Europe’s handling of its migrant situation is ugly, and probably illegal

Refugees are coming to Europe in huge numbers, fleeing horrific conditions in Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan. These are not migrants looking for welfare, or to “take” somebody’s “job,” or whatever other racially-charged stereotype that frequently gets attached to migrants. They’re refugees fleeing war and persecution, and as such they are specifically entitled to legal protections under international law, and to moral protections because they’re human freaking beings who desperately need help.

Here’s how several European nations have chosen to express their commitment to those legal and moral protections:

Police in Hungary used tear gas on refugees trying to cross into the country from Serbia on Wednesday — the latest in several recent incidents in which member states of the European Union used force against asylum seekers, in what experts say may be a violation of international law.

Hungarian politicians resolved to send mounted police, dogs and even helicopters to the area in order to stem the tide of refugees pouring in each day, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the lawmakers would debate a possible military deployment next week.

Hungary is not the only European country to turn its refugee crisis into a law-enforcement issue. On Wednesday, Macedonian police fired stun grenades and tear gas at refugees to drive them back from their border into Greece. In July, French police used tear gas against thousands of refugees and migrants who attempted to enter Britain via the Eurotunnel in the French port city of Calais. And earlier this month, Greek police struck refugees with batons to control a crowd of 2,000 people, sparking small riots on the island of Kos.

Today’s discoveries, of as many as 50 71 dead refugees in the back of a truck headed from Austria to Hungary and hundreds of primarily Libyan refugees dead at sea, are only the latest and most shocking events in this ongoing story. While the details surrounding those deaths are unknown, it’s not that much of a leap to suggest that if Hungary and its fellow southern European countries were welcoming migrants with something other than tear gas and beatings, those people might never have been in the back of that truck or on some unseaworthy scrap heap to begin with. The most perverse part of this response to the influx of refugees is that it’s virtually guaranteed to fail. These people are fleeing the worst places in the world, so there’s really no level of unpleasantness that the police in Macedonia or Hungary or wherever can inflict on them that will be any worse than what they’ve already escaped. The sheer relief on the faces of refugees when they arrive in a Europe that they already know doesn’t want them speaks volumes:

Somewhat surprisingly, given how they’ve been treating the economically dispossessed in Greece, the only European country that seems prepared to fulfill its obligations is Germany, which is apparently willing to admit 800,000 refugees this year despite opposition from the German far-right. And here is the path toward a solution to the crisis. The rest of central and northern Europe, including France, the UK, etc., needs to follow Germany’s lead and take in their share of refugees, and then the nations that have been the point of entry for those refugees need to take them in, process them, and relocate them so that they are equitably distributed around the EU. Greece shouldn’t be responsible for taking in every asylum seeker to come to Europe, but neither should Greece be violently attacking those asylum seekers. So far the rest of the EU has rejected calls to distribute the refugee burden across the continent, but those nations that are holding out need to understand that they’re violating international law as well as basic human decency.

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