29 April 2015

Rethinking Dealing with Illegal Migrations across the Mediterranean

After paying the money and getting in the boat, a "lucky" Eritrean Illegal Migrant crashed up on the shores of Rhodes in Greece. She is now free to travel to Athens, and after that Sweden. Earlier in the week, up to 900 illegal immigrants drowned when their boat sank off Italy, bound from Libya. Both are tragedies, but thankfully only one of them includes mass death. Most of the people of the boat from Turkey made it to shore, with three deaths when the boat ran aground and broke up. Most of the people on the boat from Libya drowned, with some, including the captain being rescued.

The next tragedy was an opinion piece in the Huffington post by John Wight. John's opinion piece made me mad. Really mad. And insulted. Does John take us all for simpletons, or is he so blinded by hate of governments that have to make difficult choices?

His piece certainly is emotive, and lays the blame for the 900 deaths at our feet, as Europeans and our Western governments. Does insulting his readership help to advance to reduce the carnage on the Mediterranean? Does his article include any recommendations on how to improve the situation? I'm afraid not, and it is pity, because the answers, in my opinion, do not include opening the doors to anyone who will pay a people smuggler to help them commit a crime, thus making both the smuggler and the economic illegal migrant criminals.

Note the use of words here; Illegal Migrant vs Refugee. Words are so important. If these people are refugees, then we feel guilty that somehow our stable societies are somehow responsible for people, and therefore we must make amends. Call them Illegal migrants and we are facing a wave of people who are making a calculated though risky investment in a better future for themselves and their families. Good for them.

"Her family paid more than 10,000 dollars to give her the chance of starting a new life in Europe hoping that she would eventually reach Sweden." (Lucky Eritrean)

That does not sound like a refugee from a war-torn country ripped apart by Western intervention. We can go into the detail - yes Eritrean has been a war-torn country, much of that caused by their own war with their neighbour and former master Ethiopia. But $10,000 is a huge amount of money in Eritrea, where the per-capita GDP is $1200. That money could have been applied to help her family build a better future in Eritrea.

John Wight's first paragraph reads: "The drowning of 800 people in the Mediterranean is a crime against humanity, the ultimate responsibility for which lies not with the people traffickers operating the boats involved, as some assert, but Western governments that have destabilised the nations from which those refugees are so desperate to escape they are willing to risk their lives in the process." (Blood on our hands)

John, I'm afraid that you and I will disagree, but in a nuanced way.

There are three groups to blame here, not just Western governments. And where our governments are to blame, it is not for the reasons you bleat on about. Those to blame are:

  1. The Illegal Migrants who hope to buy their way into Europe. The Illegal Migrants, having broken the law to get "here", have invalidated any moral right they may otherwise have to be "here".
  2. The traffickers who take their money and put them into unsafe boats filled vastly over their capacity.
  3. European governments that do not return those people to their last ports of call on their journey to Europe.

I will expand on each of these.

  1. The Illegal Migrants are buying their way across the sea. They are not fleeing with what they can put into a hand-cart or on the top of a car. Getting across North Africa to Turkey is not cheap, especially if you start in Eritrea, or Somalia, or Iraq, or Guinea-Bissau, or any of a host of other countries. These people are not rich by European standards; they are poor, very poor. But for countries with an annual GDP equivalent of between $600 (Somalia) and $1200 (Eritrea) per person equivalent. These people are well-off by their local standards. And they have not paid for this trip on their credit card or some other promise of future payment. The traffickers do not take credit, they take cash. 
  2. The traffickers are cashing in on a combination of political instability and a market. Get into Europe for a price. These traffickers are advertising on Facebook, and have little difficulty gaining clients. There are advantages to being a people-smuggler. Compared with drug smuggling, the rewards are comparable, the penalties less, and the market booming.
  3. European governments treat Illegal Migrants arriving in boats dramatically differently from Illegal Migrants arriving by aeroplane. Should you attempt to enter Europe illegally by an airline, the airline carries the cost or flying you back to the airport at which you embarked. This stops people who can afford $10,000 from simply flying to Sweden - they will be put on a plane back to where they came from. So why is it acceptable to arrive by boat and stay, but not to arrive by aeroplane and stay? Instead, they will commit a number of crimes, with the hope that if caught, they will fall on our mercy they will be allowed in.

So let's be realistic about a few things.

First, Illegal Migrants are not the people that we want to bring into Europe. Why? For the simple reason that their illegal actions have marked them out as individuals who will break the law to get what they want. These are not "innocents" cast out onto a dangerous sea. Most countries require background checks to confirm that migrants do not have criminal records, and in most cases will not grant admission to criminals. This is not unusual or in any way in violation of anyone's human rights. Image owning a shop, and in walks someone that you have on CCTV stealing from you yesterday. That person then asks you for a job working in your store. Are you going to hire this person? Do you have a moral obligation to help them? Countries are the same, and have the right and obligation first to their own citizens, and then to the rest of the world.

Second, allowing the Illegal (Economic) Migrants to stay sends a powerful message to the home country that Europe is open, and all they need to do is sell-up, and buy their way north.

Third and completely missing from the discussion; allowing the conditions for mass Illegal migration undermines and weakens the countries from which the migrants originate. Where an Illegal Migrant can raise, individually or through family, the $10,000 required for the migration, that is $10,000 that will never be invested in the home country. It is also $10,000 invested in undermining the confidence in their future, for those remaining in the home country.

So how do we stop the Illegal Migrations? Instead of just blaming, I'm going to give some concrete suggestions.

  1. Care for the Illegal Migrants, house them in camps and determine which are legitimate asylum seekers. Feed them, educate them while they are in the camps, treat their illnesses. Show compassion. Show respect.
  2. Perform true and detailed screening to identify the legitimate refugees in danger if returned to their home countries. This is compassionate, legal, and moral.
  3. Then automatically return all Illegal Migrants to the country from which they departed to arrive in Europe. I am not suggesting sending them back to a place where they are being (if they were being) put at danger (and if that were the case, then they would have a legitimate claim to refugee status). But if they climbed on a boat in Libya or Turkey, then just as is they climbed onto an aeroplane, they are the responsibility of that country.
  4. Publicize in home country journals the return of the Illegal Migrants to the country from which they departed (not their home country). Make it clear that Europe will accept legitimate asylum seekers, and will return those that are not.
  5. Invest in development programmes in the home countries, where such development is possible. After all, Somalia is a source of Illegal Migrants, a home to radical Islamic fanatics who would love to butcher non-believers anywhere (sleeper cells anyone), and a country in which effective development aid is almost impossible.

None of this is cheap, but it is much cheaper than dealing with the waves of Illegal Migrants yet to come, and far more humane then suggesting through our actions that their best option is to cast themselves into the sea. Europe has a right to accept the immigrants that European countries select, not any criminal that manages to make it to shore.

(Disclaimer: I am a serial economic migrant, who has done so legally every time I have moved between countries.)

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