Migrant deaths: who is responsible?

by Chris Bertram on April 21, 2015

Yesterday, in response to a series of tragedies involving migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, the EU issued a ten-point plan with a lot of emphasis on taking action against people smugglers and a range of further measures, such as fingerprinting migrants, that seem irrelevant to events. British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government last year refused to back search and rescue plans on the grounds that they encouraged people to take risks, is now blaming “the human traffickers and the criminals that are running this trade.” The one group European politicians are not blaming, by and large, is themselves. Yet they, and the electorates they appease, bear most of the responsibility.

The reason for this is simple, and it is obvious. All European states are signatories to the Refugee Convention and that places obligations on them to offer sanctuary to people who arrive on their shores and who have a “well-founded fear” of persecution (on various grounds). Although politicians like to claim that their countries have a proud history of taking in the persecuted — as Cameron claimed in a speech last year — they now do everything in their power to make it as hard as possible for those seeking asylum to arrive on their territory. Devices such as heavy financial penalties on airlines and other carriers and ever tighter visa restrictions mean that people fleeing countries such as Syria and Eritrea simply cannot arrive in Europe by safe routes, and if they do so by using false documents they are often prosecuted and imprisoned. People from these countries make up a significant proportion of those trying to cross from Libya to Italy. Because people cannot travel via safe routes, they travel via dangerous ones, just as they do in other parts of the world. They put themselves in the hands of people smugglers and they take the risk of crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. But the people smugglers, though no doubt unscrupulous criminals on the whole, are simply responding to a demand that European politicians and their electorates have created.

There is more. Whilst politicians from all of Europe are culpable, many those in northern Europe are particularly so. They have put in place a system in the EU that means that those people who do arrive and claim asylum must do so in the country they first enter. It is very hard to enter the UK, and most of those arriving turn up in countries such as Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain, southern European countries hardest hit by the economic crisis. Countries such as the UK can disclaim responsibility and have no incentive to agree to a fair system of burden sharing.

Fingers pointed at people-smugglers and “traffickers” are pointed in the wrong direction. Europeans need only look in the mirror to see those responsible.

{ 137 comments }

1

Anarcissie 04.21.15 at 5:31 pm

There is also the question of who is responsible for spreading war, imperialism, and destructive exploitation throughout the Middle East. It’s not just people in northern Europe. I suggest a west-facing window as well as a mirror.

2

James Wimberley 04.21.15 at 5:46 pm

“People from these countries make up a significant proportion of those trying to cross from Libya to Italy.” (My italics.)

Isn’t that proportion a key datum? The others, also a significant proportion, are economic migrants, people seeking to escape poverty and better themselves in richer Europe. That’s an entirely reasonable thing to want to do, but the moral obligation of the receiving countries is not the same as that to refugees fleeing civil war and persecution. What is it? Neither an open door nor a fully closed one seem right.

3

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.21.15 at 6:12 pm

The moral obligation is not to let people drown in the sea.

The rest I can stand to negotiate, but “no, let them drown because if not is a calling to them to try again” is … well, part of the reasons our conservatives make me puke.

4

Lynne 04.21.15 at 6:25 pm

Chris, surely the main blame falls on the countries whose citizens are fleeing. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a moral responsibility on those of us in safe countries to accept refugees, and in this case the receiving countries are in Europe, but that is not the same at all as the responsibility of states not to abuse and frighten away its own citizens.

5

Ben 04.21.15 at 6:28 pm

@Chris Bertram, “Europeans need only look in the mirror to see those responsible” hear hear.

@Jesús Couto Fandiño, I don’t think anyone is actually saying “let them drown because (otherwise you are) calling to them to try again”.

@James Wimberley, “Neither an open door nor a fully closed one seem right.”

As the local open-borders nutcase, I’d disagree, but observe I am also the local welfare-abolition nutcase. If you are going to have a welfare state of the modern type (which looks after people on a non-contributory basis) you cannot also have open borders, because there are one or two billion people in the world poorer than our 60% of median income poverty line.

6

engels 04.21.15 at 6:41 pm

Well said.

Lynne (4) see Anarcissie (1)- in many cases the situation they are fleeing was caused by European countries.

7

Omega Centauri 04.21.15 at 6:52 pm

I wouldn’t throw most of the blame on the politicians. As we’ve seen from recent events, the more people that are perceived as undesirables that are let in, the more the far right gains politically. So trying to do the right thing creates a risk of a potentially highly destructive political reaction in the receiving ountry as well. Without seriously changing attitudes among the people, there are no good solutions available.

Of course Anarcise has a very important point. Mainly the European contribution to the conditions driving this are decades in the past, whereas the US is still acting to make the situation worse (for example even today in Yemen).

