Providing Case-By-Case Aid Won’t Solve The Humanitarian Problem

(c) Picture by Jim Black auf Pixabay

“Accepting children won’t solve the problem“, claims the Deutsche Welle, faulting an excessive “Christmas spirit” in response to calls for taking in Unaccompanied Minors from Greece’s Moria camps. That analysis mirrors a discourse of unsubstantial and logically flawed political talking points.

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What makes Christoph Hasselbach’s opinion piece worth inspecting is that it mirrors the bigger discourse about displacement and migration: It suggests a rudimentary understanding of the complex interplay of factors that drive displacement, with the bulk of arguments appearing to be oft-repeated logical fallacies.

Here’s the set of arguments I made out:

1. The More We Accept, The More We Incentivize;

2: There’s A Clear Cut Between Political Asylum And Economic Hardship;

3: The Only Way To Deal With Migration Is To Control And Limit It;

4: Political Leadership Is Responsible For The Rise Of The Right;

and 5: German Proactivity Causes Others To Remain Inactive.

[Stay tuned for a dissection of the issues in subsequent articles.]

Fallacy 1: The More We Accept, The More We Incentivize

The author writes: “A Slippery Slope: The gesture would set off a new wave of migration. … As soon as the European Union takes in migrants, more start coming.”

Ironically, Slippery Slope is the logical fallacy that follows: suggesting that outcomes are likely when there isn’t enough evidence to support them.

It’s also a simple hasty generalization type of fallacy. The statement is based on the perception that migration is a monolithic event driven largely by the generosity of host countries. In reality, migration and displacement are neither new nor monolithic nor singular nor homogenic enough to justify such a generalized outcome prediction.

The argument of incentivizing people reflects a general failure to adequately discuss the complexities of displacement, which has taken place decades before becoming a political hotbed in the past couple of years.

For example, for many years experts have been predicting surges in UAM – Unaccompanied Minors – coming to Europe, and alerting public officials. This DW article provides good insights into the unpredictability of displacement fluctuation with reference to recent events in Greece.

But simply claiming that “taking in refugee children won’t solve the problem” says nothing about the problem in question, because there is no such thing as one singular problem. The author blanketly suggests that most or all UAM follow a singular trajectory and are mostly driven by open borders. But many UAM are subject to a multiple, interactive set of threats as they transit across countries – in addition to their motives for leaving their own countries. This includes imprisonment, police abuse, trafficking, hunger, cold, homelessness, physical and psychological torture, and – undeniably – prejudice.

As someone who works and has worked with displaced persons in and outside of Germany, I have witnessed or personally know individuals affected by nearly all of the above. And while no two stories are the same, all stories reflect the historical treatment of unwanted migration and the causes for the existence of “refugee camps“.

Flight causes are often the tip of the displacement journey iceberg, which entails losing parents and siblings, worsening or triggering hidden trauma, being detained by police in various countries that are anything but welcoming to the half-traumatized. Just consider the hatred young men and minors have received by media alone at the sheer assumption they visually appear older than 18.

The staunch belief that taking in a mere fraction will incentivize more to come disregards the fact that abuse and hardship apparently aren’t good enough deterrents – and even disconnected from the motives many UAM have for making journeys.

Fallacy 2: There’s A Clear Cut Between Political Asylum And Economic Hardship

The author writes: “…Asylum is only for those who meet asylum requirements. That means war, including civil war, or persecution in your country of origin.”

By not clarifying definitions, he creates a classic discussion stopper. This logic is reminiscent of Strawman, as the subsequent argumentation is based entirely on what he presumes and accepts to be correct. Simply remove conflict and war from the displacement debate whenever you don’t see them – Case Closed.

But arguing on the grounds of clearly cut borders between political asylum and economic hardship simplifies and distorts the realities behind displacement – especially concerning UAM and not in spite of them, as suggested.

Take Afghanistan, which accounts for 34 percent of the refugee population in Greece: The country has been in a state of bloody war, conflict and domestic turmoil of various types lasting for decades. The government is riddled with corruption, the economy undermined by widespread opium trade, the infrastructure quashed in large parts. It requires basic knowledge of conflict to understand that political turmoil and economic hardship are highly intertwined; that decimated resources as the result of a bombing can equal an existential threat; that involvement with a local militia may be the only way to make ends meet but also poses incredible risks.

Long story short: conflict causes existential threats.

ISAF-soliders in Afghanistan. (c) WikiImages on Pixabay

Most people would do anything in their power to escape a situation they perceive as an impasse. But barely anyone knowingly puts themselves or their children through a European horror trip for negligible economic reasons.

Fallacy 3: The Only Way To Deal With Migration Is To Control And Limit It

The author writes: “Because if we’ve learned anything from the migration wave of 2015-2016, it’s that migration needs to be limited and controlled. Handing out asylum to all undermines asylum law.”

For starters, reducing a complex topic to a subjective lesson learned is another discussion stopper and smells of Strawman. Such outrage seems strangely late, thereby diminishes its sincerity and begs a whole new question:

What point does outrage about displacement chaos truly serve when most of us stood idly by while displacement-inducing events happened for decades?

The border opening in 2015 can’t be viewed in isolation from its backdrop: decades of indifference to wars and conflicts, of turning our heads as German politicians continued polishing our reputation as the most reliable and trustworthy weapons supplier, of ignoring ongoing displacement and migration until it was imminently knocking at our doors.

