Monday, 27 April 2015

Let their people drown: Europe's self-inflicted migration crisis

In recent months, a record number of refugees and migrants have drowned in their attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to recent UN estimates, in 2014 almost 220,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean, and at least over 3,500 died during their journey. Over 30,000 have already made the crossing so far this year, with around 1500 reported dead or missing  – more than 50 times greater than at the same point in the previous record year 2014.

And, again, we hear the familiar appeals from European politicians to stop this tragedy by 'fighting' or 'combating' smuggling (and trafficking) in order to stop the suffering of migrants on the European borders. Although this all may sound very lofty, blaming the smugglers is a convenient scapegoating strategy that conceals politicians' own responsibility for this humanitarian tragedy.

Politicians (and the media slavishly copying their rhetorics) ignore that there is a direct relationship between the level of border controls and the number of migrant deaths. As I argued earlier, smuggling is a reaction to border controls, not the cause of migration. Smugglers are service deliverers who help migrants to cross closed borders. They may be involved in illegal activities, they may be criminals, they may deceive migrants, but smugglers are basically running a business. And there is only a market for this business because of the difficulties to migrate legally in search for work or to apply for asylum. So, the more governments militarise borders, the more they make it difficult to apply for asylum, the more they increase migrants'  dependency on smugglers to cross bordes.

Irregular boat migration across the Mediterranean is anything but a new phenomenon. It has ever existed since the early 1990s and resulted from the introduction of visas for North Africans by the European Union countries in 1991-1992. This interrupted previously free seasonal and circular (back-and-fort) migration flows of workers from countries such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and compelled more and more people to migrate illegally.

From the 2000s, an increasing number of workers and also refugees from sub-Saharan Africa have joined this boat migration. The number of crossings oscillated between 30,000 and 80,000 per year (roughly 1-3 per cent of total legal immigration - about 2.5 million a year - into the EU), mainly depending on labour demand in Europe. The marked increase in the number of detected crossings since 2013 is mainly the result of the increase in the number of refugees, particularly from Syria, but also countries like Eritrea and Somalia.

25 years of European border restrictions have not only totally failed to curb immigration but have had counterproductive results through an increase in irregular migration and an increasing dependence of migrants on smugglers to cross borders. They have also interrupted the previous circular movement, pushing migrants into permanent settlement and border controls led to a constant diversification, shifting and geographical expansion of crossing points. The toughening of border controls and 'combating smuggling' have also increased the likelihood that smugglers will exploit the vulnerable position of migrants by extorting them increasing amounts of money or abandoning them on sea.

Recurrent proposals to 'combat irregular migration' by toughening border controls and closing off legal migration routes are bound to fail, as these restrictions are among the very causes of the phenomenon they pretend to combat. Policy making is caught in a vicious circle of more restrictions-more illegality-more restrictions.

A second reason why European politicians bear direct responsibility for the rising number of deaths is their decision to stop the search and rescue 'Mare Nostrum' programme in November 2014. Many EU governments argued that cutting search and rescue operations would stem migration - as if refugees had no reason to flee their countries. (In October 2014, for instance, Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, defended her decision to end British support for search-and-rescue operations for migrants in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean (which had so far saved the lives of over 150,000 migrants) were acting as a “pull factor” for irregular migration)

How wrong could they be? As a direct result of the suspension of Mare Nostrum, the number of border deaths has gone drastically up, while the number of migrants and, particularly, refugees has further increased. So, politicians' have defended their voluntary decision to let people die at sea with the outrageous argument that this would deter people from coming. This shows politicians' de facto disregard for human rights despite their hypocritical public grievances and crocodile tears about migrants' tragic fate. These public displays of grief are nothing more than cynical attempts to appear humane while factually being involved in a political rat race who can appear 'toughest' on migration. Whatever reason politicians have to defend such tragic decisions, by doing so they have lost their credibility for public shows of moral outrage.

The lack of credibility among European politicians is shown by their unwillingness to save migrants in distress and host significant number of refugees. It would be outrageous to suggest the EU (the worlds' richest economic block with more than half a billion habitants) lacks the resources to host refugees coming from worn-torn countries such as Syria. What we are dealing with here is not an uncontrollable movement of masses of poor and desperate people from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. What we are dealing with is a humanitarian tragedy and a displacement crisis unfolding in the European periphery, in the turmoil of which a sizeable, but comparatively still small proportion of refugees seek protection in Europe.

Despite all talk about 'regional solutions', it is easily forgotten that the vast majority of refugees stays in their own region. For instance, the vast majority of the 3 million Syrians refugees live in relatively poor neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Compared to that the numbers of Syrians coming to Europe (a few hundreds of thousands so far) is quite limited. Europe currently hosts 4 percent of all Syrian refugees (see figure). With the exception of a few countries such as Sweden and Germany, most European countries have only accepted tiny numbers of Syrian refugees. As Alexander Betts has argued in a brilliant article "Forget the ‘war on smuggling’, we need to be helping refugees in need", the recent proposal for a "voluntary" resettlement scheme for 5,000 refugees to emerge at last week’s Brussels meeting "is absurd against the backdrop of three million Syrian refugees".