8

David 04.21.15 at 7:00 pm

I’m sorry, but I see this as another example of the western “it’s all about me” syndrome, which encourages westerners to engage in endless masochistic moral navel-gazing and internal blame-passing, while ignoring the real causes of problems.
I don’t see how it can logically be argued that the West has “created the demand” for people to launch themselves across the Mediterranean in dangerous boats hoping to be rescued. In almost all cases, they are not refugees in the classic sense, nor do they have a “well-founded fear of persecution”. They are fleeing conflict, desperate poverty and political repression, as well as, in many cases, hoping to find jobs in Europe and send money back to their families. We only have anecdotal reports to go on, but it looks as though few of them are Syrians, since most Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. Some are Eritreans, fleeing a vicious, totalitarian political system. Some are Malians fleeing the conflict, others, and probably the majority, are Libyans, fleeing the disaster we have caused in their country. None of these people have even the option of entering Europe legally, since the routes do not exist, and it’s important not to confuse them with individual asylum applications presenting themselves to Embassies. The latter, I agree, are often treated disgracefully, but that’s quite a different issue.
“Traffickers” are not people in inverted commas: any number of studies and personal testimonies have shown that they are very real, and that they often charge migrants hundreds or even thousands of dollars to transport them to the shores of the Mediterranean, where they launch them in unseaworthy boats, either to drown or to be rescued by European coastguards and navies. I actually think that’s quite a morally wicked thing to do, and I would rather direct my anger at the traffickers, than at the countries who are trying to deal with the problem.

9

MPAVictoria 04.21.15 at 7:10 pm

” I am also the local welfare-abolition nutcase.”

Now this is interesting…. So just let fellow citizens starve on the street? Or do you mean something else? A guaranteed basic income perhaps? I would sign up for that as long as healthcare and education are included.

10

MPAVictoria 04.21.15 at 7:10 pm

No easy answers here and it is all very sad. No one should drown just for seeking a better life.

11

Nick 04.21.15 at 7:10 pm

I don’t think the question of ‘who is to blame’ is a useful one, since there are so many plausible answers; asking ‘what are the obligations of European countries’ is better, but it is also easily answered. To me, the critical question is why we distinguish political refugees from economic refugees? This really makes no sense to me. Why is a person fleeing because they are in danger of being jailed or killed ‘respectable’, while a person with a large family and no way to support them ‘suspect’? Large numbers of people in the latter category find themselves within it for political reasons: their land was alienated, the state doesn’t provide schools in their area, they don’t have access to legal protections or recourse that are necessary for work.

Is the answer just that practically, this is a form of triage to decide who gets to stay, because the world of economic refugees is just too populous? I find it odd, because I’ve know many economic migrants in SE Asia, and they are the type of people that a place like Europe, which produces articles about demographic traps and ‘state death’ could sure use.

12

Chris Bertram 04.21.15 at 7:20 pm

David: “In almost all cases, they are not refugees in the classic sense, nor do they have a “well-founded fear of persecution”.

I’m not sure what the “classic sense” is, but I do know what the legal sense is, and you have absolutely no grounds to assert that in “almost all cases” they do not have valid asylum claims. Very many of them do, and will be found to have in the event that they get to arrive in a safe county and submit a claim.

13

The Temporary Name 04.21.15 at 7:26 pm

They are fleeing conflict, desperate poverty and political repression

Those seem like refugees in the classic sense to me. What am I missing?

14

Lynne 04.21.15 at 7:30 pm

Engels, Anarcissie, maybe so.

Ben: “If you are going to have a welfare state of the modern type (which looks after people on a non-contributory basis) you cannot also have open borders,”

I do think this is an important point. Countries with a social safety net commit to a large expenditure when they accept refugees, so they can’t accept as many as countries without one.

15

engels 04.21.15 at 7:32 pm

‘No easy answers here and it is all very sad’

Good grief.

16

MPAVictoria 04.21.15 at 7:36 pm

“Good grief.”

?

17

Stephen 04.21.15 at 7:38 pm

CB: “Whilst politicians from all of Europe are culpable, many those in northern Europe are particularly so. They have put in place a system in the EU that means that those people who do arrive and claim asylum must do so in the country they first enter.”

Um,er. To quote that notorious neo-conservative crypto-fascist rag, the Guardian:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/sep/21/claim-asylum-uk-legal-position

“States may lawfully remove asylum seekers to safe third countries on the grounds that they could have claimed asylum there … The legal basis for the protection of refugees is contained in the 1951 Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees, as amended by the 1967 protocol to the convention … There has been a longstanding “first country of asylum” principle in international law by which countries are expected to take refugees fleeing from persecution in a neighbouring state. This principle has developed so that, in practice, an asylum seeker who had the opportunity to claim asylum in another country is liable to be returned there in order for his or her claim to be determined.”

There are many things for which the EU seems to me to be rightly criticised, but I can’t see that this is one of them.

18

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.21.15 at 7:46 pm

#4 No, thats is actually what is being said. By Cameron, by Rajoy, and by many other of our “leaders”.

Read the original message

” British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government last year refused to back search and rescue plans on the grounds that they encouraged people to take risks,”

That is, let them drown in the sea as a warning to others not to attempt to come here, said with the spineless cowardice that caracterize human waste like Cameron, Rajoy, etc.

