“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” So thought Confucius while Jane Austen thought, “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” Unfortunately, for millions, it seems that there is no longer comfort at home and they are on the move to Europe as they seek respite from the ravages of war, the despair of unemployment, the simple yearning for a better life. Meanwhile, those countries on the receiving end of this growing migration struggle to deal with it and worry about the effect unprecedented numbers will have on the integrity of their European home. None more so, it seems, than Poland.
It may seem ironic that the nation which has provided some two million migrants to other countries since Poland joined the EU, has had a certain amount of difficulty with idea of accepting refugees from the current – with no end in sight – emergency in the Mediterranean. Thus far Poland has accepted 2,200 although, according to Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz, this figure is under reconsideration and a new number will be announced soon.
Her comments come in the context of an EU-wide discussion on the number each member state should accept. Poland and other countries in the region have been criticized for “lack of solidarity” – a flexible concept if ever there were one – by Austria and Germany. “We are not talking today about 2,200, but – due to the fact that despite everything the number of refugees to Europe is growing – we will have to reconsider. So we will again have to divide up among the different European countries the appropriate amounts. This undoubtedly is part of a spirit of responsibility but also weighing up our capabilities,” Kopacz said. “The allocation should not only involve the allocation of quotas to individual countries, but a careful analysis of why this is happening and ultimately provide help for these countries,” Kopacz added. “Operating in the spirit of solidarity is accepted by Poland when it comes to accepting those most in need.”
Perhaps. But once in Poland, these refugees will presumably be free to move elsewhere in the EU and will doubtless gravitate to more welcoming countries. Indeed, the mass movement crisis is causing the concept of free movement within the EU and an emergency meeting of EU interior and justice ministers to discuss the issue, scheduled for two weeks hence,has been called by the Presidency of the Council of the EU. It must be very agreeable to operate in an environment where emergencies can be addressed at such a leisurely pace.
Be that as it may, there are reasons to sympathise with the Polish position. First, Europe does not have the infinite space and resources to deal with the many millions who are set on coming here. What we see now is only the beginning, not a temporary emergency, alas. Second, there are concerns about integration, particularly of those of certain religious persuasions who are wholly intolerant of any belief apart from their own, a view wholly incompatible with Western values and threatening civil strife. Poland would be well advised to avoid the mistakes made in the UK, France, and Scandinavia, which are plain for all to see. Third, among the refugees, migrants, call them what you will, are those who are coming not for a better life for themselves but with the intent of making ours much less safe and secure, whether the politicians wish to acknowledge that fact or not.
And let us not forget, as Kopacz said, that Poland is mainly a destination for East Europeans. She added that in Poland today there are tens of thousands of Ukrainians. “They don’t, admittedly, have the status of refugees, but only because we have a no visa law that allows them permanent residence and at the same time to take jobs.”
If we wish European civilisation to continue, we must protect it. This does not, of course, mean failing to help those in genuine need, but nor does it mean losing control of our borders and failing to defend our values, without which we will be unable to help anybody. Importing large numbers of folk who were keen to take what Rome had but who had no desire to be Romans, together with the Romans’ own failure to defend Rome, finished off Rome and, without swift and coherent action, it will finish off Europe too. After all, as Mark Twain may or may not have said, “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”