Europe’s Refugee Crisis And Lessons For Africa


Muhammad Ibrahim

On the 24th of March 1933, a certain Adolf Hitler, formerly a lowly Corporal in the Bavarian Army, stood before the German Reichstag and delivered a speech that was to lead directly to the deaths of 48,231,700 fellow human beings from across the world in less than ten years of his inglorious reign as the leader of his nation.

The immediate consequence of that infamous speech in the spring of 1933, was that the Reichstag gave Hitler exactly what he demanded for. It passed the Enabling Act that gave Hitler sweeping powers to do as he pleased with the destiny of Germany to the repeated chants of “Sieg-Heil!” from the Nazi faithful in the Bundestag.

Hitler’s Nazi ideology was predicated on the single illogic of racial supremacy which, as could be expected, swiftly manifested into hate and extreme xenophobia, not to mention the critical fact of his crass depravity. Only a certified lunatic could have contemplated a fraction of his demented concept of global conquest, and occupation, not the mention the magnitude of racial cleansing that went with it.

Giving Germany’s history, and its Nazi past, it is highly ironical that the primary destination of the waves upon waves of refugees that have swamped on Europe in the past several months, and which now appears to have reached a crescendo in recent days, is the same Germany, which millions of European Jews and other minorities, struggled in vain to flee from under the Nazi Jackboot less than seven odd decades ago today.

The logical question to ask at this point is: why Germany? Why not Italy which is closer to the Maghreb or France?  Why has Germany suddenly replaced the United States of America as the Promised Land for immigrants of different categories?

While it is true that Europe is closer than the United States for most of these immigrants it will be incorrect to assume that it is the sole factor. Since the end of the Second World War, and collapse of Communism in Western Europe which resulted in its unification, Germany has made a remarkable recovery from its nasty past.

In the space of only two decades, Germany was able to deal with the enormous challenges of the economic and infrastructural disequilibrium between East and Western parts brought about by the division of the country at the conclusion of World War II.

Thanks largely to the Marshall Plan, and the undisputed ingenuity and hard work of its people, Germany is now Europe’s most formidable economy by a distance. Most of the refugees fleeing to Europe have notions of the social security systems in place in most countries in the European Union.

They have dreams of free council flats and monthly stipends that will be paid to them until they are able to find jobs for their upkeep. Most are literate enough to know that Germany with its industrial capacity and bigger economy offers the best prospects of securing jobs soonest. If they also happened to be Syrians, or other Arabs who are Muslims, it does little harm to know that Germany has a fairly large population of citizens who are descendent from Turkey and who still practice Islam unhindered despite the presence of a vocal right-wing elements in the country.    

There are, of course, numerous other reasons why the refugees are rushing to Germany which cannot be dealt with now for constraints of space, but what has struck me most in the unfolding human tragedy is the incredible demonstration on the parts of ordinary Hungarians, Austrians and Germans in welcoming their reactions.

Make no mistake about it, the massive influx of the refugees will create serious social, economic and even cultural challenges even to a nation like Germany. Multi-lingual teachers will have to be found to attend to their educational needs. They will also require accommodation and jobs, not to talk of the obvious cultural challenges that are likely to be manifested sooner, rather than later.

On account of abundant evidence, all these challenges have not deterred the affected countries from opening their borders to the refugees in the service of humanity. If anything, the daunting prospects appears to have strengthened their resolve at least for now. When we consider the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa the sharp contrast is also sufficient to make all Africans to hide their faces in shame.

The more I also tried, I just could not avoid making the same comparison with the situation in Nigeria as well. In the days before our last elections a Western columnist who feared the worst wrote that the major ethnic groups in the country so loathed themselves that he believed if they had the nuclear weapon they will not hesitate to use it on each other. He may not be too far from the truth.

There is nothing in our antecedents to suggest that were the refugees to be fellow Africans, and headed towards our borders, they will not be met by a hail of stones and not apples and flowers. We proved that recently in South Africa, and the way we continue to treat ourselves.

On this continent, and in Nigeria in particular; an incestuous relationship exists between greed, and selfishness, that readily explains how some of our people behave. The worst form of that pattern of behaviour was manifested recently when some states in the Southeast; not wanting to share the burden of our collective insecurity, rejected the relocation of Boko Haram prisoners to their domains in the mistaken belief that they are safer as a result.

Today, Germany has opened its doors to political and economic refugees from different nations and religions. Although they are conscious of their own unfortunate legacy of Nazism, by this singular gesture they have proven that they are not prepared to become hostages of their past.

Their history has been a source of inspiration and not a burden. It is we, here, in Nigeria, who have become the perpetual hostages of our post-colonial history. We seem to have learnt nothing from our past. We also lack the capacity to nurture it's many lessons to serve as a compass for achieving the appropriate sort of national unity and social cohesiveness that is critical for effective development and greatness our potentials demand.

We allowed greed and selfishness to get the better of our common humanity, and nowhere was that more evident than in the immediate aftermath of the abduction of our Chibok girls.

If Africa cannot do all it can to help its youth to stay gainfully employed at home; on this day, and at this material time; let us all stand and salute the good people of Germany for showing the world that we cannot all pretend to be safe, or happy, when our neighbours are in ruins and cannot be sure of where their next meals will come from.

It is not too much to ask for.