Over the summer, while Donald Trump was proclaiming that he’d build a wall to solve our own immigration problem, Europe found itself facing a similar issue.
Imperiled at home by war, poverty and death, hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, most from Syria, have flooded the Eurozone, overwhelming the typically meager border security and penetrating the heart of the European Union.
Civil war and grinding poverty are pushing the those populations to seek a better life in what is seen as a land of opportunity — the West.
Unfortunately, the West may be both unable and unwilling to live up to expectations. Pre-existing economic problems, growing xenophobia and concerns over national security have already made the mess even worse.
Greece, Italy and many eastern states were already suffering financially prior to the migrant crisis.
The immense economic burden the immigrants bring with them threatens to sink already floundering economies, reason enough for many of these countries to oppose immigration and stopper borders, without hesitation.
In these and other countries, xenophobia is growing with alarming rapidity. Economic trouble always invites xenophobia, which blames immigrants and foreigners for causing or exacerbating economic woes.
In particular, migrants are often — and not always incorrectly — seen as threats to jobs. This often evolves into a perceived threat to the native culture and to natives themselves.
Tied in with increasing xenophobia, and made significantly worse by genuine concerns, is the sense that mass immigration presents a threat to national security.
Excluding the xenophobic roots of this worry, there is validity to the concern of the European states that terrorists and spies could be entering virtually unchecked in the midst of this chaos.
As the migrant crisis continues to grow, these factors have begun to come together in a mess of bureaucracy and xenophobia.
As problems have intensified, so have the divisions between members of the EU, and the existence of the union itself is being challenged. One of the centerpieces of the EU has been the Schengen Agreement, which reduced and then all but abolished border control between member states.
Now, more and more countries are closing and tightening their borders, even to their usually friendly neighbors.
Unsurprisingly, opinions on how to respond to the crisis are divided. Many of the smaller member states, including former Soviet satellites and debt-ridden Mediterranean countries, are strongly opposed to any solution that requires them to strain their economies.
Meanwhile the larger states, led by Germany, are pushing for a strong, unified effort for dealing with the crisis. These countries have proposed a quota system, which will require every EU member state to take on a certain number of refugees, depending on the economic and infrastructural capabilities of the country.
As European leaders meet in Brussels this week to discuss a plan of action, the conflicts between these two sides are expected to come to a head. Eastern European ministers have already confirmed that they’ll be working together to strongly oppose a quota system, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the EU to “act together” during this crisis.
Nevertheless, it is clear that something has to be done before the disagreements and disunity really do begin to take a toll on the EU. Already, the smaller countries and border states are at each other’s throats, thanks to disputes over where migrants ought to be sent.
Hungary, vehement in its opposition to taking in refugees, has been directing refugees from one border to another, irritating its neighbors who believe that it ought to be doing something to alleviate the flow.
Hungary itself has been complaining both formally and informally to Croatia, who is sending migrants to Hungary.
Whatever the solution, it needs to come fast. The meeting in Brussels this week is an excellent opportunity for the EU to work together in addressing the issue, but the outlook isn’t good.
Differing views on responsibility, as well as endemic economic issues, are prying the EU apart, just when it needs to come together.
Whether Germany, often the powerhouse of the EU, can pull together a coalition successfully will depend largely on how many refugees it, and other robust countries like France and Britain, will be willing to take.