Nobody Wants Them
Europe and Its Refugees
Europe’s war against migrants
In the summer of 1938 in the French spa town of Evian, the leaders of Europe convened for what was to be the first international summit on a European refugee crisis. The number of Jews attempting to flee Nazi-Germany had skyrocketed and refugee centres were urgently needed. Representatives from all of Western Europe attended, and their arguments against taking in those refugees sound only too familiar to us today: their cultures would be endangered, their jobs and houses would be snatched, and the cohesion of their societies would ultimately disintegrate.
The only thing the conference did manage to produce was scorn from Nazi-Germany. While the ‘civilised’ countries critiqued Germany’s human rights violations, not one of them expressed any willingness to actually save the Jews. In Germany, when the attendees had returned home, a newspaper headline triumphantly declared: ‘Nobody wants them’.
How has Europe’s strategy regarding the ‘War on Migration’ changed since 1938? In Nobody Wants Them, investigative journalist Linda Polman takes her readers on a journey through time, from the refugee camps of Western Europe set up for Iron Curtain refugees fleeing communist dictators after the Second World War, to the not very ‘safe zones’, such as those meant to protect refugees in Srebrenica in the 1990s, to the UN Refugee Agency’s mega-camps in Africa today. She sketches Europe’s tight grip on the UNHCR, an organisation that is supposed to protect the rights of millions of refugees around the world and yet remains utterly dependent on European donations. The UNHCR, therefore, has no choice but to flow with Europe’s political tides.
The journey ends on the Greek island of Lesbos, the epicentre of the greatest European refugee crisis since 1938.
The arrival of a million refugees in Europe was predictable long before it began in 2015, but the European administrations failed to prepare for the event. What followed was chaos, political victories for extreme right-wing parties and Brexit, fought at the expense of these refugees.
Linda Polman investigates what exactly happened to the promise of ‘never again’ at the foundation of the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. Has Europe, as the UN Human Rights Council bitterly concluded in 2018, indeed ‘accepted even death as an effective anti-immigration tool’?