It could be argued that journalists are responsible for informing the public about those connections and putting the ramifications in proper context. And there is quite a difference between taking in “the whole world” and taking in a few thousand UAM from direct humanitarian emergencies.

Migration only became known as a “wave” when Germany became one of the rare countries in the world to open up its borders unchecked. This then put a massive light on migration as a hot political topic – except for the fact that it wasn’t new.

Germany was woefully underprepared, yes – financially, organizationally, politically, empathically. But underpreparation does not automatically equal irrevocable and definitive failure of the task ahead. Instead, another option could be work on improving our system and let past challenges teach us the importance of ruthlessly questioning, investigating and remedying the causes of displacement – rather than denying the possibility of solutions.

As long as the causes aren’t highlighted or dealt with substantially, journalists are paying mere lip service every time we claim that “only the heartless” aren’t moved by pictures of children in humanitarian emergencies.

Fallacy 4: Political Leadership Is Responsible For The Rise Of The Right

The author writes: “That remains the great sticking point in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, which is often accused of kicking off a surge in domestic far-right politics.”

But who is doing the accusing here? A crucial logical flaw, this phrasing is a self-serving argument that can be twisted and adjusted to fit best use. Far-right movements have been around for decades. And popular right-wing party AfD (Alternative for Germany) experienced unexpected success in 2013 already, with startling blanket claims about the laziness of Southern EU states because of their culture.

It remains a tiring fact that for as long as immigration happens anywhere in the world, there will be resistance.

We’ve seen this in literally all Western and non-Western states throughout all ages. Xenophobia isn’t born out of big events.

The article’s unfortunate choice of word also mirrors the discourse: It blames a far-right surge on migration while using labels like “refugee bag”. That’s almost like criticizing the presence of Jews for the rise of Hitler. Which sounds extreme until you realize that violent persecution policies are never detectable in their baby steps.

Fallacy 5: German Proactivity Causes Others To Remain Inactive

The author writes: “Habeck’s call [i.e. accepting UAM into Germany] is also wrong because it would let Greece and the rest of the EU off the hook, leaving Germany holding the refugee bag alone.”

Here’s a classic causal fallacy: believing the cause for large-scale EU inaction to be German proactivity. This is one of the most misleading statements to make about how nation-states function.

The assumption here is that other states will somehow be forced into action when they realize Germany isn’t acting on a humanitarian crisis. But if a country doesn’t want migrants, it won’t think twice to use all means necessary to ignore, reject or fight them – no matter what. German action or inaction won’t make a difference.

We have seen inaction and horrid treatment of displaced people and migrants for decades at the hands of countless states – yet somehow we are to believe that it’s German self-sacrifice that absolves others of responsibility? That’s a bit of delusional grandeur right there on our part.

And – personally speaking – I believe that refusing to act in an effort to coerce others into responsibility is the epitome of being a bystander, and it’s not what I signed up for as a German. But that’s just me.

Yes, We Should Question Asylum Procedures

Hasselbach writes: “Even those without a legitimate asylum claim can de facto stay in Germany because deportation is often impossible” and that “many Germans are increasingly questioning the sense of asylum procedures if they don’t ultimately decide whether a person is allowed to stay.”

Rather than constituting a logical fallacy, these statements warrant a closer look, as they’re given in the context of blaming migration for far-right successes.

Sure, let’s question German asylum procedures. Because there is little to support the suggestion that failed deportations are an incentive to come to or stay in Germany. “De facto” has a crucial meaning in the author’s statement. Because in reality, staying in Germany after a failed asylum claim doesn’t equal a life worth striving for. It typically means limbo with no right to work, social isolation, immediate dehumanization as a less-than-second-class-citizen, and constant fear of deportation.

I’d go as far as saying that the way rejected asylum seekers are treated could turn deportation into a deterrence itself, regardless of whether it actually happens. It can take incredible mental tolls, especially on traumatized individuals. I’ve seen it happen. If you believe deportation favors the deportees, speak to someone who is on a Duldung. (Duldung is the Exceptional Leave To Remain, the final step before deportation.)

If there are problems to be solved, as Hasselbach claims, we should be constructive. This includes questioning the system of rejections, how to improve the system and make it more just and effective, and how to reduce incessantly wasted resources in a highly bureaucratized system that rejects people’s humanitarian needs on the basis of a missing piece of documentation.

Providing Case-By-Case Aid Won’t Solve the Humanitarian Problem

With regards to UAM in Moria, the author proposes that Germany should only provide local care on a case-by-case basis. But this won’t solve the structural problem of the detrimental state refugee camps in Europe are in.

The underlying causes for overfilled camps are multifaceted, and not primarily due to Germany’s seemingly self-sacrificing actions.

I previously tapped into the drivers. People will continue to journey to Europe for conflict-related reasons. They will continue to be placed in under-endowed camps as long as we don’t actively address the structural animosity, inactivity and second-class treatment migrants face generally.

Ironically, Hasselbach uses the label “refugee bag” in the same piece that includes links to DW-articles entitled “Refugees endure living hell in Greek camps” and “Children contemplating suicide in Greeces Moria refugee camp“. He then blames the influx of migration for a rise in far-right politics…

… which begs one final question:

What value does criticism of far-right surges have if the argumentation nearly mirrors that of the Far Right?


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