19

David 04.21.15 at 7:46 pm

@Chris. All I have to hand is the 1951 Convention, which describes a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
That’s obviously very different from the current situation. That some of these people are refugees in what I described as the “classic” sense (i.e. the sense of the 1951 Convention) is not in dispute. Others are clearly migrants, which UNHCR is careful to distinguish from refugees. But many belong in a third category somewhere between the two, which has become increasingly significant in recent years, for those who have been following developments in West Africa and the Sahel.
But it comes back to the question. “Who is responsible?” is a sterile question, since the only realistic answer is, “lots of people depending on the situation”. It just provides the impression of activity while people are dying. The real question we should be debating is how to deal with this appalling situation, and what the consequences will be for Europe.

20

Chris Bertram 04.21.15 at 7:47 pm

@Stephen Asylum is the discharge of a general duty towards people whose states have failed them in particular catastrophic ways. But the burden of discharging the duty falls randomly on whichever state refugees end up in. The maldistribution of that burden within the EU is small compared to that which exists internationally, where most of the costs fall on countries such as Pakistan, Lebanon etc, rather than on wealthy countries such as the UK. But it is surely a defect in the EU that an international association such as it is doesn’t address the question of burden sharing among its members and that the costs fall disproportionately on countries less able to bear them.

21

D_Vadi 04.21.15 at 7:47 pm

David, I find Adam Kotsko illuminating on this.

It is not an accident of history that Syria is governed by an Allawite minority, or that Mali’s polity is inherently unstable.

22

P O'Neill 04.21.15 at 7:49 pm

Countries with a social safety net commit to a large expenditure when they accept refugees

That’s clearly true in general but some of the discussion on this point is driven disproportionately by the UK experience with movement of labour within the EU. Jordan and Lebanon have taken any in many orders of magnitude higher number of refugees than any EU country, but they don’t have much of a European style welfare state. Yet there have been large costs in terms of access to health and education and basic relief, as opposed to welfare benefits and pensions. The non-contributory issue can also be mitigated by allowing refugees to work, as each of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are increasingly (if sometimes informally) doing.

23

Chris Bertram 04.21.15 at 7:51 pm

Well I’m glad that David has move on from asserting that “almost all” are not refugees to acknowledging that “some” are. The statements may be logically consistent, but the conversational implicature is quite different. Nothing you say addresses the basic point that when politicians close safe routes of travel, desperate people will be driven to use unsafe ones instead. I am confident that attributing responsibility to those politicians (and the electorates they serve) is reasonable.

24

The Temporary Name 04.21.15 at 7:58 pm

Tangentially, this is the Canadian defence minister justifying bombing as humanitarian aid:

“The [opposition] member talks about humanitarian relief. The point of our military operation is to prevent more internally displaced persons, more refugees, more victims and more genocide. Does the member not understand that had we not begun this military operation several months ago there would have been thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of additional victims of ISIL’s genocide?” the Defence Minister said.“If the responsibility to protect means anything … does it not mean in an instance such as this, preventing genocide, preventing ethnic cleansing, preventing sexual slavery of women and preventing the execution of gay men by throwing them off towers?”

It was around this point that the government was asked about its efforts to aid Syrian refugees and could not name a single one that made the transition to Canada since Syria became more hellish.

25

MPAVictoria 04.21.15 at 7:59 pm

TTN- God I hate my government at the moment…

26

Bruce Wilder 04.21.15 at 7:59 pm

Is anyone responsible for the state of Libya?

27

Lynne 04.21.15 at 8:03 pm

P. O’Neill

“Yet there have been large costs in terms of access to health and education and basic relief, as opposed to welfare benefits and pensions”

It is actually the costs of health, education and basic relief that I was thinking of rather than welfare, though I was not clear. Still, “basic relief” involves welfare until people can support themselves. None of this is intended to argue against our moral duty to grant asylum but it is a practical consideration—_how_ a country is to do this takes planning and commitment and budgeting. I don’t live in the UK (I’m in Canada) but it seems to me that even countries committed to accepting refugees are challenged when there are sudden large numbers coming in waves. All the more reason to share the work.

28

Lynne 04.21.15 at 8:04 pm

MPAV. Me, too.

29

Chris Bertram 04.21.15 at 8:34 pm

Lynne, refugees in the UK are around 3% of all migrants, iirc.

30

JW Mason 04.21.15 at 8:48 pm

If you are going to have a welfare state of the modern type (which looks after people on a non-contributory basis) you cannot also have open borders

Exactly! This is why all countries with generous welfare states strictly limit the right to bear children. After all, you cannot have a non-contributory welfare state and yet freely allow the entry of new children.

I mean, right, Ben?

31

Bloix 04.21.15 at 9:09 pm

#29 – you know, there good arguments in favor of good policies, stupid arguments in favor of good policies, good arguments in favor of stupid policies …

Do you really want to argue that provision for the humanitarian needs of hundreds of thousands of traumatized, impoverished, and illiterate refugees, without even basic language skills, would impose no costs on the host countries?

