Europe’s Dirty Problems Massimo Sestini/eyevine
Refugees risking their lives to reach Europe

Enough with the romanticism already… 

Dying to Get Here

Europe is the fastest aging region of the world badly needing to attract skilled immigrants from beyond its borders in order to boost the economy and overcome the growing opposition from the rise of right-wing populist political parties.

The top three powerhouses - Germany, Spain and Poland - will witness the crumbling of their economy inflicted by the ever so declining population. According to Eurostat, Germany’s 82 million citizens will drop down to 75 million by 2050, and unless Germany decides to invest in its immigrants, the country will undoubtedly face serious labour constraints.  Nevertheless, many of the European countries still picking up from the recession are driven by false conceptions about demographic realities influenced by anti-immigration political pomposity. The likes of Nigel Farage in Britain or Marine Le Pen in France are attracting working-class voters who blame immigrants for stealing jobs, driving down wages, and putting a strain on social services.  

This growing distaste directed at immigrants has forced Pope Francis to address the European Parliament in his latest speech. The Pope urges Europe to adopt a more welcoming attitude towards migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life escaping wars and violence. He went on to state that we should not treat them as “pawns on the chessboard of humanity”, as they are “children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having – but above all for being more.”

According to a report conducted by the International Organisation for Migration, 2014 has claimed over 3,000 lives of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. This is a chilling statistic, but what is even more chilling is the statement produced by the UK Foreign Office which axes support for any future rescue missions, as means of preventing a ‘pull factor’ simply encouraging more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing. According to Maurice Wren, British Refugee Council, the UK “government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War (...) People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life­rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.” 

Colonial Hangover

On the 5th of December, the feud of racial politics has yet again dominated Dutch news caused by the children’s holiday of Sinterklaas. Now, this may seem absurd – an innocent Christmas celebration surely couldn’t cause racial upheaval on a national level – but how far from innocent it really is. Well, the problem lies here: white Dutch people paint their faces black to represent the figure of Zwarte Piet (a clown-elf assisting St Nicholas in distributing presents) who is based on 17th century Moorish slaves. And with a big population of Dutch people with African ancestry, this is highly insensitive and just simply unacceptable. There is no place for racist traditions and Europe better wake up from their long colonial hangover. 

When Martin Luther King made his “I have a Dream” speech in 1963, I can assure you that he did not imagine that 50 years later the world will be still divided between one’s skin colour, religion or origin. So are we really going backwards in social relations? Oh yes. Just take a look at what has been happening in America. A white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenage boy fatally killing him. What happens? Well nothing happens and that’s the problem. The officer who shot a 12 year old boy playing in a park is not prosecuted by the grand jury.This decision along with President Obama’s poker face on the topic has set off a wave of anger. Now let’s go to Africa. Isn't it strange that us - "the almighty Europeans" have only started to get bombarded with the apocalyptic news on Ebola when a white doctor gets infected. From Africa we go to France, where there was a recent case of a Roma boy who was brutally attacked in Paris. The liberal City of Poets doesn't seem to be ready to accept gypsy immigrants. And naturally from France we can scroll our finger through Europe’s map and point every country showing signs of institutional racism.  Europe is facing moral confrontations caused by growing nationalism and racism and while efforts are being made at the European Union to incorporate social and political life of minorities, the old continent needs to shift its old ways. 

Humans for Sale

The European Union’s strategy on human trafficking describes the hidden industry as the “slavery of modern age”. But what the majority of Europeans don't realise is that a big proportion of those trafficked are in fact European and make up around 60% of those identified as victims of human trafficking. 

According to Europol’s 2009 and 2013 study, Romania tops the list with 40% of victims, followed by Hungary at 18%, and lastly Bulgaria with 11%. The majority of human trafficking targets are the vulnerable – women and girls – along with the most widespread reason for human trafficking being sexual exploitation. In fact, according to Eurostat, 62% of victims between 2008 and 2010 have been specifically kidnapped for sex trade purposes. 

Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have taken action towards decriminalisation of prostitution as means of regulating the sex industry and providing sex workers with social rights and benefits. However, the legalization of prostitution has had an opposite effect making Germany a trafficker’s paradise with over a million men across Europe visiting brothels every day. 

The sex trade is a globalized and a highly lucrative business. According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated $47 billion are made each year through trafficking women for sex within the EU. Human trafficking whether it is for prostitution, forced labour, human organs, illegal adoptions or forced marriages, requires a common European response. The current EU laws on human trafficking are not only failing the victims but are also allowing the crime networks to further flourish. 

When the Maastricht Treaty established the current European Union in 1993 people had big hopes and dreams. But now of course, with Polish waitresses in London and British pensioners in Spain – these are the standard parts of national life of a European citizen. And despite being more European than ever before, we still have a long way ahead of us in order to discard some our dirty problems.