Europe’s Much-Vaunted Liberal Values Exposed In Its Response To Migrant Crisis

The Ukraine War exposed the racist undertones in Europe’s treatment of refugees. While Europeans welcomed Ukrainians, who were Christians, fair, and ‘civilized’, they shunned those from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Photo: Getty Images

The Mediterranean is a graveyard for migrants. Desperate to escape hunger, drought, persecution or war in their homeland, they escape in search of a better life. Migrants are willing to take enormous risks and board overloaded ships and vessels that will land them on European shores. Despite numerous stories of boats capsizing and passengers drowning, the poor and the hungry are not deterred. Nor are they concerned that they will land on a continent where people eye them with hate and fear. The risks seem worthwhile.

In its latest report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)  said that 186,000 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean in 2023. More than 2,500 are dead or missing. Some die on land while trekking through the hazardous land routes to sea departure points, mainly in Libya and Tunisia. Most of illegal migrants are often cheated and preyed on by human traffickers, drug dealers, and criminals who make a fast buck by cheating the poor. There are scant figures of those who died on the land routes while crossing the Sahara or were robbed and even killed by criminal gangs operating along the routes taken to reach the staging points of their journey.

Europe is facing a migrant crisis that has changed the political landscape of several European nations and allowed far-right parties, once on the fringes of politics, come into the mainstream.  The right-wing’s fear is that Europe’s pristine White Christian culture and civilization is under threat from ‘dark-skinned’ Islamic hordes pouring into Europe from African shores. “Europe has to be protected” is the slogan of the far-right. A combination of tough security policies, including racial profiling,  together with even tougher immigration regulations that will make it impossible for migrants to breach, is the best way to keep unwanted people away from Europe. 

In their effort to protect Europe, politicians are often heartless. Recently, Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni criticised Germany for funding efforts at rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean. Meloni had earlier advocated a ‘naval blockade’ to keep out migrants. After the sinking of the Adriana on June 14, where around 500 migrants drowned, there was a huge outcry by human rights groups asking for better rescue patrols in the Mediterranean. The  Greek Coast Guards did little to help the drowning boat. That led to demands for more funding for rescue missions. 

Xenophobia has helped the far-right, anti-immigrant political parties to grow. The trendsetter was Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Italy’s Meloni followed and Finland’s Petteri Orpo and Greece’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis are all in power now. According to Western media reports, Spain could well be next in line. Germany’s Olaf  Scholz is under threat from the right-wing  Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. With elections to the new European Parliament slated for next year, chances are that many more right-wing candidates will become MEPs. This will result in tougher regulations for immigrants and strident police action against unwanted foreigners. The fact that most of the immigrants are Muslims has played into ordinary people’s fears of terrorism.

Islamophobia is rampant across the world, following the 9/11 attacks in the United States by Al Qaeda and terror attacks across European cities by ISIS and other Islamic jihadist outfits.    

Europe, which prides itself on being the crucible of the civilised world, where the Renaissance gave rise to the best in arts and literature and philosophy and where the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity flourished, has now turned all these ideas on its head. Most far-right politicians forget that European countries colonised much of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbeans, practised the slave trade, and grew rich through the blood, sweat, and tears of these ‘savages’. It is time for the descendants of generations of exploited people to stake a claim for a better life. 


Yet these very same Europeans are ready to open their hearts and homes to refugees from the West. The Ukraine War has exposed the difference in treatment between refugees fleeing Syria and Afghanistan and those forced out of Ukraine by Russian bombing. Ukrainians are Christians, fair, and ‘civilized’ and were received with kindness all around.

What European political leaders and supporters forget is a much greater crisis is looming on the horizon. Birth rates in Europe are steadily dwindling and an ageing continent will find it difficult to keep up with its current standard of living without development. These very migrants can help solve the problem by providing a much-needed workforce to fuel industry and boost production. Already, the retirement age in countries like Italy is 67 years. This could well go up to 70 soon as Italy does not have enough young people to replace those that retire.

“They can cling to a bygone, dusty view of Europe as a place proper to white people, even as it continues to hollow out. Or they can recenter Africa, in their worldview out of an understanding that for the remainder of this century at least, the continent that all but brushes up against Europe’s shores and has long been an integral but unacknowledged part of its history is destined to be the overwhelming source of young and working-aged people on the planet,” wrote Howard W. French in Foreign Policy.

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