Alphen, Netherlands. 4 September. Seventy-six years ago today Polish refugees were desperately seeking to escape the Blitzkrieg as Nazi forces savaged Poland. On Wednesday the horrific image of three year old Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body washed up on a Turkish beach crystallised in one image the appalling humanitarian tragedy that is Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis. Today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called upon the EU to accept a ‘mandatory’ 200,000 refugees. Not surprisingly, the broadcast airwaves are replete with calls for ‘something more to be done’. Germany is right; this is a European problem precisely because it is a systemic crisis, although Chancellor Merkel’s poor handling of both the crisis and her fellow Europeans has exacerbated both the crisis and Europe’s divisions. Equally, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is also right; the problem is a particular problem for Germany, and by extension Western Europe. So, how many of the world’s poor & displaced can Western Europe Take?
European leaders must avoid doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Indeed, how ‘Europe’ deals with this crisis will set a precedent for the many future potential crises that are brewing on Europe’s borders and not far beyond (more of those later). European ‘policy’ – both national and EU – has clearly failed. This is primarily because of the political impact of recent mass immigration on Western European societies, and the refusal of some Central and Eastern European countries to become immigration countries. However, the crisis has also been exacerbated by the politically-correct refusal of leaders to accept that any policy will mean significant numbers of refugees and migrants eventually being repatriated. Leaders have also refused to recognise that long-cherished but wholly unrealistic EU shibboleths must change in the face of the systemic and strategic challenge to the existing order the current crisis represents. In other words, European leaders are caught in a web of their own contradictions.
Talking of contradictions even the so-called ‘solutions’ being proposed by the EU seem to bear little relationship to the situation on the ground. Yesterday, EU Council President Donal Tusk called for the mandatory distribution of 100,000 refugees and migrants across EU member-states. However, for that to work the migrants would need to stay where they are sent. That would mean the re-introduction of internal controls within the EU and thus the end of free movement central to Schengen. Indeed, even if the Brussels Eurocrats succeed in sending many of the migrants and refugees to relatively poorer Central and Eastern European countries by fiat soon thereafter many of them will simply up sticks again and head back to relatively richer Western Europe.
Worse, the crisis has already flattened EU border controls and revealed the Schengen ‘system’ to be the borderless, toothless, on-paper only tiger it always was. This is because the strong, continuous external EU border upon which Schengen depends can only be enforced at the expense of humanitarianism which would mean many more thousands of migrants being permitted to die at sea. That is politically unacceptable (and rightly so) so long as European states are not prepared to seek out and destroy the trafficking pipelines facilitating the mass exodus from Africa and the Middle East. Consequently, Schengen facilitates the undocumented movement of migrants and refugees.
Furthermore, the European Commission’s proposal for a common policy on asylum is based on a nonsensical distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants. Most ‘refugees’ no longer regard the asylum they seek as temporary refuge (as it should be) but rather a form of permanent resettlement, an aspiration they share with economic migrants. For example, if they were merely seeking asylum Syrian refugees would stay in Turkey where they are free from the threat of death. Instead they are heading to Europe, or more precisely they are heading to Germany and Western Europe, because the moment they step into the EU they also become economic migrants.
So, let me put Western Europe’s refugee/economic migrant crisis in its systemic perspective. The circa one million migrants and refugees now transiting or about to transit Europe AND the million or so believed to be heading to Europe from the east and the south of the Continent as I write will continue to head to Western Europe. i.e. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and non-EU Norway. You will note I have left Italy off the list because like many Southern and Eastern European states evidence suggests the traffickers see it as a reception rather than a settlement country. For the moment I have also left Britain, Denmark and Ireland off the ‘target list’ because as non-Schengen countries they can still impose nominal border controls, although David Cameron is this morning shifting his position on Syrian refugees and rightly so.
Now, if I take various UN indices for conflict, extremism, persecution, political instability, poverty and pressures caused by recent mass immigration as a measure of vulnerability to develop a list of 'at risk' countries relatively close to Europe and then further include the nationals of those countries who have already made their way illegally to Europe the list is thus: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauretania, Moldova, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Togo, The Gambia, Tunisia, Ukraine, Western Sahara and Yemen. Add to that conservative list (I have deliberately left a few unstable countries off) Kurds and Palestinians according to the CIA World Factbook the total (rounded down) is some 1.3bn people.
Now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that over the next decade 1% of that population will attempt to enter the EU either as a refugee or economic migrant. That would mean 130m people over a decade or 13m irregular migrants and asylum seekers each year seeking to enter the EU. Let’s also say for the sake of argument they all seek to make their way to the seven countries I have highlighted. This would mean Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and non-EU Norway absorbing some 1.85m people each year from very different social, cultural and economic backgrounds.
Given those figures a country like the Netherlands would need to take in a minimum of 264,000 refugees and migrants each year above and beyond regular migration or 2.6m irregular migrants over ten years. Given the population of the Netherlands is some 16m such an influx of people over one decade would have very significant implications for the social, cultural and economic cohesion of the Netherlands. That is why the current crisis is a systemic crisis that potentially at least threatens to destabilise European societies, something Europe’s elite seem unwilling to admit.
Of course, I am assuming that such a flow of people would be steady and constant rather than the kind of crisis and criminal driven surge we are witnessing in Europe today. And, the ability of a country to receive migrants and refugees would need to be based on population size given that Western European countries all share similar GDP per capita. However, there is another complicating and exacerbating factor that must also be considered. Under European human rights legislation if indefinite leave to stay is granted many countries then permit families to join refugees and migrants. That would boost overall irregular immigration figures significantly, possibly as much as three or fourfold.
Now, some will no doubt accuse me of lacking humanity for not joining those implying that all of the poor and displaced be given shelter in Europe. They are wrong. The sight of little Aylan’s body affected me just as it did other decent Europeans. And, I also believe more must be done to help the victims of Syria and Iraq’s nightmare both in Europe and more particularly in the region itself. However, I refuse to retreat into the hysteria generated by one ghastly image. Tragically, little Aylans have been drowning in the seas around Europe for a couple of years now.
Furthermore, Europeans must also resist efforts by well-coached refugees and migrants to use television to shame Europe into foregoing humane due process and sensible controls or accepting the lawless thuggery that is being tolerated in places, most notably Calais. Indeed, given the threat ISIS terrorism poses to Europe the re-gripping of such process is vital because implicit in the refugee and migrant crisis is a clear and present danger to Europeans.
Effective ‘humanitarianism’ requires policy, strategy, structure and balance. Above all, ‘humanitarianism’ will only work and indeed be seen as legitimate by host populations if the scale of the challenge is properly understood, the consequences thought through for all concerned, credible and relevant policy (short, medium and long-term) crafted, structures established and measures taken and seen to be taken, including deportation and repatriation of those who fail residency tests, and an ‘asylum’ system that means asylum not mass permanent relocation.
The mission of this blog is to peer through the fog of awe that so often accompanies such crises and consider strategic and policy implications in the cold, hard light of facts. My evidence is pretty compelling in terms of the policy planning drivers leaders must consider, even if only a fraction of my worst case exodus comes to pass. Above all, such planning presupposes the answer to my seminal question; how many of the worlds’ poor and displaced can Western Europe take? There is of course another question leaders need to answer; what will need to be done when Western Europe can take no more?
Over to you leaders. Stop prevaricating, get your act together and quickly!