By Kylie Hanschman
This is the first post for my "Student Work" section. Here I post work done by my students that I feel is a shame that I am the only one who gets to read it. Some will be long, some will be short, but all will showcase some great writing, critical thinking, and research.
This post was originally an assignment for my class called International Organizations. For the assignment I asked students to bring at least four different news sources from different countries and discuss the origins of the current refugee crisis in Europe. Below you will see first Kylie's thought process for the assignment and then the assignment itself.
My overall thought process began when I started looking for news sources. I knew this topic would be very controversial, so I had to make sure my sources were credible and came from different areas around the world, as opinions differ based on location and opportunity. I first began looking at Western sources (coming mainly from the United States and Europe) and then contrasted those with the non-Western sources. When reading the articles, I would make note of discrepancies between the “cause and effect” relationship and would try to identify who was said to be at “fault” for the crisis. Obviously certain sources had their biases, but I thought they were important to include. Bias from these sources show how certain ideas can be warped depending on interests and affectedness, aiding in the overall perception of the given situation. However, I also thought it was important to include those sources from countries that aren’t directly affected by the Migrant Crisis right now, giving them some objectivity when explaining the situation. Together, by taking subjective and objective sources, non-Western and Western, I was able to synthesize all of the ideas together to create an idea that attempts to show the discrepancies and difficulties when trying to discover who is truly to blame for the Migrant Crisis.
Near Enemy vs. Far Enemy: Who is to Blame?
In recent months, the European Union has experienced an influx of migrants and refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. We refresh our newsfeeds, turn on the television, and get live updates about the ongoing predicament the European Union is currently facing, but do we fully understand the extent to which this mass movement of people is a crisis? Where are these people coming from? Why are they coming? What is the force behind their movement? It is noted, “Today, more than 19 million people have been forced to flee their home country because of war, persecution, and oppression, and every day an additional 42,500 more join them” (Taub). Without a doubt, the Western world, comprised of the European Union and the United States, would argue that these migrants, now deemed refugees, are fleeing political unrest and upheaval in their homeland. A majority of the countries outside of the Western world would argue that this is only the effect of an even greater root cause. The West has been an undeniably large force in the Middle East and in North Africa and has indeed played a role in the instability many of these non-Western nations face today. However, one could argue that blame is shared equally across the board, from the initial interference of Western beliefs and forces in the Middle East and North Africa, to the political injustices and corruption now characterizing these regions due to anarchies and authoritarian governments. Both forces have played a role in forcing millions of people to leave their homeland in search of freedom, safety, and security.
It is important to consider all possible root causes when analyzing the ongoing migrant crisis in Europe. One potential root cause would be the Arab Spring. Vox Media supports this claim by stating, “The Arab Spring was perhaps the largest single spark of the ongoing, global refugee crisis” (Taub). However, it is interesting to note the other revolutions/uprising that have taken place in response/support of the Arab Spring. The Syrian crisis began after peaceful protests turned into a multi-party civil war, forcing half of the Syrian population to flee their homes. This crisis then became more serious and complicated as the Islamic State emerged and seized areas in northern and eastern Syria (“Assad Blames…”). However, the breakout of the Arab Spring revolution and the flames from the Syrian crisis didn’t bring about the grand visions of justice they had initially hoped for, but rather anarchy and corruption (Lwanga). What is even more disturbing and detrimental is that fact that certain terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS have found fertile ground in the weak and corrupted states affected by revolutions/uprisings, and now pose a threat to global security and stability. However, the Arab Spring is again, not necessarily the root cause of the crisis, but rather a response to an even greater disruption. Breitbart London notes, “The so-called Arab Spring has a lot to do with the attempt to inject the notion of supremacy of Western values into highly complex regional environments” (Edmunds). Again, the finger is pointed at the Western world, but for reasons that are more or less justifiable.
When analyzing news articles relating to the migrant crisis, it can be observed that a majority of non-Western countries publish articles placing blame on the West’s actions in the Middle East and North Africa. These sources not only come from the Middle East, but also from Sub-Sahara and southern Africa, and even from Eastern Europe/ Asia. While these articles have their bias, they are also objective in the fact that they have no potential ties to the Western world or the conflict in the Middle East/North Africa, and can therefore give an opinion with little subjectivity. For example, All Africa produced an article out of Uganda that whole-heartedly blames the United States and Europe for the current influx of migrants into the EU. They begin by stating, “What we are witnessing today… is a culmination of decades of miscalculations by Western nations”; they continue, “We are reeling from some of the effects of when one world power unquestionably wields unchecked global influence” (Lwanga). The global power that is encompassed within the Western world is one that has a superior mentality and therefore tries to influence the rest of the world with its “authority”. This article is bias in its own right as it is considered a developing nation outside of the Western sphere of power, yet objective in the fact that it has no direct ties to the migrant crisis.
