Catalonia Calling! #26

Political Correctness and the Refugee Crisis - 19/03/2016

Catalonia Calling #26 is called Political Correctness and the Refugee Crisis and I move away from Catalanism try and look at global and European trends in the context of my home town of Barcelona.

It seems to me that the refugee crisis affects us all and both Barcelona Mayor, Ada Colau, and acting Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, have made statements on the issue.

We touched on the subject in the last ten minutes of Matthew Tree's Finest Hour television programme on PuntAvui TV on Thursday on which I appeared with Neus Flores and Ousman Umar.

I didn't really get to develop my ideas on this thorny subject so I'll try to do so here.

These are just the undeveloped opinions of a citizen so don't be too harsh with me but my basic argument is that the in order to find a solution, politicians should make some serious plans and stick to them and they should also start to honestly about the problem.

I also wonder whether some of the emotive images shown in the press are very much help in searching for practical solutions.





Barcelona and the Refugees

A few months back at the start of the Syrian refugee crisis, the left-wing Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau announced that the city would become a reception city for refugees and make a special effort to welcome them.

I want stress that I have no problem in welcoming legitimate refugees but think that the whole crisis has been dreadfully managed by the European Union and suspect that Ada Colau's recent statement reaffirming Barcelona's status as a refugee reception city has more to do with populism and political correctness than a real attempt to solve an enormous humanitarian problem.

I'm not sure of the figures but I've heard that 4,500 refugees will be coming to Catalonia.

Although this is a very nice gesture, when we're talking about a figure of over 2 million people and rising, it's not much of a solution to the problem, is it?

Also the little I've heard about the plans to house the refugees seems like a recipe for disaster.

Ada Colau plans to house a large number of them in the Casas Bloc, a block of empty flats, in Sant Andreu in Barcelona.

I discuss this in more detail below but I fear that housing lots of families in one place is going to cause ghettoisation and lack of integration and because all of a sudden there will be a lot more foreigners in this traditional working-class neighbourhood, it could well turn into an incubator for extreme right views.

With so many people keen to help surely it would make more sense to spread out the places that are accepting refugees so that the immediate impact isn't so visible.

A Lack of Planning

Please let me repeat my position on the refugees and if it sounds idealised, please remember that the refugees started arriving en masse in the summer and the problem could have been predicted at least a year ago so there has been plenty of time to plan for this.

For humanitarian reasons, I believe that not only Europe but the whole international community should do its best to solve the refugee crisis and offer refuge to people fleeing a war zone.

I think this should have been coordinated by the United Nations and the relevant European Union bodies from the start and refugee camps should have been set up ideally  relatively close to the war zone where the refugees could have been given food, shelter and medical help immediately.

The refugees could also have gone through some kind of vetting process to make sure they were authentic refugees and not economic migrants or even worse undercover terrorists.

Time in the camp would obviously have resulted in a certain amount of discomfort but at least the refugees would have been out of danger and could have been transported to their final destination in an organised way, which would have meant they would have avoided the perillous route to Europe and paying enormous amounts of money to mafias to transport them or even worse, in the case of women, falling into the hands of sex traffickers.

Quotas for accepting refugees based the population and economic capacity of receptor countries should have been established ideally through a democratic mechanism such as the European Parliament, rather than undemocratic non-elected European bureaucrats, because a democratic decision carries more weight and is more likely to be kept to and perhaps some economic or political sanctions could have been imposed by the EU.

Even if Europe ended up accepting all 2 million or so refugees, it has a population of around 500 million so if they were distributed evenly and equitably, they could be absorbed relatively easily.

This would obviously mean telling some people that they can't go to Germany or one of the rich Northern European countries and have to go where they've been allotted but to be perfectly honest if I was escaping from war I'd be happy and grateful for any help that was offered.

Legitimate Fears

I hope it's clear that I think we need to find a solution to the refugee crisis but at the same time, it is also important to recognise ordinary people's legitimate fears and concerns.

