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Rich vs poor = weak vs strong

The refugee crisis in Europe

  1. Europe
  2. Refugees
  3. The difference on the ground
  4. Outcomes

First the numbers:

Asylum applications (non-EU) in the EU-28 Member States, 2004-14 (thousands) [1]: Asylum applications in EU

Share of non-nationals in the resident population, 1 January 2014 [2]: Non-nationals in EU

Types of migration across Europe, 2015 [3]: Non-nationals in EU

The figures for the above mainly refer to statistics up to 2014 (last year). According to UNHCR in the month of July this year 50,242 people arrived in Greece; for the whole of last year the total was 43,500 [4]. Arrivals by sea and by land were 160,172 between 1 January and 14 August this year.

The total number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean is around 264,500 so far this year.

If those new arrivals were to be added to the asylum applications chart on top, its updated graph would look something like this:

Non-nationals in EU

Note that the year 2015 only contributes in part, and the 264,500 new arrivals are only those who came via the Mediterranean, whereas the original chart covered all asylum seekers. On the other hand, the initial chart lists migrants who applied for asylum, whereas the over 264,000 are simply arrivals, not officially processed applicants. Nevertheless, the updated chart illustrates the inherent potential within the current context.

For an entire political system to allow itself to be swamped by such numbers is remarkable, and the responses have set in by now - from suggesting to do away with borders altogether to a radical assertion of sovereignty and anything in between. So far they have been largely suggestions, although there have been some exceptions; more on this later. Overall a comprehensive policy is not in place.

Since we are dealing with human activity systems and therefore complex dynamic systems, it helps to analyse the scenario under a systems perspective.

anchor arrow Europe

Generally speaking, the European Union represents a highly organised and coherent framework of jurisdictions, industry and demographics.

Laws and regulations are enacted via a feedback process of parliamentary democracy, industry is managed via supply and demand and surrounding educational administrativa, and the population lives in clusters organised through councils, urban planning, and the relevant infrastructure.

When it comes to varying population numbers they are subject to the availability of residences and further dependencies (for example, tourists arrange hotels and transport at the point of departure and once arrived find an adequate supply of food and services), employees are trained for the market requirements and students may be directed towards updated course structures and programmes, and new buildings are integrated with either existing infrastructure or one which is in the process of being upgraded. Under ordinary circumstances even migrants are processed in a similar and orderly fashion.

Infrastructure means anything from roads to electricity, to hospitals, to shops, to water and toilets - made possible by the human resource (put simply, somebody has to be around to do it).

All this may seem obvious if not trivial, but under exceptional circumstances such as the present it is those fundamentals that we need to remind ourselves are the foundations for a viable society. They are the manifest interdependencies of a complex dynamic system.

In the case of Europe they have evolved over centuries, and a sense of community has evolved in tandem. That sense of home does not disappear when stepping across the threshold of one's residence; it is there when walking down the street, strolling through a park, visiting relatives in another town.

anchor arrow Refugees

The current influx of refugees is largely made up of two parts: Africans from the south and Middle Eastern demographics from the east. A detailed differential analysis of either goes beyond the scope of this text, yet there are common characteristics which play a part in relation to their new host.

In less coherent societies the nexus between people and authority is precarious. Representatives, in the absence of regulatory checks and balances, tend to be more authoritarian which engenders a commensurate distrust further down the hierarchies, which in turn produces a mindset trained to avoid regulation as much as possible. When it must be adhered to it is offset by contrary activities happening under the surface.

In accordance with the basic need to form relationships such clustering evolves in terms of family, tribal and sectarian affiliations. In just about all the relevant demographics that process is not contemporary but has settled into a societal framework going back centuries. It is a culture.

The combination of (feared) authority and the need to compensate leads to an identity rigorously holding on to one's culture in the face of anything perceived to be a threat to the identity. Therefore such a culture needs to be understood not only in terms of what it projects explicitly, but what it entails beyond the obvious.