While there is animosity and bias toward the Western world based on a feeling of inferiority and a greater sense of the “other”, there are also greater, more justifiable reasons that prove how the West has played a large role in the migrant crisis. Vladimir Putin has been quoted in many sources, some Western and others not, reflecting on what he believes to be the root causes of this migrant crisis in the EU. In an article by Breitbart, Putin “blamed European states for backing U.S. efforts to spread democracy, which he said were responsible for the current exodus” (Edmunds). All Africa goes on to support this claim by explicitly noting, “Globally, the United States is on an evangelical crusade to spread the U.S. version of democracy” (Lwanga). CNN also goes on to cite Putin’s claim regarding the forced spread of democracy and how it has had a greater affect on these regions, “This is imposing its standards without taking into consideration historic, religious, national, and cultural specifics of these regions” (Melvin). When political, economic and societal grievances within societies are overlooked and not taken into consideration, crisis is bound to occur.
Many sources, Western and non-Western, show that Western influence in these nations has had devastating affects on the region, which has then lead to other catastrophic events. In response to the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring, the U.S. and other European nations provided what they call “moderate rebels” with military and equipment (“Assad Blames…”). However many non-Westerners, especially those affected by the crisis, see this as a definite root cause for many of the problems that exist in that region today, especially with the formation of many brutal terrorist organizations. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blames the Western nations for the surge of refugees who have left his country and made their way to Europe. While he shouldn’t be the recipient of a prize for “Best President”, he may have a point. He notes, “They (Western nations) are simultaneously sympathizing with the refugees while also causing them to be in danger in the first place… If you’re so worried about them, stop supporting terrorists” (“Assad Blames…”). This is something many new sources, especially Western sources, fail to fully realize. However, Russia Insider goes to support this idea of Western blame and media under-exaggeration of the Western role when noting, “Journalists are so conditioned to framing U.S. and NATO policy in a positive light that the links don’t even really occur to them… or maybe they are simply embarrassed and trying to shift focus from their long-recorded support for various military interventions in these countries” (Ryan). Furthermore, a Syrian source, directly affected by the regional issues notes, “The West should handle the issue since it emerged out of their policies that went awry in Libya, Yemen, and Syria and a policy of sanctions and support that began in 2011” (“Information minister…”). It can be concluded that the Western world aided in the destabilization of an entire region. While potentially trying to solve the “problem” or rather the threat felt by the Arab Spring, the plan to arm militants in the region has created weakness and corruption and has thus played an extremely important role in the influx of migrants storming into the European Union.
Additionally, the role the United States has played in the current conflict and the migrant crisis is often overlooked in Western sources, but not so much in non-Western sources. Russia Insider, although containing their own bias against the United States, notes, “After the U.S.-led campaign to destabilize Syria in an effort to topple Assad, facilitating and even supporting the rise of ISIS in the region, a staggering 10 million have been displaced and European countries are the ones left to help pick up the pieces” (Ryan). Putin is has also stated, “Seeing as this is something the U.S. has created, it is emphasized that America has not suffered at all personally from the crisis, while Europe has suffered heavily” (Edmunds). Vox Media, an American source, brings this point into perspective when noting, “the United States, for its part, has largely ignored the crisis… In 2013, there were 2.5 million Syrian refugees. The United States accepted 36 of them” (Taub). While the United States has said it will accept a larger number of refugees this year, the fact is that while they have played a large part in creating the problems and instability in the region, they aren’t doing much to help solve the problem the European Union is facing today. Syrian President al-Assad refers to this “as a part of the willful blindness of the American administration” (“Assad Blames…”).
The interpretations of the migrant crisis between non-Western and Western countries are vastly different. While the non-Western countries place blame on the intervention and force the West placed within the North African and Middle Eastern regions, the Western forces place the blame on the local/regional level of the areas directly affected by the conflict and crisis. A majority of the Western sources don’t specifically acknowledge the role they’ve played in the crisis, but tend to beat around the bush of the root cause of the problem. Many of the sources describe the root causes in a very superficial, surface-level manner. For example, Reuters, a Belgium source, notes, “Many migrants make the journey because they are fleeing war, oppression, or poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa beyond” (Chee). The Council on Foreign Relations, an American non-partisan source, describes, “Political upheaval in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is reshaping migration trends in Europe.” They continue with their ‘explanation of the problem’ by saying, “Syrians fleeing their country’s four-and-a-half-year-old civil war… Afghans looking to escape the ongoing war with Taliban rebels… and Eritreans fleeing forced labor… Deteriorating security and grinding poverty in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan have also contributed to the migrant influx” (Park). While these are all justifiable reasons for fleeing one’s homeland, it doesn’t necessarily dig deep enough to reveal the real source of the conflict. They generally lack to answer “why” these conflicts exist and “how” these conflicts are connected to an even greater conflict or struggle. These Western sources automatically place blame on the Middle East and North Africa, without taking into consideration any other possible causes of conflict in these regions.
