As refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan pour into Europe, can you help but wonder what the future holds, not just for the migrants, but for the population of the host countries? Those citizens of German and Austria who turned out to welcome the new arrivals after their harrowing journey through the Balkans are to be congratulated for their compassion. And yet, their governments know that this can’t go on forever. The more welcoming they are, the more people in war zones are going to risk everything to get to the Teutonic Promised Land.
Is Europe ready for them? Most countries already have a significant minority group from Africa or Asia within their borders, and things don’t always go smoothly by any means. Now this added group of mainly Muslim arrivals will test their resolve. Pope Francis is telling his parishes to accept a family each, but a certain percentage of the European populace is already anxious to get rid of them. Will they find contentment in their new homes, or will they become disgruntled, and feel themselves treated as second-class citizens? Will the host countries take care of them for a while and then decide it’s time to send them back? And if so, will there be anywhere safe to send them back to?
These are the questions looming up behind the heart-warming picture of Austrians and Germans doing all that they can to help these refugees. Let’s hope the future is bright for everyone. But the last time Europe experienced a wave of migrants from Asia, it didn’t end so well, and I don’t mean the Barbarian Invasions that I wrote about a few weeks ago. In the Middle Ages, dark-skinned people in strange clothing began to show up in southern Europe, and gradually spread throughout the continent. These were the Roma, supposedly from Egypt (hence “Gypsies”) but actually originally from northwestern India. Like today’s migrants many of them were Muslims, and the locals didn’t like them one bit. Today they are often still looked on with suspicion, lead very difficult lives, especially in Eastern Europe, and perhaps the Czech Republic and Slovakia are thinking of them when they express themselves so vehemently about not wanting to take in any of the current cohort of refugees. Slovakia’s Interior Minister has said they will take only Christians because Muslims are “not going to like it here.” A recent poll shows that 94% of Czechs think the EU should send the migrants back where they came from, 32% without helping them at all.
This is an age-old question: is it possible to integrate large numbers of people into your society who do not share the same religion and culture? Now we’ll see.