You would be better off arguing from data. One minute on google reveals that one researcher finds, based on the Swedish experience, that Western Europe could absorb about 6 million refugees (instead of 740,000) for a cost of about 1% of GDP per year.

Is this true? Is it manageable? Is it enough? The researcher appears to think it would be a big step in the right direction.

I don’t know. But it’s worth talking about, unlike idiotic analogies comparing children born to a country’s citizens to refugees.

http://handels.gu.se/english/about-the-School/press-and-news/newsdetail//new-study-estimates-the-net-public-cost-of-refugee-immigration-in-sweden.cid1274535

32

Chris Bertram 04.21.15 at 9:26 pm

So, Bloix, you characterise refugees in unflattering terms in one paragraph, before going on to demand that people argue from data. Is your view of refugees data-based? In my experience they are often well-educated and have language skills somewhat more impressive than the average monoglot Brit or American.

33

Cahokia 04.21.15 at 9:30 pm

Arrgh. Largest fiscal burden of health care is for those latest in life. Refugees able to leave home and take on burden of a trip mostly not at that stage. Residing working class populations make it to those ages at lower rate then average life expectancies.
The hoisting of burden for all of modernist life’s global expenses onto others is sad.

34

Bloix 04.21.15 at 10:10 pm

#31 -Wait, you want to argue that they are not impoverished and traumatized? No, you want to argue that they ARE impoverished and traumatized. Don’t you? Or perhaps they are rolling in the dough and happy to be refugees.

So we’re down to education. Yes, there are many educated Syrians trying to get to Europe, and they could be integrated fairly easily. Syria was a pretty wealthy country by international standards. But Somalis? Eritreans? Malians? Are you arguing for a policy of letting Syrians in and keeping Africans out? No, that’s not your position.

And the point is not how many languages a person speaks. A multi-lingual Afghani refugee in Sweden is unemployable if she doesn’t speak Swedish.

You have a good-faith argument to make. Don’t pretty it up by pretending that integration of refugees is free.

35

novakant 04.21.15 at 10:16 pm

I second Nick at #11 – this is a crucial question, especially since there is so much moralizing going on in these debates, i.e. “good vs bad foreigners”, which obscures practical concerns that might be genuine.

36

Roger Gathmann 04.21.15 at 10:17 pm

As with all things EU and US policymakers do in North Africa and the Middle East, the unexpected result of an insanely interventionist policy that is maintained on the cheap is blowback. According to the Migration center, Libya, under Khadaffi, had an open door policy that attracted thousands of immigrants to Libya. When K. made nice with the Europeans and the US, he stopped that policy and started expelling migrants:
“An important change in the national composition of inward flows occurred, however, in the 1990s when Sub-Saharan nationals began to reach Libya in large numbers…. Finally, during the 2000s with the desire to reach a balance between an open-door policy welcoming needed migrants from Sub-Saharan countries and Libya’s
involvement in international discussions on illegal immigration control – a factor in the removal of the international embargo and a consequent return of foreign investments – (Bredeloup and Pliez, 2011), Libya started to cooperate with European countries over irregular migration. … Despite Libya being, first and foremost, a country of immigration, the deterioration of immigrants’conditions in the country has also made it an important country for transit migration and particularly for the
many migrants trying to reach Malta and the Italian Isle of Lampedusa.
(see Fargues, 2009). Large scale expulsions were carried out by the Libyan government in the 2000s, in order to adjust labour migrations to its labour-market needs with the aim too of pleasing Europe. Expulsions passed from 4,000 in
2000 (official figure) to 43,000 in 2003 (EC, 2005), 54,000 in 2004 (EC, 2005), 84,000 in 2005 (according to the European Parliament), 64,330 in 2006 (official figure) and over 5,000 in the first two months of 2007
(ECRE, 2007). Most of the expelled were Sub Saharan Africans (HRW, 2006). ”

Obvously, this situation needed more chaos, hence the violent EU and US backed overthrow of K. and the lack of any afterplan.
“According to IOM estimates, during the 2011 crisis, 768,372 migrants fled violence in Libya.” Now any “authority” in Libya is obsessed with trying to defend itself, while the old migrant routes are now wide open.
It is funny to hear the US and EU politicos talk about this. They promote policies that cause crisis refugee problems in counties like Jordan and Lebanon, where refugees can number 20 to 40 percent of the national population, but when it comes to their willingness to take on the refugees, well, that is another matter.

37

Matt 04.21.15 at 10:28 pm

Jordan and Lebanon have taken any in many orders of magnitude higher number of refugees than any EU country, but they don’t have much of a European style welfare state. Yet there have been large costs in terms of access to health and education and basic relief, as opposed to welfare benefits and pensions. The non-contributory issue can also be mitigated by allowing refugees to work, as each of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are increasingly (if sometimes informally) doing.

