The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Decisions We Must Make: Realize Moral Obligations


The Tower (Princeton, NJ)

For decades, developed nations have struggled to reconcile their moral consciousness with their political and economic aspirations when faced with a mass exodus of refugees. From the Vietnamese “boat people” who escaped in the mid-1970s to the resettling of the Holocaust survivors, displaced people have always needed compassionate nations to take them in and allow them to rebuild their shattered lives.

The current crisis in which Europe finds itself is a serious matter. According to the UnitedNations High Commissioner for Refugees, over half a million refugees have arrived in Europe since January 2015. The European Union should take an active role integrating and distributing these refugees throughout European economy and society. Doing so would save hundreds of thousands of migrants and improve the EU’s image as a virtuous organization capable of working together. At the same time, the European economy could potentially benefit from an influx of young, able-bodied people who could increase productivity, generate considerable amounts of revenue, and raise average wages.

The picture of the young Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, lying dead on a beach incited a stream of outrage and compassion from around the world. The sad reality is that there are many unreported tragedies similar, but less documented than Kurdi’s death. All of the European Union’s member states have a moral duty to take in these people who are in dire need of help. Refusing to accept the 1.9 million asylum seekers totaling a mere 0.37 percent of Europe’s population (Eurostat) would tarnish the EU’s image. Such actions contradict the European Union’s self-professed “core values” of “human dignity, freedom and respect for human rights” stated in their founding treaties. Opposition to equal distribution of refugees undermines the EU’s underlying principle of “a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.” Europe must respond with the same kind of empathy and charity that it received when it underwent its own great turmoil.

Wider acceptance of refugees can potentially help kickstart Europe’s stagnant economy. Younger migrants ensure that in the long term, the tax revenue collected will exceed the cost of providing benefits. According to Carlos Vargas-Silva, associate professor of economics at the University of Oxford, the current incoming refugees “are young … and are going to start paying taxes over time. The net contribution is likely to be positive given how young they are.” Refugees can also boost the labor force and counteract an aging population. Investing in training courses for migrants can alleviate Europe’s demand for math and science workers. Currently, Germany faced a gap of 137,100 STEM jobs; that number could rise to 670,000 by as early as 2020 according to the Institute for Economic Research in Cologne. Refugees can also increase job opportunities and raise wages for native workers. Migrants often displace lower-skilled workers who go back to school or engage in training so they get a higher-paying job when they return to the labor force. A World Bank report published in August 2015 on the Turkish labor market found that “inflow of refugees … creates higher-wage formal jobs,” while “average wages have increased primarily … because of the inflow of refugees.”

Claims of terrorism along with massive immigration are overblown—many immigrants are themselves fleeing from radical insurgencies. According to Reinoud Leenders, associate professor of Middle East studies at King’s College, Islamic State has “a huge reservoir of sympathizers … who were born or raised there.” The headline grabbing attacks are often acts of domestic terrorism—the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris were all perpetrated by European-born citizens.

Europe cannot rely on a few morally conscious and responsible countries to take up a burden when the EU itself “was born … on a promise of solidarity with the persecuted and downtrodden” (The Economist). By continuing not to act and accept greater numbers of refugees, the European Union founders’ vision of a united Europe working to promote peace and prosperity would be quashed. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, it won’t be the Europe we wished for.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (

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