While some sources explicitly place blame, some fail to attribute blame where necessary. However, there are some that are creating a sense of ambiguity of whom and what is truly responsible for the influx of migrants entering the European Union. For example, DW, a German new source is extremely vague in their recollection of causes of this crisis. They state, “The current refugee crisis is neither coincidence, nor fate, instead it is an expression of shared political failure” (Steiner). This unclear representation of the root cause leaves the public to question who is truly sharing this failure? The Western world? The Middle East and North Africa? The Western world and the Middle East/North Africa? They continue by stating, “No one has control of the situation, no one knows who these people are, where they are from or where they are going. Politics as the power to shape is currently nonexistent in Europe” (Steiner). There could be a multitude of explanations behind this vagueness, however it could attribute to the fact that Germany is placed in the middle of the problem. Germany is at the heart of being able to do something about the problem and being the cause of the problem.
While there are many reasons behind the extremity of this crisis, it can be deemed that each state has played some sort of a role in the escalation of this migrant crisis. Even though they try to deny it, the West is to blame for their continuous interference and armed force in that region of the world. However, the Middle Eastern and North African countries are also to blame for their political injustices and level of corruption within their government, which has therefore led to a vast number of political, economic and social grievances to be placed upon the natives, aiding in their decision to migrate/seek asylum. Essentially, the blame is to be shared among the near enemy, the countries, and the far enemy, the Western world. However, no one is accepting blame or responsibility for the problem at hand, therefore nothing is being done to stop it. Vox Media notes, “Unwilling to face this reality, a number of Western countries have taken the attitude that they can ignore the crisis and make it someone else’s responsibility” (Taub). It can then be argued that those that can and have the ability to help ought to. However, it is not something that can be accomplished with a one-and-done solution to one specific problem, but rather a solution on how to solve the greater problem at hand. If nothing changes, we will always be caught up in a “what to do” mindset, rather than on finding a “how to stop” solution.
“Assad Blames Western Support of ‘Terrorists’ for Migrant Crisis”. VOA News. VOA News. 16 September 2015. Web. http://www.voanews.com/content/assad-blames-refugee-crisis-on-western-support-of-terrorists/2965763.html
Chee, Foo Yun. “Unprecedented migrant crisis forces EU to seek answers” Reuters. Reuters. 31 August 2015. Web. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/08/31/us-europe-migrants-idUSKCN0QZ0TK20150831
Edmunds, Donna Rachel. “Putin: U.S. to Blame for the Migrant Crisis in the Mediterranean” Breitbart. Breitbart. 4 September 2015. Web. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/09/04/putin-us-to-blame-for-the-migrant-crisis-in-the-mediterranean/
“Information minister slams Britain over ‘illogical and irrational’ Syria policy”. The Syria Times. The Syria Times. 12 September 2015. Web. http://syriatimes.sy/index.php/news/local/19583-information-minister-slams-britain-over-illogical-and-irrational-syria-policy
Lwanga, Martin M. “Uganda: U.S. to Blame for EU Migrant Crisis” All Africa. All Africa. 20 September 2015. Web. http://allafrica.com/stories/201509212954.html
Melvin, Don. “West to blame for Europe’s migrant crisis, say Erdogan, Putin” CNN. CNN. 4 September 2015. Web. http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/04/middleeast/turkey-russia-blame-west-migrant-crisis/
Park, Jeanne. “Europe’s Migrant Crisis” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations. 23 September 2015. Web. http://www.cfr.org/migration/europes-migration-crisis/p32874
Ryan, Danielle. “Media Coverage of Europe’s Migrant Crisis Ignores Root Cause: NATO” Russia Insider. Russia Insider. 23 June 2015. Web. http://russia-insider.com/en/media-coverage-europes-migrant-crisis-ignores-root-cause-nato/ri8228
Steiner, Felix. “Opinion: National egoism everywhere you look” DW. DW. 16 September 2015. Web. http://www.dw.com/en/opinion-national-egoism-everywhere-you-look/a-18718941
Taub, Amanda. “Europe’s refugee crisis, explained” Vox Explainers. Vox Media. 5 September 2015. Web. http://www.vox.com/2015/9/5/9265501/refugee-crisis-europe-syria
Kylie Hanschman is a junior at Luther College double majoring in Spanish and International Studies. She is originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kylie enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures, as any other International Studies major. She has studied abroad in South Africa and will spend next spring in Valparaíso, Chile studying Spanish and Latin American studies.
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