The Syrian refugee crisis continues unabated. Millions have fled the country to refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and millions more take enormous risks to reach refuge in Europe. In both the United States and Europe, the response to the refugee flow is often discussed in a humanitarian framework: The refugees should not be forced to return to Syria, where they would face torture, imprisonment, and death. Last week, at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Dutch-Ghanaian activist Manuella Appiah argued that international law requires the West to embrace Syrian refugees. And none other than Pope Francis sought to rationalize the Arab influx into Europe as just one among many migrations to Europe that have enriched the continent throughout its history. Policymakers, diplomats, and elite journalists preach that the West, if it is to remain true to its liberal values, has a responsibility to shelter and protect the refugees; meanwhile, nativism is rising as the general public revolts against such sanctimony.
Lost in the discussion among policymakers is a key question: Why haven't the refugees gone to the many countries closer to Syria and Iraq, in terms of language and geography, than Europe? There are several answers:
First, while Jordan and Lebanon have absorbed Syrian and Iraqi refugees, the oil-rich monarchies in the Persian Gulf have largely slammed the door shut against refugees. Unrestrained by European-style political correctness, these countries recognize that years of war and incitement have radicalized Syrians. They also recognize that the refugee influx would undermine the stability of their own lands, because few if any of the refugees will ever return to their homeland.
More important, however, they also understand that a large proportion of those fleeing to Europe, facing tragedy in the Aegean Sea, or occupying tent camps along various European borders aren't actually fleeing war and violence. Southern Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan are largely stable and secure, but Iraqi Kurdistan faces economic hardship due to the perfect storm of falling oil prices and decades of worsening and unaddressed corruption. Kurds fleeing Erbil and Sulaymani seek prosperity more than security. A full 70 percent of all refugees arriving in Europe are males unaccompanied by their families. When war reaches towns and villages, families flee in their entirety; they don't simply shed young males from their midst.
Nor should Europeans believe that migrants choose their continent because other countries have slammed the door on refugees. Rather, the refugees — or, perhaps more accurate, economic migrants — choose Europe because of Europe's social safety net. Geoffrey Van Orden, a British member of the European Parliament and the vice chairman of the European conservatives and reformists group, noted at the Raisina Dialogue that the European Union accounts for just over 7 percent of the world's population, 25 percent of its economy, and 50 percent of the world's social-welfare spending.
Clearly, many of the refugees and migrants seek out Europe because of its welfare. Even if Qatar or Saudi Arabia allowed them in, few Syrian refugees would be prepared to take the manual-labor jobs now performed by Indians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis in those countries, all the more so when they can get an apartment, food, and health care in Europe without having to work.
To be blunt, the same progressives and social-justice warriors who argue that it is Europe's duty to receive refugees might be contributing to the deaths of thousands. Economic migrants from well beyond the war zone have drowned while seeking to piggyback on the refugee flow. In addition, the willingness to channel the flow of refugees distracts from the more important question of how to stem the flow at its source. Both the Syrian regime and the radical opposition actively target civilians in order to consolidate control and cleanse populations on an ethnic or sectarian basis. Europe's social-welfare net might simply be facilitating Assad's and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's strategy.
Margaret Thatcher once quipped that socialism is great until you run out of other people's money. Perhaps it is time to also recognize that social welfare can be great so long as you're not the one drowning for it. Never before have the costs of simply repeating platitudes and throwing money at problems been so great.