Which is the reason why in a nation that has a particularly harsh law in relation to some activity, that activity is sure to exist in abundance. One ramification is the treatment of a transgressor: if the person is deemed to be useful the transgression is quietly overlooked, should there be a dispute the act is used as a weapon against the person (it is a major reason for naïve visitors coming to grief in a foreign land).

The phenomenon of clustering along affinity relationships not only manifests along physical lines, it equally relates to notions, something to be expected since any act is preceded by an idea.

Over the years the globalised transmission of information has produced the justified perception that there are countries of wealth and comfort and there are those where life is harsh. The former have become an attractor for members of the latter.

text quote 1 Note however that the perception does not include the personal experience. In other words, while the relative luxury is readily on display, there is hardly an understanding of what it means to actually live such a life. The appreciation regarding schooling, organisation, societal discipline, and the sheer skill and intelligence required to partake of what such an environment offers, they are not part of the global transmission.

Another aspect contributing to the attraction is the clustering in the form of the perception's commonality. If one percent of a community decides to try their luck elsewhere then this has less effect on the rest than five percent making that decision. The more there are on the move, the greater the pull exerted on the rest. Since every percentage increase affects more and more people, the resultant numbers increase exponentially even if the initial figures are low.

Although current upheavals in the Middle East for example are also a factor, the cause-and-effect relationships inherent in systems which are subject to a continuing trend are significant nevertheless (see the CauseF program for a computer simulation of that phenomenon [5]).

The rapid increase in refugee numbers is testimony to both.

anchor arrow The difference on the ground

It is one thing to deliberate in rather technical terms sitting in a comfortable office or café. It is quite another when it comes to the situation on the ground.

Refugees from Africa and the Middle East may not be the sophisticated citizens of Paris and Berlin, they may not constitute the ordered populations of Switzerland and Denmark.
text quote 1

Yet they are the survivors of generations of a harsh environment, of unforgiving rules, of the ability to juggle moral imperatives with the pragmatism of daily life.

When you have fixed your mind on some goal a government piece of paper telling you otherwise is neither here nor there.

When you have never known what clean water looks like the lack of sanitation in a refugee squat is nothing new.

When you have seen the blood on a mutilated body then the red ink on an exam paper holds no fear for you.

When you had your clitoris sliced off then some hand groping around your pants won't send you into life-long depression.

When you have learned to surreptitiously avoid the moral guardians in your neighbourhood and so supplement your income underneath an excited money bag, making your own way in a new land is no problem.

It suits the general media to project the face of refugees through little crying girls into the suburban living room. But give the little girl a few years and she will be a tough carrier of her culture together with all the things she has learned along the way. What will go through her mind as she looks at her new contemporaries hanging out in bars, yelling with the latest hits, or playing with their smart phones in class out of sheer boredom?

The woman next door may well roar (amp made in China), but for her there are other priorities.

anchor arrow Outcomes

So far the answer from the EU in the face of the incoming masses has been a play with euphemisms. However, some countries have responded in a more concrete manner.

In Macedonia, after first using border police to beat back the hordes, it was decided to allow 7,000 refugees to cross from Greece and into Serbia and onwards [6]. They were let through, but on the understanding they kept going.

Hungary decided to build a barbed wire fence on the border with Serbia, although less then one percent of migrants want to settle there [7].

On a more 'unofficial' level, in Germany riots erupted in Dresden when 250 new migrants arrived there [8]. Germany has taken more refugees than any other EU country, and Chancellor Angela Merkel recognises the influx of asylum seekers as the biggest problem facing Europe.

So far the voices calling for tolerance and acceptance still hold sway. How many of them articulate their idealism rather than the personal experience under their window? How fast will those voices fall silent once the camps are in their street, their park?

Radicals, once dispensed with as extremists, only have to sit back and wait until more and more citizens see what was once only rhetoric happening before their eyes. At that point the radical becomes the standard.

