“What’s emerging is what we need,which is a comprehensive plan, going after the criminal gangs, going after the traffickers, going after the owners of the boats...and stabilising the countries from which these people are coming.” And when you have finished “stabilising” Syria, Somalia and Libya, overthrowing the Eritrean dictatorship, and ending poverty in West Africa, could you drop by and fix my plumbing? Oh, and Yemen. Fix Yemen too.
“These people” are the 1,300 refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean in the past two weeks, the 30,000 who will drown by the end of this year while trying to cross if nothing more is done – and of course, the estimated half million who will make it safely to Italy, Malta or Greece. The speaker was Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, but he was just one voice in the European Union choir.
The EU’s leaders were meeting in emergency session because of a public outcry over all the refugees drowning on the crossing between Libya and Italy. These same leaders were responsible for most of the deaths, because last year they ended a very effective Italian Navy search-and-rescue operation and “replaced” it with an EU operation that had a third of the resources and was not supposed to operate more than 50 km off the Italian coast.
So now they had to fix it somehow, but they were all aware that their electorates at home still don’t want millions of migrants flooding into the EU, refugees or not. So they did what politicians do in circumstances like these. They came up with a displacement activity.
The problem, it turns out, is not refugees fleeing from places like war-torn Syria and Somalia, from cruel dictatorships like Eritrea, and from impoverished parts of West Africa. It is the evil traffickers – the new slave-traders, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called them – who lure the migrants away from their homes and charge them $2,000 per person for a place on a leaky boat to Europe.
Well, of course. Why would anybody want to leave a nice, safe place like Syria or Somalia unless they had been tricked into it by unscrupulous people-smugglers? So if we just break up those criminal gangs, maybe even go into Libyan territorial waters and destroy their boats before they leave the coast, then the demand for their services will vanish. Everybody will stay home, and the problem will go away.
Wait, sorry, we forgot. We have to “stabilise” their countries too. But THEN the problem really will go away, and we’ll all live happily ever after.
Are any of the 28 EU national leaders so naive that they believe this garbage? Of course not. So why are they saying it? Because they, like the people who voted for or against them, are torn between a distaste for seeing innocent people die, and a determination that millions of those innocent people cannot come and live in their countries.
So they want to hide what the policy is really about, and displace the blame for its bad effects (namely a lot of people drowning) on somebody else. Racist and hypocritical, you say, with a bit of Islamophobia thrown in. You’re right about the hypocrisy, but for a lot of Europeans the problem really is the numbers.
There are millions of people living within 1,500 km. of the European Union’s borders who would move there tomorrow if they had the chance, and that’s just the desperate ones who are trying to escape from wars, violent anarchy and extreme repression.
Count in all the others who would just like a chance to make a decent living in a place where corruption is relatively low and the law is usually enforced, and you are probably into tens of millions of potential migrants. Most of them are not desperate enough to risk the trans-Mediterranean route. Make it easier and safer, however, and lots of them would come too.
There are now close to one billion people living within 2,000 km. of the EU’s borders. Thanks to some of the world’s highest population growth rates, that will double in the next 30 years, which virtually guarantees that there will be more civil wars, more failed states and even more refugees. And that’s before you factor in the impact of climate change in the sub-tropics.
The EU’s own population is about 650 million, and it is not growing. So there is deep concern among EU leaders (though many of them don’t want to say it in public) that in ten or ten years they will be facing illegal migration so massive that it would fundamentally change the cultural identity of European countries.
They want to get the new, much tougher policy towards refugees in place now, before the refugees taking the sea route to Europe start coming in even greater numbers, but they don’t want to take responsibility for the deaths that will happen as a result. How to shift the blame? Try this. “It’s not our fault that all those poor people are dying at sea; it’s the fault of the evil people-smugglers.”