The truth is that there is no 'solution' in the sense of stopping this migration, which is likely to persist at current levels as long as conflicts in countries such as Syria continue, and migrants will inevitably keep on crossing the Mediterranean illegally as long as legal entry channels are blocked. Immigration restrictions and border controls create lucrative markets for smugglers and traffickers.

The only short- to medium-term 'solution' should be focused on helping refugees in need through (1) a serious scaling up of search and rescue operations; (2) a significant increase in refugee resettlement quota by EU countries and other wealthy nations; and (3) increased support to countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to host refugees in the region.

Any thinking about 'solutions' in terms of a further toughening of borders controls and closing legal routes for migration will not stop migration but will only increase migrants' dependency on smuggling and increase the death toll. The lack of support for serious search and rescue operations and the unwillingness to host significant numbers of refugees shows that the current response of EU countries is tantamount to saying "let their people drown". EU politicians have become tragic actors in a self-inflicted drama which they decry so melodramatically.


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  2. Are you sure that admitting more people legally the flow of boats through the Mediterranean will decrease? It seems that too many people want to come to Europe. More want to come than the Europeans would be ready to accept. I see the possibility that, after admitting more refugees resettled from refugee camps and economic legal immigrants, the flow of boats will be more or less the same as now or will increase, attracted by the new showed generosity. Could you give me some arguments (historical examples) to demonstrate that liberalizations will not increase the flows?

    1. @Valerio Catuli the word here is not 'generosity' you might consider 'International Obligation'
       We seem to look at migration from war zones the desire to and actual seeking of refuge and a better life in the case of economic migrants in Europe and the West generally as an issue in isolation...
      It's common knowledge that the West had been flourishing for centuries as a result of direct and indirect domination of the Peripherals. As long as this persists, the boats will always flow.
      But that is not my point.
      The civil war in Syria will eventually come to an end; it could take years, but on an optimistic model - it will end. And like has been the case with Somalia, South Sudan, Lebanon and other states that have recently been in or are getting out of conflict, reconstruction will begin.
      And who do you think will be awarded this billion dollar rebuilding contracts?  Yes! you guessed right! - The same nations that are currently viewing asylum seekers with apathy. The same leaders will shake hands with new leaders ( or even the same) and append signatures to documents that will ensure the continuance of the flow of currency outwards. The citizens of these nations many advocates of border controls will continue to enjoy privelege as they always have at the expense of their counterparts.
      And who is manufacturing these weapons that are being used in the war that is making the people flee? The boats being used? The smartphones?The navigation maps? Should I continue?
      Part of the reasons why the West is in a position to accommodate asylum seekers and migrants(and why they look in that direction anyway) is because they have benefited greatly and will continue to do so from economic domination of original countries of immigrants. Conflict or non Conflict zones.
      In short,we are all entrenched into this global system. Immigrants are just a piece of the puzzle. A negligible piece nontheless .There is no way out! Liberalisation must occur!
      So yes, letting migrants in, particularly those fleeing conflict zones is not 'generosity' on your part. Its 'International Obligation'

    2. Jackline Mukami - Why don't you direct all your demands of "International Obligation" to your fellow Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar?
      All your rants on "who is manufacturing these weapons that are being used in the war that is making the people flee? The boats being used? The smartphones?The navigation maps?" are just pure idiocy.
      No one is forcing anyone to buy nor use anything, from smartphones to weapons. IT IS THEIR CHOICE. And let's not forget - all smartphones and weapons (at least the ones used in third world countries) are manufactured mostly in China, not in the "West".
      "The civil war in Syria will eventually come to an end [...] And who do you think will be awarded this billion dollar rebuilding contracts?". Here we go again: IT WILL BE THEIR CHOICE. As we can see all over Middle East, it is mostly Japanese, Chinese and Saudis who get the bulk of "rebuilding contracts", not the "West", so again - your ignorance and stupidity is simply astounding.
      Furthermore, as more and more Europeans noticed, the hordes of these so-called "refugees" that are currently coming to Europe are nothing but INVADERS. Refugees don't consist in 80%-90% of males in their 20s-30s!

      You dare to yell at us "Liberalisation must occur!" as if the "West" was some kind of Muslim area, without freedoms and under Sharia law! Only politically-correct liberal piece of brainwashed moron could demand more "liberalisation" from people of the "west". WE already ARE the most liberal on this planet, what you are asking for - actually demanding - is that we, the "West", simply give up our hard-worked-for prosperity and hand it to few million Muslim invaders.