To speculate about an outcome it helps to first express the possibilities in terms of two extremes, with the eventual result likely to be somewhere in between.

Under that perspective, and remaining with our systems approach, either the EU will do effectively nothing, or it will implement a comprehensive purge.

Doing nothing will unseat the interdependent framework of society outlined earlier. Standards will include the local highs in line with a 21st century competitiveness as well as those defining the general life existent in the migrants' source nations. Employment will be readjusted to address high-tech but also the lower levels of pastoralists and agriculturalists. The common bond of the local culture on a national basis will have disappeared, substituted with medieval-like niches at varying degrees of accomplishments. Governments will have lost their comprehensive traction with the populace and rely on an ad-hoc reflection of their intent. Their financial nous is now mitigated by the respective potential of their jurisdictions, further diluting their effectiveness. Politics itself becomes once again a tool for demographic and sectarian self-interests at the deepest level, and personal security is a matter of one's local protection.

A purge needs the will and the organisation behind it. How such a policy will fare in this or that member nation depends on the standardisation of extremism at the time. Furthermore, given the international conditions (a factor leading to the problem in the first place), Europe will find itself at loggerheads with the migrants' source countries. Simply putting a bunch of people on a plane will not be enough. The aircraft will have to land somewhere, indeed it needs to be filled in the first place by extracting the intended number of refugees from their camps. Even if that were possible, the potential for war at any scale persists throughout those steps and their ramifications.

The actual outcome will fall somewhere in between. Local resistance, to either side towards the extremes, will cause the situation to be handled in terms of the particular nation's organisational ability and the cohesion of its population. The respective culture of newly arrived demographics will percolate through their host and by doing so will change the overall state of the system; it will never be the same again. The result is bound to influence the political and economic status of that nation, and, as Greece has demonstrated, will be a further source of disparity within the EU as a whole.

As outlined in the predictions for the year 2050 [9] (one example [10]), the world is on trend to differentiate itself according to its economic and/or demographic clusters. The EU would be no exception. The European continent of the future will be an assortment of countries at varying states of social cohesion, industrial output and political effectiveness. Under such conditions the current political borders make no longer sense.

How it will situate itself amongst the global competition and complexity is another matter.

1. See also the Submission to the National Consultation on citizenship on this site.
2. For a more general outline of Europe as a social system see The social Europe: a formal view.


1. Asylum statistics, eurostat, 21 May 2015, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

2. Migration and migrant population statistics, eurostat, May 2015, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Migration_and_migrant_population_statistics, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

3. 2015 UNHCR regional operations profile - Europe, UNHCR, 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a02d9346.html, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

4. Numbers of refugee arrivals to Greece increase dramatically, UNHCR, 18 August 2015, http://www.unhcr.org/55d32dcf6.html, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

5. M. Wurzinger, CauseF program, December 2014, http://www.otoom.net/causefprogram.htm.

6. Refugees cross into Serbia after leaving Macedonia, Aljazeera, 24 August 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/refugees-cross-serbia-leaving-macedonia-150824113537267.html, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

7. A. Connelly, 'Refugees Will Break the Wall': On the Frontlines of Hungary's Immigration Fence, Vice News, 18 August 2015, https://news.vice.com/article/refugees-will-break-the-wall-on-the-frontlines-of-hungarys-immigration-fence, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

8. S. Khan, Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out', The Independent, 22 August 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/dresden-riots-protesters-in-germany-attack-refugee-buses-shouting-foreigners-out-10467287.html, accessed on internet 25 August 2015.

9. M. Wurzinger, 2050: Age of the Silverback, 30 December 07, http://otoomblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/2050-age-of-silverback.html.

10. M. Wurzinger, The clock is ticking ... towards 2050, 7 May 2014, http://www.otoom.net/theclockisticking.htm.

26 August 2015

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