Debatable Burdens

This chart from the Center for Global Development shows the number of refugees in each country relative to the per capita economic ‘cushion’ that the country has to absorb them. Clearly, all of Europe together is facing tiny economic shocks compared to Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. When looking at this chart, it is clear that refugees are presenting a crisis of values for Europe, rather than a crisis of economics.

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There are two value frameworks for debating Europe’s options for the refugee situation. There are arguments for self-enhancing values, and arguments for self-transcending values.

Those who argue from the self-enhancing framework debate the economic costs of refugees, national security, and culture. The question they are asking is, “Will accepting refugees make us and our own society better off than we are now?”

There is a convincing case that accepting refugees does bring about self-enhancement. Proponents of this side argue that refugees solve Europe’s social security problem and provide an economic boost. Research shows that refugees don’t have to be a drain on resources; if they are allowed to work, and the quicker their applications are processed and approved, the more productive work they can do within a country. Sitting in a refugee camp awaiting a long-coming asylum decision is what drains the economy.

Others don’t care for these type of arguments. According to the self-transcending view, European countries should accept refugees because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the economics. It’s more of a moral argument, backed up by European countries’ signatures on international agreements such as the Refugee Convention of 1951.

Europe is finding itself at a moral crossroads, and it appears that they see their burden to uphold international humanitarian agreements about refugees as optional. While Germany has adopted the self-transcending view of humanitarian responsibility, other countries do not see their responsibility to self-transcend, because they believe that accepting refugees won’t enhance their own well-being.

In all of this debating, though, Europe has had the luxury of time and distance to have these debates. Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan did not have any choice in accepting refugees, and their economies are relatively flooded with the arrivals. Greece also has had to jump into action, as they did not have the option to reject incoming refugees.



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