25 years after the Cold War ended, Europe is barely recognizable from the continent that in 1991 was daring to hope for a better future. Back then the border crossings that for many people were the end of the road quite literally were opening up; it was okay to protest in east Berlin; the Soviets were gone. If one thought that the imperial powers of Europe had wound up their business as such after World War Two and that their former colonies were free to do as they wished, they could not have been more wrong.
The lingering legacy of Britain and France’s ill fated Iraqi and Syrian geopolitical experiments were still to unravel. Dictatorships sanctioned and armed by the west ruled both with an iron fist. The Belgian colony of Rwanda was about to experience a genocide whose roots could be traced back to the colonial days. And the former Italian colonies of east Africa had plunged into anarchy. Out of these countries and their neighbours has flowed a unstoppable stream of migrants who wanted to get away from the persecution, and the civil wars over who was most qualified to run nations with no experience of democracy. With little money or means to go elsewhere, they headed north and west for Europe.
And Europe, with little thought for what might follow, accepted them en masse. Fast forward to 2016 and throw in a new wave of people leaving…
It would be fair to say that the European Union has not had a stellar decade thus far. The influx of migrants from Syria and the Middle East, trying to get away from an aimless war with no clear winners in sight, is just one of a potent mix bubbling very near the surface. From Portugal to Poland, Sweden to Italy, the continent is bulging at the seems with migrants whose mass movement is not by choice, but largely by necessity. Many are traumatized. Many have never been to another country in their life and find the culture of continental Europe as much a challenge as getting away from the conflict. Integration will not be easy.
The social pressures brought on by hundreds of thousands of migrants pouring in is putting immense strain on everything from social services to law and order. All of them need to be housed somewhere whilst they are processed. All of them need food, medical treatment, clothes and so forth. They all need assistance with language barriers and understanding what is acceptable and what is not. Not all will integrate and many just want to go home, but for now, have no choice but to leave.
What does all of this mean for New Zealand? Quite a lot. And much of it not entirely good, but not entirely surprising either. Despite having little to do with the problems afflicting Europe, New Zealand like many other countries may find Europe tightening the visas limitations imposed on their nationals, and closing border crossings that for 20 odd years since the end of the Cold War, one could drive straight through. Indeed Germany and Sweden have already starting activating long dormant border checks. Other nations may follow suit shortly. In a bid to ensure that jobs are available for their own people, those going on working holidays overseas which has long been a favourite travel option for New Zealanders
It is possible too that Europe may find itself facing a surge amongst right-wing parties that is bigger than just the surging Front National in France. This surge represents a growing distrust of foreigners brought on by terrorist attacks in various E.U. countries, a decades long failure to integrate steadily growing immigrant communities into individual nations and the perceptions that European culture is being overrun. Sadly this xenophobia is not new to Europe. Organizations like the Greek Golden Dawn, the French Front National, the English Defence League are all experiencing growth in membership in rural areas and urban areas alike. All are openly hostile to migrants and even people of colour who might be just tourists in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Unfortunately given the apparent clueless nature of the European response to the migrant crisis, the fact that it comes on top of a wad of other socio-economic problems and a worsening situation in Syria, the European Union might be looking at the edge of the abyss. And for nations all over the world that have gained from the freeing up of the post-Cold War continent, that could be a very bad thing.