I read this article a few days ago: Running From Syria, Hated In Lebanon. It sounds like Lebanon is decreasingly allowing refugees to work. Last article I read about Syrian refugees in Turkey it sounded like they were poorly paid and widely resented, but there didn’t seem to be enforced formal exclusion from employment. I haven’t read much about the situation in Jordan.

38

Bloix 04.21.15 at 11:28 pm

#11 – “To me, the critical question is why we distinguish political refugees from economic refugees? This really makes no sense to me.”

What you are saying, and what Chris Bertram is saying, is that the concept of the nation-state makes no sense to you.

That’s an argument that can be made. I wish people would stop pretending that they’re not making it.

39

Mitch Guthman 04.22.15 at 2:09 am

@ Cahokia at 32

I don’t think you’ve thought this through very well. By any meaningful definition, the vast majority of the people we are discussing are really economic migrants who want to go from their countries of origin (where life is terrible) to European countries where life is much, much better. If, as seems to be the case, you think there’s a right to move to any other country for purely economic reasons, why do you assume that these people will not remain in Europe for the rest of their lives?

40

js. 04.22.15 at 2:34 am

I’d just like to sign on to Nick @11.

On a vaguely related note, it was rather depressing to see the top story on the Guardian homepage over the weekend go from the migrant deaths to Europe considering military action as a way to solve migrant deaths. Because of course, how could there ever be any other kind of solution?

41

js. 04.22.15 at 2:36 am

MG @37:

Even if they do stay in the country (whichever one), they would under any sane policy be working, long before they retire. So the idea that they would be a net burden on national resources seems totally unwarranted.

42

Anarcissie 04.22.15 at 3:35 am

That’s assuming their is work or at least ‘work’. As capitalism continues to deteriorate, that may not be the case.

43

Mitch Guthman 04.22.15 at 3:48 am

Anarcisiee at 40,

Even the least generous of the European social welfare states is still pretty generous and, realistically, I don’t think many of these migrants are ever going to have even middle class jobs where they pay high taxes. I think nearly all economic migrants would represent a net drain on resources from the moment they arrive until the moment when they die.

44

Mitch Guthman 04.22.15 at 3:50 am

41 was supposed to be a reply to js at 37. Sorry. .

45

Smass 04.22.15 at 4:32 am

Mitch Guthman – from where do you get the data saying that most of those making the crossing are economic migrants? I understood that the vast majority (around 80%) of those rescued by Italian authorities under the recently wound up Mare Nostrum program were found to have legitimate asylum claims.

46

Mitch Guthman 04.22.15 at 4:57 am

Smass at43,

I don’t have any hard data. It just a guesstimate based on what I’ve seen in the media over the years.

You raise an interesting question. I thought it would be possible to easily find the answer , particularly at the http://www.asylumineurope.org website but it doesn’t seem to be broken out by percentage of applicants found to have valid asylum claims. One possibility for why so many people who would seem, on the face of things to be economic migrants and not victims of political or religious persecution that I have inferred from their site is that all migrants are routinely encouraged to file for asylum which entitles them to certain things while awaiting the disposition of their cases.

My general impression is that the vast majority don’t have claims of political or religious persecution by the governments in the countries of origin but are basically caught up wars and basically dysfunctional nations, which, in my reading of the relevant treaties, makes them mainly economic migrants or refugees. I have never seen any reports saying that more than a tiny fraction of asylum seekers have their claims upheld but, again, I can’t find any published data. If anyone is aware of quality sources, I would welcome such information.

47

Tim Worstall 04.22.15 at 6:26 am

While this is true:

“They have put in place a system in the EU that means that those people who do arrive and claim asylum must do so in the country they first enter.”

It’s also true outside the EU. Standard international rules are that you are indeed entitled to asylum (on those grounds of danger, persecution etc) but only in the first place you reach where you are not in danger of those things.

An Eritrean, to invent an example, if they went from Eritrea to the UK, directly, would indeed be righteously able to claim asylum in the UK under the usual grounds. But if they passed through, say, Tunisia on the way, where they might be appallingly poor and all the rest, but not directly oppressed on one of those asylum claiming grounds, then Tunisia is where they righteously gain that asylum, not the UK or anywhere in Europe.

One implication of this is:

“Because people cannot travel via safe routes, they travel via dangerous ones, just as they do in other parts of the world.”

Only by traveling through places that are dangerous enough not to constitute sanctuary is that legal right to asylum in a third country kept alive.

I don’t say that the system should be this way, nor that we might not be able to devise better ones. My comment is really to point out this is not simply an invention of the northern Europeans, nor of the EU. This is how the general international law on this works.

48

ZM 04.22.15 at 6:37 am

I have not read all the comments sorry. A group of us is going to meet with our local member of parliament now to discuss Australian Labour Party policy on refugees.

Melbourne Historian Joy Damousi whose previous research interests included warfare and gender is now researching child refugees. She gave a very good talk earlier this year on Australian humanitarianism and internationalism in the 20thC that underlied assistance for refugees until the Cambodian boat people.

One thing that stuck with me is that refugees from WW2 were not fully settled until 1968 the international year of the refugee.

