After national front pages printed the image of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey, the mood across Europe has changed.
All but one member of the Kurdi family died attempting to reach Europe, the plan being to eventually live with relatives in Canada. They were fleeing their Syrian hometown of Kobani, which has been bombarded by heavy fighting between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters.
The immigration crisis has rapidly evolved over the summer, from net migration fears to tunnel invasions at Calais, to the full-blown humanitarian crisis it is now widely considered.
However, many in Europe are fighting over which states should shoulder responsibility for the crisis. At a summit in Brussels this morning Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, labelled EU immigration a “German problem”, arguing that controversial scenes at Budapest train station proved Hungary was defending European Christianity against a Muslim influx.
But in truth, immigration is a Western problem – and the worst is yet to come.
The large numbers of people coming to Europe are predominantly asylum seekers. Figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Home Office, compiled by the BBC, reveal that asylum applications in Europe reached 438,000 by the end of July. This is compared with 571,000 applications for the whole of 2014.
Germany is still the most sought-after destination for migrants arriving in Europe, with more than 188,000 applications by the end of July 2015 – 15,416 more compared with the whole of 2014. The rise of Islamic State, as well as tumultuous conditions in countries like Syria and Libya, are widely acknowledged to be behind the large increases in asylum seekers.
However soon the problem of climate change threatens to become the leading cause of immigration, with numbers of “climate migrants” poised to overtake and replace asylum seekers.
In his controversial 2013 book Ten Billion, Microsoft Research’s head of computational science Stephen Emmott warned readers of a Europe with “heavily defended border controls designed to prevent millions of people from entering”.
Rather than predicting Orban’s comments about reinforcing Hungarian borders to deter asylum seekers, Emmott was predicting migration caused by countries being “no longer habitable” due to climate change.
Whilst Emmott’s book was criticized for its melodramatic and bleak tendencies, his predictions are logical extensions of readily available data from more credible sources, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or even Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth – a documentary widely adopted in global science curricula to encourage children to take climate change seriously.
Apart from resource scarcity, the increasing frequency of climate-related disasters continues to affect poorest nations of the world hardest. 45 percent of the population of Bangladesh was made homeless at some point between 1980 and 2002 – by comparison, less than one-seventh of one percent affected during the same period in the US.
Instead of treating the “immigration crisis” as a short-term event to which we need to react, we need to look in to the deeper issues creating a far greater problem. David Cameron is right to say that we have a moral responsibility towards migrants, but we also have a moral responsibility to prevent conditions that will lead to climate migrations.
The “immigration crisis” is just the beginning. If the West fails to acts now, it will be buried beneath the blood-soaked weight of its own carbon footprint.