With millions of displaced and destitute migrants from eastern Europe and refugees of persecution and violence from other parts of the world, the capability of the rich nations of the world to assist in times of economic stagnation is being severely tested. The massive number of people on the move has weakened international solidarity and endangered the time-honoured tradition of granting asylum to those in genuine need of protection. People who were viewed with sympathy yesterday because they were still far off are turned away today because they are too close and imposing. More and more barriers are being put up against the refugee influx, with Western industrialized countries among the more resistant and some of the world's poorest countries able to claim a far more honourable record.
More than 700,000 refugees and asylum-seekers made their way into Europe in 1992 alone. Of these, over 430,000 sought refuge in Germany, where eight foreigners were killed and more than 300 injured in back-lash violence. Sweden, Austria, France and several other countries who have been amongst the more generous to refugees were also showing signs of difficulty in their ability and willingness to house, employ or protect additional refugees. Devices have been put in place to filter the number of asylum claims that are needed to be processed, including the airline clerk at the point of departure (whose company will be responsible for paying the costs of return travel for a bogus tourist) and the border guard. The result has been that western Europe has built up a set of defences against refugees, often imperceptible but claimed to be at least as efficient that the Berlin Wall, with the east European states as the continent's human buffer zone.
The spirit of solidarity clearly reveals the unacceptable fact that millions of refugees live in inhuman conditions. Indifference, inaction or a meagre commitment on the the part of democratic and economically developed countries would blatantly contradict the principles that they rightly consider the basis of their culture, established on the equal dignity of every human person.
The only realistic way of ensuring that political asylum will be preserved is to prevent the emergence of ever more refugees. This requires the international community to insist vigorously that national protection of fundamental rights be maintained and restored so that people do not have to seek protection outside their own countries.