Numbers of refugees are at WW2 levels now at 50 million and expected to get to 200-250 million by 2050 due to climate change related effects.

The slowness of resettling people in this context is a very big problem.

49

Val 04.22.15 at 6:41 am

Mitch Guthmann @ 46
I don’t know the figures for Europe but the great majority of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia are found to be genuine refugees
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/overwhelming-majority-of-boat-arrivals-deemed-to-be-refugees-20130519-2juty.html

The boat trip to Australia (most come from or through south east Asia, though in recent years that has not been the point of origin for many) is of course very long and hazardous, I don’t know how it compares with the trips to Europe in that respect, although they are obviously very hazardous too. However I would be very wary of suggesting that the “vast majority” of any asylum seekers are not in fact genuine refugees, even though you are qualifying that statement.

50

Val 04.22.15 at 6:48 am

Bloix @ 38
“What you are saying, and what Chris Bertram is saying, is that the concept of the nation-state makes no sense to you.

That’s an argument that can be made. I wish people would stop pretending that they’re not making it.”

I think there may be an argument to be had about nation states and borders etc, but I think in the way you raise it, it is an unfortunate distraction. We need, as a matter of urgency, coordinated international action on refugees, and any suggestion that we can’t have that unless we stop having nation states is just putting road blocks in the way of effective action.

I am Australian, and our current treatment of asylum seekers is a disgrace. Our two major political parties are able to get away with it at least partly because of a lack of international agreement on what needs to be done, and a alack of sanctions on those nations who are behaving badly. Those of us in Australia who believe that asylum seekers should be treated decently would really appreciate the support of the international community.

51

Chris Bertram 04.22.15 at 7:16 am

“what Chris Bertram is saying”

is what Chris Bertram said, and not other things. Nobody acquainted with the history of refugee and asylum policy would deny that states have sought to arrange things so that it is close to impossible to arrive from a state where refugees are likely to come from through safe and legal means. Consequently, those people, in order to arrive in safe places have to take dangerous routes, with predictable consequences.

Mitch Guthman writes:

My general impression is that the *vast majority* don’t have claims of political or religious persecution *by the governments in the countries of origin* but are basically caught up wars and basically dysfunctional nations, which, in my reading of the relevant treaties, makes them mainly economic migrants *or refugees*.

My my, that’s a confused sentence.

“The vast majority” … well we only have your general impression for that, so let’s move on.

“by the governments in the countries of origin”

This is not a necessary condition. If you are going to be massacred by a non-governmental militia and flee abroad, you qualify for refugee status.

“in my reading of the relevant treaties, makes them mainly economic migrants *or refugees*”

Did you mean “not refugees”? Otherwise your thought here makes no sense. “Refugee” is primarily a legal status is this context, and eligibility for it is having a valid claim under the Convention. Some of the people on those boats qualify under the Convention, others, who are fleeing conditions of war, natural disaster or insecurity are not technically “refugees” according to the Convention, but this does not make them “economic migrants” either, as you seem to think. (Those fleeing war are in fact recognised in some treaties (OAU for example) as refugees.) Clearly there are a group of people who fail to qualify under the Convention definition but who are genuinely fleeing for their lives and who have a moral claim to sanctuary but not a legal one. The existence of this category of person has led to much discussion about whether the Convention should be amended to include them, but that doesn’t seem to me to change the moral picture much: there are people fleeing war etc who are blocked by governmental decisions in wealthy nations from escape using safe routes and are therefore driven into taking very dangerous ones.

52

Stephen 04.22.15 at 8:11 am

CB’s summary seems to me to be almost accurate: “there are people fleeing war etc who are blocked by governmental decisions in wealthy nations from escape using safe routes and are therefore driven into taking very dangerous ones.”

A more accurate version would be: there are people fleeing war etc who are blocked by international governmental decisions from escape using safe routes into distant wealthy nations, rather than finding safety in neighbouring poorer nations, and therefore choose to take very dangerous routes which they hope will take them to distant places which are also safe but much richer.

Whether that makes them political or economic migrants, I don’t know.

53

faustusnotes 04.22.15 at 8:21 am

I’m astounded by the number of commenters here saying that people fleeing Libya and Syria are merely economic refugees. Truly, the callousness of some defenders of the status quo strikes fear in my heart.

54

Chris Bertram 04.22.15 at 8:32 am

“rather than finding safety in neighbouring poorer nations”

Well, if you want to open a can of worms, by all means argue that there should be more Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan, and that those who choose not to add to the numbers already there are somehow culpable. Maybe you’d also want to argue that Zimbabweans should seek sanctuary in neighbouring South Africa ….

55

ZM 04.22.15 at 9:07 am

Val,

At the meeting with our local MP (who is a member of Rural Australuans for Refugees so in the ALP left on the issue) she said in Manus Island detention centre there are a number of Iranians who do not meet the refugee criteria, but Iran doesn’t want to take them back unless they go back voluntarily. That is why Julie Bishop (foreign minister) visited Iran.