      If you're so hell-bent for helping poor refugees from Northern Africa and Middle East, why aren't you campaigning in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and other rich and prosperous Muslim countries that are just in the neighborhood of these refugees? Why those countries are not under "International Obligation", why they don't take millions of Muslim brothers refugees into their countries? It is much, much safer for these "refugees" to flee to neighboring Muslim countries instead of making dangerous trip across the sea, yet they prefer Europe - why is that? The answer is simple: it is because our welfare systems are much more generous than what they could ever expect from their fellow Muslims and no one would let them live on social welfare for years in i.e. Saudi Arabia, while in Germany or France they can live better than working in a Muslim country and without working a single day in their whole life.
      But that is only one of the reasons why they come to Europe.
      Such mass-migration of few million people can not be spontaneous, and as I suspected from beginning we can already see that it is indeed yet another Muslim invasion of Europe. Someone is sponsoring this migration, the pamphlets and "migrant's handbook" don't print themselves out of the blue... Anyways, the truth about it will come out sooner or later.

      As European I refuse to help invaders trying to conquer my country.
      As for you - judging from your name you have vested interest in helping these "refigees" - I feel nothing towards you but disgust. People like you, asking Europeans about "International Obligations" and in the same time closing their eyes on their Muslim brothers' lack of help - are either disgusting propaganda specialists, or simply useful idiots. There is no other explanation for your despicable posts.

    3. 1.Most of these commodities are manufactured in China as part of the supply chain purely for economic reasons; availability of land, labour etc - this does not necessarily mean they are Chinese
      2.The reason behind most of the refugees being young virile males is because they face the risk of being recruited into the fighting forces (regime, rebels and islamists) mostly against their will. Besides, the tiresome, long and dangerous journey requires the kind of endurance they possess as a demographic
      3. Its true that the Arab nations you mentioned lag behind in taking in the refugees though they assist in monetary terms. Note as Professor Hein de Haas has always retariated that most of the refugees are in the neighbouring countries. The ones seeking refuge in Europe are just a negligible proportion of the population.
      4. Refugees choosing Europe, ever better Germany and other wealthier nations offering comfortable perks is simply rationality. We are all wired to want the best. It would be a miscalculation to not expect this from them.
      5. It is only today that the European Union has approved a plan to distribute 120,000 refugees among its member states. Germany expects to take in at least 800,000 refugees by the end of the year. I haven't heard any talk of an 'invasion' by members of a certain religious group.

      I choose not to respond to your other audacious comments about 'people like me' 'judging by my name' and the rest of the disdainful adjectives. You are after all entitled to your opinion. Nontheless , as you are European as you mentioned , if you'd make a friend out of a refugee , you just might encounter the kindest soul, a human being seeking an amicable non - violent environment just as any of us would.

    4. If you are concerned with veiled women, you should be also concerned with long dresses and prayer caps used by Amish women and similar communities who are abundant in Pennsylvania. I guess you are not worried by them, probably because they don't have a dark skin

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  4. The European response is half hearted. Whether you decide that the prohibition on migration should be lifted to allow free movement across borders or decide to deploy armed forces to sink migrant boats you have to do one or the other. No half arsed mix and match solutions. Personally I would happily sink any boat trespassing in my territory. But if we decide to let everyone in then let's do it. They say only a Sith deals in absolutes but enough faffing about already!

  5. Jackline, I think that generosity is the right term, because "international obligations" in this case are not so definite as the term would suggest. People who believe to need international protection have the right to seek asylum, non necessarily to receive it, because conceding asylum is a sovereign decision of individual countries, which decide in accordance with their judgement, capacity and willingness to accept refugees. This is proved by the huge differences in rate of approval of different countries. In Europe some accept 80% of requests, some less than 10%. But there is a legal justification for this. When the Geneve convention was negotiated, one of the final draft stated that these people have "the right to seek and to be granted asylum" but the final text only included "right to seek and to enjoy." Those who accept refuges are not therefore forced to do so and act mainly for generosity, even if I agree that they could receive some advantages from this generosity, especially in the case of Syrians who are arriving now, who are part of the professional and educated middle class, the only one able to pay the high fees required by smugglers. I don't comment the rest of your not new conspiracy theories on the responsibilities of developed countries on whatever bad happens in developing countries, which absolve the local rulers and make all seem victims.

    1. Honorable, tolerant, helpful, reasonable, benevolent, noble... just but a few, are the words that come to mind when I think of the word 'generosity'
      But not so much when I see the high hungarian walls with humans strolling alongside it endlessly searching for a way through, tear gas, water cannons , an asylum seeker being handcuffed as his little girl watches wailing, the capsizing boats, the tiresome long distance trekking, police brutality, condescending newspaper headings...
      As much as we may comprehend the dynamics of the legal structures of the process,and the need for them ,we seem to be lost in legal definitions 'Seek' 'grant' 'enjoy' 'arrive'. Though Germany is an example of best practice,there is general unwillingness to lift the veil and face the issue as it is -people in need of peace, serenity, tranquillity.
      The day humans(read asylum seekers) will no longer be forced by set circumstances to embark on a real life Amazing Race,all the while dodging all manner of death snares while we watch in order to win the prize ( read seek and be granted asylum) ,is the day I will consider the word 'generosity'

  6. Anonymous 4 September. I understand that people would like to have simple solutions even to complex problems but this is not the case for migration. It is not about deciding to sink boats or accept everybody, but many decisions are necessary and many actions in multiple sectors, considering that each of them may bring advantages and several drawbacks at the same time.


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