Europe doesn’t have a refugee crisis, it has an integration crisis. The recent Syrian plight has derailed Europe’s already weak and unsustainable political and social efforts for integration, revealing this centuries-overdue problem as its biggest challenge for the 21st century. Without a unified response, the refugee crisis only continues to push heated public discourse further into a black hole, distorting issues involving ethnicity, religion, identity, and values. Will Europe succeed in developing a model for immigration reform or revert into isolated nation-states ruled by nationalism?
As Germany tries to lead the European Union to uphold its values on human rights and openness, they often forget the most misunderstood, persecuted, and maligned group. The Romani people (better known by the non-politically correct term “gypsies”) have lived in and wandered around Europe for a thousand years and many have remained nomads even today. They have endured centuries of persecution and discrimination resulting in their slavery during the Medieval Ages, ethnic cleansing during the Holocaust, and countless other instances of persecution. Even as modern Europe embraces multiculturalism, progress towards alleviating them from their misery is still lacking, and most Roma remain stuck in a cycle of begging and thievery. Tourists roaming the streets of Paris or Rome may encounter very aggressive and elaborate scams concocted by Roma gypsies hoping to steal money. Some take advantage of the generous welfare systems offered by some European states.
Is it Europeans who are purposely alienating them or do the Roma gypsies lack willingness to integrate? In my opinion, both occur to some degree. Not only is isolation taking the easier way out than confrontation for both, but also centuries of negative reinforcement has conditioned Europeans and Roma to believe that their differences are irreconcilable. Europeans continues to see the Roma as dirty, lazy thieves who do not want to integrate. The Roma identifies Europeans simply as the stronger oppressors fated to purge them. There is little willingness on either side to integrate or help the other integrate. From time to time, European politicians may throw a bone here and there by allocating some public funding to provide basic necessities for the Roma gypsies. However, too much time has passed and I believe this situation remains hopeless. Both sides tend to choose to cope with short term solutions: evict them, they return; punish them, they continue our ways.
Unlike the Roma issue, the influx of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, mainly Syria is recent, has dropped on Europe like a waterfall, and originates from nation states, each with a unified usually with a distinct common language, culture, education standards, etc. Their opportunity for integration is more comparatively more optimistic because the integration mistake with the Roma was centuries of segregation and social alienation. Time is of the essence when it comes to integration, and if it’s done right, the results will be better than the Roma. However, the seed to plan a healthy multicultural society is the willingness of everyone to integrate and to help others integrate.
People emigrant for many different reasons but when doing so, it is important to select countries that allows us to uphold our own values, beliefs, and culture while fulfilling what our home countries could not. When we are there, we held responsible to uphold the rules and laws of that land. As an immigrant in America, there were even few social security nets for me than my counterparts in Europe, but no matter how difficult, I understood that some degree of assimilation would be key to my survival. I channeled my eagerness to integrate through language classes and engagement with locals. In return, American society offered me opportunities o excel in education and the workplace.
For those who do not want to respect their new country’s rules and laws, as displayed in the recent mass sexual assaults in major German cities, deportation should be considered as an option. If assaulting others is a reflection of one’s culture or belief, then perhaps they are better suited for other societies with similar mindsets. Unfortunately, Germany, the most welcoming society towards refugees in the EU faces daily pressures to integrate the sudden influx of millions, and these sexual assaults threatens to repeat the experiences of the Roma–further isolation.
Social outcasts are found everywhere–the mentally unstable, homeless people, or the geeks who live in their mother’s basement playing World of Warcraft. However, when it comes to isolating those based on ethnicity and race, I often witness two kinds of radicalism in transatlantic societies (because radicals tend to be the loudest). Radical right-wingers that allow their xenophobia to absorb their morals and rationality as they try to expel anyone who does not perfectly display the way of life deemed acceptable by them. Radical left-wingers that overcompensate for centuries of third world colonial rule and slavery by policing anyone who does not perfectly display the level of tolerance deemed acceptable by them. Obviously both are detrimental to the kind of multiculturalism we seek to achieve in a globalized world.
As a a regional integration enthusiast, I have great hope for the EU. This integration challenges has shaken up the question of European values and identity, hindering further integration process. So Europe, ask yourself, what’s your priority?