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Norway Builds a Fence

Walter Russell Mead

Europe is rediscovering an old truth from the 1930s: when world order breaks down and refugee flows grow, compassion tends to shrink. People and nations are pretty good about responding to small flows of refugees and displaced persons, but there’s a tipping point where more and more people want to roll up the welcome mat. Tragically, this means that the more compassion is needed, the less we have.

Case in point, Norway:

Norway is putting up a steel fence at a remote Arctic border post with Russia after an influx of migrants last year, sparking an outcry from refugees’ rights groups and fears that cross-border ties with the former Cold War adversary will be harmed.

The government says a new gate and a fence, about 660 feet long and 11 feet high and stretching from the Storskog border point, is needed to tighten security at a northern outpost of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

For decades, the Nordic countries have been seen as reliable havens for asylum seekers.

But the erection of the fence, at a spot where 5,500 migrants mainly from Syria crossed into Norway last year, reflects a wider shift in public attitudes against refugees.

Many liberals and human rights activists want to ignore this truth about human nature, but as Europe is discovering, the cost of ignoring facts is high. Countries that were once noted for their hospitality to refugees are becoming polarized and angry; Trump-like political figures are gaining ground.

What the Europeans haven’t yet remembered—and what a lot of well intentioned Americans also seem to be forgetting—is that the only really effective way to deal with refugee problems is to deal with their causes. As Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen slide into a state of quasi-permanent anarchy, a wave of desperate refugees and migrants sets off for the security and prosperity of Europe. If the West can’t or won’t help locals stabilize these countries, the refugee flow will inevitably reach a level at which even the most liberal Western politicians can no longer keep the doors open.

To try to treat refugee problems in isolation as a humanitarian and legal issue, without integrating your national political and, yes, military strategy into your approach leads to tragedy, bitterness and polarization.

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