Migrant Lives

Europe Shamed Again, From The Shoah To Syrian Refugees

Refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arriving in Athens on Aug. 26
Refugees from Syria and Afghanistan arriving in Athens on Aug. 26
Guy Sorman


PARIS â€" There are times when it is necessary to compare things that are not comparable. There’s a chance at least that it will wake up some anesthetized minds.

Between 1933 and 1940, several million refugees who had escaped from Germany, Poland, the Baltic countries and elsewhere, fleeing Nazism, were met with closed borders. They had names like Nathan, Samuel or Rachel.

Nathan, for example, was prescient enough to flee Germany as early as the summer of 1933, five months after Adolf Hitler took power. He wanted to go to the United States, but couldn’t obtain a visa. He tried Spain, and was rebuffed again. More by chance than anything else, he ended up in France, where he wasn't exactly welcome but not pushed away either.

Nathan survived the German occupation of France by joining the ranks of the resistance movement, in the Pyrenees, together with Spanish Republicans who survived the civil war. Nathan had ten brothers and sisters, all killed in the Nazi concentration camps, while his mother died of hunger in the Warsaw ghetto.

The six million who died in the Holocaust didn’t arouse any great wave of emotion â€" Jewish people aside â€" until the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Before that, the extermination of the Jews had been assimilated in the collective unconscious as collateral damage of World War II. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, who had been aware of their situation since 1933, had nonetheless always refused to allow the extermination not yet known as the Shoah to hijack their global strategy, the defeat of the Nazis and the alliance with Stalin.

Let’s now talk about that thing which, supposedly, has nothing to do with what I just explained, namely the flight of millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Is it different because Latifa, Ali and Ahmed aren’t slaughtered with the same industrial efficiency as Samuel, Nathan and Rachel? Why is it different? Are we to believe that Ali, Latifa and Ahmed risk ending up drowning in the Mediterranean, suffocating in a truck, dying of thirst on a road in Greece because they’re tourists or just looking for a new job in England?

No, because they too are fleeing extermination. If they take the risk of drowning, it’s because they know that the alternative is to be gassed, shot, bombed, starved. It isn’t the Shoah â€" or perhaps not yet.

Hundreds of Afghan and Syrian refugees arrive in Piraeus, Greece, on Sept. 3 â€" Photo: Michael Debets/Pacific Press/ZUMA

More than a crisis

What will we call this human tide washing over Europe, a few years from now? How will we justify in our history books and our official lamentations this exodus that Europeans, both the people and their political leaders, are trying to reduce to a technical “crisis” that simply calls for a few legal adjustments in the definition of refugee status?

If Nathan was still alive, I don’t doubt for a moment that he would look at Ali or Ahmed and see himself, his own face, his own fate, his own distress. Nathan would recognize all the arguments that, back then, were used to prevent him from crossing the same borders: that the economic situation in Western Europe wouldn’t allow them to fit in, that the public opinion opposes the arrival of more foreigners, Jews and other aliens, whose numbers are already too big for a government to take that risk. Wasn’t Nathan exaggerating the threats that was supposedly hanging over his and his people’s heads? Surely that Hitler person would eventually become reasonable …

Will Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean dictator, Bashar al-Assad and the jihadist groups devastating the Middle East ever become reasonable? Nobody in the West is trying to make them. The only initiative that was at some point considered was François Hollande’s willingness to bomb Assad’s headquarters. It ended up blocked, in 2013, by Barack Obama, in a move reminiscent of the 1938 Munich Agreement.

The only Western leader who’s now assessing the reality of the tragedy and who’s offering appropriate humanitarian solutions is Angela Merkel. As a German, she knows that Ahmed is Nathan, only 75 years later.

We all know the seemingly rational objections â€" that these people are not Europeans and can’t integrate in our societies, that the economy can’t take on that burden. But what sounds true is false. These people are refugees, who once accepted into Europe, would bring their education and their capacity for work. Most of them are young and determined, as their exile demonstrates. Migration is a terrible selection of the fittest against the weakest. The United States has always developed faster than Europe thanks to the dynamism of migrants, whereas Europe declines as it grows older.

Cultural integration would be unthinkable, wouldn’t it? The argument seems to make sense, but strangely assumes that Europe is culturally, ethnically and religiously, a pure, immaculate jewel.

In truth, Europe is a blended accumulation, a melting pot of cultures that, put together, constitute the European civilization. I remember a former French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, who, faced with immigration on a smaller scale, thought he’d solved the problem by simply saying that “Europe cannot accommodate all the misery in the world.”

We could retort that Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have sheltered 3 million refugees, while Europe has accommodated just 300,000. For this, I am ashamed for Europe, of its selfishness, its historical short-sightedness and its contented little bourgeois arrogance.

That is why I say today that Ahmed is my brother and Latifa my sister. Because, you see, Nathan was my father.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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