to other parts of Europe before their cases were decided. The Hungarians have also decided to erect a fence on their borders to help eliminate illegal immigration into Hungary.

The Italians are irate at these developments. Renzi has warned that if Italy does not receive adequate support from the rest of the EU to deal with this problem, they will resort to “Plan B”, a plan that will “first and foremost, hurt Europe”. Renzi wants the European Union to help forge repatriation agreements with African Nations, and to share the cost of returning home ‘economic migrants’. However, no help appears to be forthcoming.

The situation is a complete mess at the moment. A few countries are suffering, whereas the other member states of the European Union are not bothered about the ongoing crisis. In their attempt to look after their own interests, they seem to have become a little too selfish. They have left countries such as Italy and Greece to tackle the problem on their own. Italy has declared that it will not accept a “Selfish Europe”. Will the European Union be able to find a viable, long-term solution? Maybe.

One thing is for sure though. If the European Union does not find a solution that is acceptable to all of its member states very soon, this problem threatens to spiral out of control.