Migrant Lives

Merkel To Moria: Is Accepting Migrants A Moral Imperative?

Protesters during a demonstration SOS Moria refugee camp in the Netherlands
Protesters during a demonstration SOS Moria refugee camp in the Netherlands
Claudia Becker and Marcel Leubecher

In mid-September, fires destroyed Greece's largest migrant camp, the vastly overcrowded Moria facility on the island of Lesbos. The disaster left some 13,000 already desperate people with no shelter at all, and raises new questions about Europe's collective responsibilities toward migrants five years after German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously opened her nation's doors to fleeing Syrian refugees. Should the countries of the EU feel obliged to always do the same? Two German writers offer opposing viewpoints:

Yes, says Claudia Becker

These days I often find myself thinking of my grandma. I imagine her as an exhausted, scared young woman, wrapped in whatever she could find to protect herself from the cold. In Danzig, in January 1945, she frantically loaded up a cart, took her two young sons and fled the approach of the Red Army.

She told us that at night they sheltered in gymnasiums or barns. There she could heat water to make tea and wash her sons' diapers, and enjoy a brief moment of rest amid all the chaos. The only thing that kept her going was the hope that at some point she would reach a place in the West where they would be safe.

What would have happened if the women, children and elderly people who fled in the winter of 1945 had suddenly found their way blocked? If the borders had been closed because they were seen as undesirable?

My grandmother and the other refugees would not only have fallen into the hands of the Red Army. They may also have had to stay for years in a camp, just like the thousands in Moria, people who are currently waiting for help simply because they arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the no man's land of a war they didn't start.

A group of Maghreb migrants in Malaga harbor — Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Do we have a moral duty to help these people, to welcome those who can't even live anymore in a camp that was already unfit for human habitation? People who are now on the street because a fire has destroyed their temporary homes? What kind of question is that? The question, rather, should be this: How could Europe neglect its moral duty for so long?

Europe is united not only by economic cooperation, but by its shared values. According to Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union, the organization was founded not only on the values of freedom and democracy, but also on respect for human dignity, human rights and the rights of minorities. Europe's shared values are the cornerstone of its existence.

It is appalling that countries such as Austria simply shrug off this responsibility and refuse to accept refugees. Their refusal to fulfill their duty shows that when push comes to shove, these very worthy commitments are just empty words.

How could Europe neglect its moral duty for so long?

The latest survey by ARD-DeutschlandTrend shows that most Germans believe their country has a moral duty to help those in need. Although half of those surveyed said refugees should be shared out among EU countries, still, the vast majority (87%) said that Germany should take its share. For now, Germany is set to accept 1,500 people, a number, as CDU politician Friedrich Merz says, that will not overwhelm the country.

No, says Marcel Leubecher

Even relatively poor Germans are well off compared to people in other parts of the world, and the German state is one of the richest on earth. This means the country has a moral responsibility to help refugees. But it doesn't necessarily follow that this help should come in the form of welcoming refugees on its own soil.

If refugees and other migrants in Greece have long lived in poor conditions and now find themselves homeless for a few days due to the fire, Germany certainly has a moral duty to ensure they have adequate shelter and supplies. But it does not have a duty to bring some of the refugees to Germany. Why?

Our moral duty towards refugees consists of helping as many as possible to escape persecution and providing them with accommodation and necessities. To achieve this, given that we have limited resources, our moral duty is to use them in the most efficient way possible. The best way to reach this goal is for Germany to support the countries that are adjacent to regions in crisis, so that they can take on the 26 million or so refugees worldwide.

"The country has a moral responsibility to help refugees' — Photo: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA

Turkey, for example, could easily welcome Syrian refugees, who are both culturally and geographically close. Germany has the means to support them in doing so, but should only be bound to accept refugees on its own soil if they reach the country without first passing through another place of safety.

If Germany does go above and beyond its duty by welcoming refugees on its own soil, it must concentrate on the neediest. These people are to be found in refugee camps across the world, where the UNHCR the UN's refugee agency identifies those in the greatest need and is only able to find host countries for a tiny proportion.

In this context, Germany should not accept refugees who are already in a place of safety in a developed country such as Greece, which receives billions of euros of support from the EU and provides refugees on the mainland with decent accommodation. It's a different situation on the Greek islands, where people who arrive illegally from Turkey find themselves living for a few months without proper provision.

We must remember that, relative to its population, Germany accepts more refugees and migrants than does Greece, which allows many people to travel on north. Politically, people may well say this is necessary to ease the burden on Athens. But there is no legal or moral imperative for Germany to accept these refugees.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016


Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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