Alphen, Netherlands. 5 January. Last week three hundred and fifty nine-migrants were rescued adrift at sea off the Italian coast on the abandoned, ageing, decrepit livestock freighter Ezadeen. On Sunday a major demonstration took place in Dresden against immigration. That same day a poll in a leading British newspaper said that immigration was the most important topic for the May 2015 UK General Election. Italian authorities now estimate that the human traffickers responsible for the Ezadeen made $3m/€2.5m profit from their trade in human misery with each migrant paying between $4-8000/€3-7000 for the trip. These people are but the latest of some 200,000 migrants who made it across the Mediterranean to Europe in 2014. Tragically, some 3000 people paid with their lives. Managing mass migration into the EU is one if not THE most pressing strategic issue for Europeans. What must be done?
Grasp the scope of the challenge: This is not just a European phenomenon. According to Global Strategic Trends 2014 the world’s population will grow from 7.2bn people today to between 8.4bn and 10.4bn by 2045. 97% of that growth will occur in the developing world with 70% in the world’s nine poorest countries. Driven by demographic pressure, conflicts, globalisation and organised transnational crime the world is witnessing the first wave of strategic mass migration with profound and destabilising structural implications for geopolitics and societies. And, such migration is likely only to increase. Indeed, with states collapsing and in distress across North Africa, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia the imperative of people to move will grow rapidly and massively.
Support front-line states: 87% of all refugees are in the developing world. Moreover, whilst there are some 230,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Europe, there are still some 3m who remain in the region placing a huge strain on already-weakened countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. For exanple, there are already 1.1m registered Syrians in Lebanon and some 0.5m unregistered. Syrians now represent some 30% of the population and many Lebanese fear this massive influx will destabilise an already fragile state. This week Lebanon will impose visas on Syrians. Supporting front-line states with aid and expertise must be a priority.
Render asylum fit for purpose: 50% of those making the perilous journey are not refugees but simply people seeking a better life and whilst no-one can blame people for that most basic of human instincts the sheer numbers involved means immigration must be controlled. In 2013 EU member-states issued 2.3m work permits. However, if host populations are to accept those with a right to stay they must be confident that those with no right to stay are returned to their country of origin. European publics have no confidence in immigration systems at present or the leaders who promise endlessly to 'fix' the problem but never do. What is needed is a humane return policy allied to sanctions on those third countries who refuse to take back their nationals and yet receive EU/national aid.
Recognise migration as a Europe-wide challenge: It is utterly unfair to expect hard-pressed countries like Spain, Greece and Italy to cope with such flows on their own. As regular readers of this blog know I am wary of more Europe but mass migration is one area which needs a collective European position. Relations between EU member-states are already suffering due to a lack of either policy or effective enforcement. Italy is no longer finger-printing many new arrivals who simply move untracked onto other parts of Europe. France, which under EU rules should be dealing with the migrants seeking to enter Britain from Calais, is threatening to push UK border controls back to Dover to force the British to deal with the problem. Britain refuses to deal with many of the so-called ‘pull factors’ which make the UK such an attractive destination. Equitable resettlement across Europe is needed for those with a right to stay to avoid beggar-thy-neighbour national immigration policies. Instead of trying to destroy states the EU must act as the co-ordinator of collective state action. A first step would be a far better system for identifying migrants and their countries of origin.
Make agencies work together: A critical element in any policy must be the interdiction and prosecution of human trafficking gangs. Europe’s attempt to deal with the traffickers has thus far been lamentable. Schengen Area external border controls must be tightened by in turn strengthening Frontex, the agency responsible for assisting EU member-states with securing the EU's external border. At present Frontex has only 300 people working for it in Warsaw. Efforts must also be made to ensure Europol and Frontex work together more effectively which is not the case today.
European politicians and their electorates are both wrong about strategic mass migration. Politicians are wrong to wish the issue away. Electorates are wrong to believe there are any quick fixes. The essential dilemma for Europeans is how to maintain humanitarian principles and protect societies from the extremism, social instability, wage suppression and crime which unfortunately such migrations also (and undoubtedly) spawn. Managing mass migration is a strategic issue and as such must be dealt with strategically and honestly.