Although there are obviously still some racists about, if we are talking about discrimination based on skin colour, I think relatively few people are racist on an individual level these days.

However, most ordinary people do feel uncomfortable about change especially if they feel it's been imposed on them and they've had no say in the matter.

Also cultural differences are sometimes quite difficult to accept particularly when a large group of people, who are easily identifiable not only by their skin colour but also by their clothes, customs, foods and often religious practices, suddenly become part of a working-class community.

Do they have a right to be different? Of course they do.

But when there is mass immigration, which often leads to the creation of ghettos which in turn leads to difficulties with learning the language, it's not at all surprising that the autochthonous community should be less than happy about the situation.

In the case of Syrian refugees, this situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of them are practising Muslims and this means that they also have a different value system to most of the people in the local community.

Even though the vast majority of Muslims are very moderate, the fear of Islamist extremism is a legitimate one and the prevalent attitudes to women and homosexuals in relatively standard Islam are incompatible with current attitudes in most modern Western societies.

I don't want to get carried away with this because we mustn't forget that homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1969 I think or that until the death of Franco in 1975, the treatment of both women and gays would seem medieval in modern terms.

However, the mass organised sex assaults at New Year in Cologne and other German cities highlight the problem and the fact the practice has a name -  taharrush gamea - makes it even more disturbing.

Furthermore, what's really worrying about the currently climate is firstly that middle-class politicians rarely live in areas which suffer from mass immigration so don't experience the difficulties first hand and secondly, everybody seems to be so worried about being labelled a racist that it's almost impossible to have an open honest discussion about potential problems and the solutions that need to be found.

Unfortunately, if we take a head in the sand ostrich approach to these issues, we are creating a situation that will lead to the rise of the extreme right and I don't know about you but as far I'm concerned that is a very worrying prospect.

So Why Did the Barriers Go Up?

The barriers have gone up and the plan to move refugees to camps in Turkey has been put forward precisely because that is what's starting to happen in the countries that call the shots in Europe.

France has long had a problem with the Front National so is unlikely to overtly support pro-immigration policies and now, the Länder elections in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt in Germany,  were seen as a litmus test for Angela Merkel’s management of the refugee crisis and saw the rise of the anti-immigration right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

With the Brexit referendum coming in the UK in June and the strength of eurosceptic anti-immigration UKIP, the EU really doesn't want to lose the British so is backpeddling on allowing the refugees asylum.

It seems to me pure electioneering and pandering to voters and wouldn't have happened had the crisis been properly planned in the first place and if the politicians had spoken honestly about the pros and cons of accepting more than 2 million refugees.

It doesn't make much sense having a politically correct discourse if later you don't put the policies you're suggesting into practice.

The cynicism of Mariano Rajoy, who isn't well-known for his love of immigrants, came across clearly the other day when he said that returning the refugees was illegal and Spain would be voting against it in the next EU summit.

He only said this because Spain, at the moment, isn't a receptor country so he can pander to the liberal emotions of Spaniards but he'd soon change his tune if Spain was given the kind of quotas it should have because of its population.

I also think there's a large element of populism in Ada Colau's offer and even though it will be just a drop in the ocean in global terms, she's still capable of making a mistake by housing the majority of them in the Casas Bloc and so causing a time bomb that could well blow up in her face.

What Can Be Done?

As I said above, I think the crisis has been badly managed from the start and it's going to be difficult solve quickly but I would like to hear politicians talking honestly about the problem.

It's only by talking honestly and openly about the problem and worrying a little less about being politically correct that a proper solution will be found

A Final Thought

Anyway, I know this has been a difficult subject, which I'm not 100% clear about myself, but thanks very much for watching. Please subscribe, like and comment.

Also remember that I do all this completely free. So if you want to support my work and research, you can click on an ad, buy my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective on Amazon or make a donation a www.barcelonas.com/paypaldonate.html.

That's it from me for this week. Viscal el Barça! Visca Catalunya! Look after yourselves.



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