Our MP Lisa Chesters also said she and some others are trying to get Bill Shorten (opposition leader) to acknowledge past wrong treatment of refugees and go to the next federal election with a promise to host a global summit on settling refugees in Australia following the election if the ALP win government or minority government.

56

ZM 04.22.15 at 9:26 am

Chris Bertram,

“Maybe you’d also want to argue that Zimbabweans should seek sanctuary in neighbouring South Africa”

In your other recent thread a commenter from South Africa discussed that situation quite well if you missed that comment

57

ZM 04.22.15 at 9:28 am

“summit on settling refugees in Australia “

The summit to be held in Australia discussing global settling of refugees is what I meant.

58

Stephen 04.22.15 at 9:28 am

CB@54: no, I wouldn’t want to argue that Syrians who choose not to add to the numbers of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, but try to go elsewhere, are somehow culpable. They are behaving entirely rationally, and without guilt. The point is, though, that their motive is not to seek safety, which they can have in L & J: it is to go to somewhere richer.

AS for refugees from Mugabe seeking sanctuary in South Africa: yes, that is what they should do if it were available; why not? I am not well informed about current events in SA but my impression is that safe refuge there is decreasingly available, since some South Africans no longer welcome Zimbabweans and are turning violently against them. If that is so, there is a very good reason for their not regarding SA as safe.

59

Phil 04.22.15 at 9:42 am

I think it’s also worth saying that under international humanitarian law states have certain obligations (of the “accepting and not allowing to starve” variety) towards asylum seekers. The government should start from the assumption that the people stepping off the boat (if they’re lucky) may be refugees and not economic migrants, and treat them accordingly – just as the legal system starts from the assumption that the person in the dock may be innocent rather than guilty as charged.

Of course, this is an awful lot of trouble to go to for a bunch of inconvenient people who may not turn out to deserve anything at all from us; governments have, accordingly, made it very easy for migrants to save us all the bother by effectively pleading guilty and forfeiting any claim to asylum. But anyone who does set foot on the soil of country X with their claim to refugee status intact must be treated as a refugee from that moment, unless and until they’re shown not to have a valid claim.

60

David 04.22.15 at 10:15 am

I think two things are obstructing a better debate here. One is Chris’s decision to cast the argument in terms of “who is to blame?” rather than “what should be done?” This seems to me to be a sterile approach, since everyone will simply blame their political enemies, and having settled on a satisfying villain, will then go off and do something more interesting. It also enables those who enjoy issuing instructions to governments from a position of moral superiority to indulge themselves by doing so.
Second is anachronism. The “classic” (if I may use that word again) notion of refugees dates from the period from the late 1930s to the late 1940s when identifiable groups of people fled, or were driven out of various countries (notably Eastern Europe and Palestine) because of who they were. It also took into account individuals who feared persecution, or actually had been persecuted, by their governments on political grounds, and sought refuge elsewhere. A certain proportion of the current population under discussion corresponds to this definition, but we should stop deluding ourselves that we know what it is: in many cases, we don’t even know which country these people are from.
Much larger groups, as far as we can determine, have fled fighting, insecurity, starvation and general awfulness of life, some with the intention of returning, some intending to stay for a while and work, others intending to stay for the longer term, often for economic reasons. All of these people can be called “refugees” so long as you make it clear which definition you are using. Syrians in Lebanon and Jordan, for example, clearly want to go home at the first opportunity. Malians who have come to France over the last 2-3 years mostly seem to want to stay.
How we deal with these different categories, and who should do what, are interesting and important questions. Likewise, the related economic benefits and costs is an interesting and very complicated subject, and experience appears to show that (1) costs tend to be concentrated in areas that are already poor and services are overstretched and (2) benefits are unevenly distributed, and depend very much on the nature of the refugees (e.g.large numbers of Syrians in Lebanon are well educated, whereas many Malians in France are illiterate and have no skills). But both of these questions are ruled out by Chris’s choice of a debate in which we all search for somebody to blame.
In reality, it’s hard to argue that “western policies” are responsible in any real sense. It’s absolutely the case that western wars, and not only in Libya, have given rise to much of the problem. More generally, western economic and agricultural policies have produced situations that people feel constrained to flee. But in other cases (Somalia, Eritrea) it’s much harder to see any kind of direct western responsibility.
But what exactly are these “safe routes” which are being blocked off? Take a group of Somalian refugees, fleeing hunger and insecurity and the savage fighting between Al Shabab and the Ethiopian Army. Few if any will ever have heard of David Cameron and his unpleasant opinions: most will have only the haziest notion of where Britain is. How would they make their way legally and safely to the UK, or another European country? There are no consulates, there are no visa arrangements, there are no regular travel services. Many are illiterate and have no conception of international law on refugees. They drift from country to country, exploited by traffickers telling them there are safe places they can go to if they pay. They arrive in Libya to find themselves interned in camps by militia groups working with traffickers, who is some cases now are demanding extra payments to let them leave, before putting them in unseaworthy boats.
And the alternative is? All I can think of is a massive military operation, without the support of such Libyan government as exists, and against the opposition of the militias who are making lots of money out of this ghastly situation. It would require chartering large numbers of passenger ships equipped for disaster relief traversing the coast to look for concentrations of people on the beaches, and light craft to go and extract them. It would require military protection and escort at all stages, and probably a military presence on shore as well, to compel the militias to release them from the camps. If this is what people want, fine, they should say so.
Nobody here, as far as I know, suggests that we should simply leave these poor people to drown. But pointing fingers, especially at convenient but marginal targets, is not going to save any lives.

