The Children of Moria and Ethics of Responsibility 2.0
Guest commentary by Michael Breisky in “Die Presse”, Vienna
December 29th, 2020 at 4:34 pm
by Michael Breisky
If Austria’s help does not arrive in the local slum camps, the ethics of responsibility has failed and ethics of conviction is back on track.
The pre-Christmas dispute over the admission of some children from Greek slum camps has brought the conflict between ethics of conviction and responsibility to boil over again. Yes, it is a noble disposition to bring only a few people out of misery. And yes, it is a noble sense of responsibility to also consider whether you can cause significantly more damage with such help. In a specific case, this would be the much discussed “pull effect”, which gives even more migrants and refugees false hopes for a future in Europe.
If the ethics of responsibility should take precedence in an increasingly complex world, the ethics of conviction still maintains its function: It is their task to kick the buttocks of those who bear responsibility enough so that they actually act responsibly.
Seen in this way, Austria acted correctly in September when, after the Moira camp burned down, instead of taking in a few hundred children, it provided help on site by providing winter-proof accommodation for 2,000 people and delivering extensive medical materials. Since then, however, the Austrian media have reported next to nothing about the actual use of this aid or its unused standing around (a journalistic sin of omission or political intention?). And that’s not all, the impression that the Greek authorities want to prevent the further influx of migrants and refugees with horror images from Moria is growing.
If Austrian help does not reach the needy on site, then in this case the ethics of responsibility has failed and the ball is back with ethics of conviction. It is now up to her to draw attention to the social damage that goes far beyond the incident if the European self-image value of humanity, especially towards children, were disregarded. And because of this greater damage, it would be irresponsible and unethical not to prove the continued existence of European values by taking in a few hundred children.
Ethics of conviction and responsibility can also combine on a new level: If we get even a few people out of Moria, this pull effect will lure more refugees to Lesbos than can be deterred by the poor camp conditions. Conversely: the continued hopelessness of coming to (Central) Europe outweighs the expectation of relative comfort during a seemingly endless stay in a renovated camp. So the key is to put pressure on Greece to – with our or Europe’s help – actually and quickly bring the camps to a decent level. As long as the renovation is a long time coming – and only so long! – Austria can and should also accept small contingents of children with their families.
Ambassador ret. Michael Breisky (* 1940) joined the Foreign Office in 1967. These days his book “With ‘Austrian Mind’ outside the box” was published as an encouragement to the corona crisis.