61

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.22.15 at 10:59 am

#43 This is… so wrong in so many levels.

So, according to your “impression”, anybody not earning middle-class salaries is a net drawn on the economy of a country. Is not like they, I dont know, work, pay rent/food/etc, pay VAT, or other stuff, no, they are just ALL living from the State.

But to repeat myself, even if I find this position frankly repulsive, I dont care, right now, one bit about anything like that. Put them all on refugee camps.

That is way better than a policy of not helping drowning people because well, better not to give others the idea that crossing the Mediterranean and coming here is possible.

Which may “not be what anybody here is saying”, but it is what the people that control the navies we pay for in Europe are saying AND doing.

62

Trader Joe 04.22.15 at 11:36 am

In 61 comments it seems no one is willing to call a spade a spade.

Europe doesn’t really want these refugees. Whether the UK or Italy, they have sufficient economic issues with their own existing subjects they aren’t interested in finding jobs for 1,000 of refugees who most either a) don’t have language skills even if they have otherwise valuable skills or b) have neither language nor employable skills. If an English speaking doctor from Libya comes over by boat, airplane or catapult more likely than not they find a status that accepts them.

All of this before the elephant in the room which c) most all of them are some flavor or other of muslim and there’s not a leader in Europe left or right that’s excited about adding more muslims to a population base that has largely been segregated physically and economically from the mainstream.

I’m in favor of compassion and better plans, but it will need to start with overcoming the inherent religious intolerance before anything resembling a moral plan will emerge.

63

faustusnotes 04.22.15 at 12:45 pm

Most of the people commenting on this thread would be of no use to ISIS except to dig a ditch – once. Yet here some of those commenters claim to know the minds and purpose of Syrian and Iraqi refugees they have never met, including those who sank without trace or record to the bottom of the sea, locked in the hold of an unworthy ship. Did those people drown or suffocate slowly in the dark? Those commenters who claim to know their minds so well can perhaps tell us what happened in their final moments. Do you know their names as well as their purpose and goals? If you’re so sure that the adults were simply seeking financial betterment, having discarded Lebanon and Jordan as inferior places to settle, perhaps you are also sure about the names of the children who drowned with them? What were their ages? Did they also have hopes and dreams of wealth and prosperity? Please share with us your vast knowledge of the inner life of these people you claim to know so well.

Of course, you don’t know anything about them at all. You’re just repeating lies about them that others told you. That you can say these things is sick. You should take a long, hard look at yourselves and what you have become.

64

Z 04.22.15 at 2:01 pm

Did those people drown or suffocate slowly in the dark? […] Do you know their names as well as their purpose and goals? If you’re so sure that the adults were simply seeking financial betterment, having discarded Lebanon and Jordan as inferior places to settle, perhaps you are also sure about the names of the children who drowned with them? What were their ages? Did they also have hopes and dreams of wealth and prosperity?

Thank you faustusnotes for these beautiful and humane words. They will haunt me. “Perhaps you are also sure about the names of the children? What were their ages?” I have tears in my eyes.

65

faustusnotes 04.22.15 at 2:09 pm

Get over it Z. There are hard questions of taxes and entitlements to be debated. You should save your tears for the children of those worthy commenters who have raised the issue of welfare payments – after all, it is those children who will be “shackled” with debts incurred to save these feckless Syrians. What is the drowning of a few Syrian children, compared to increased taxes on the children of rich white Europeans?

66

Z 04.22.15 at 2:19 pm

I’ll note that in addition to closing safe routes (with horrendous predictable and predicted consequences) and to having defunded the Mare Nostrum program (with horrendous predictable and predicted consequences), the legislative branch of some European states (mine, for instance) has recently been advancing a technically correct but quite perverse interpretation of the 1951 Convention. Noticed the word “persecuted” in the definition. Well, they argue, this means that you can seek asylum only if you are treated markedly worse than anyone else, so that no one coming from a country where everyone is in danger can claim asylum. And, voilà, nobody from Syria (because you could be targeted by the government, rebels, Daech or all of the above depending on who you are) or Eritrea or Mali (because you are targeted by Christian militias if Muslim and Muslim ones if Christian) may claim asylum. This is (of course and thankfully) not a universally used tactic, but neither is it unheard of.

And the alternative is? All I can think of is a massive military operation…

Oddly, I find myself thinking about so many things and not one of them involves a massive military operation. To page a beautiful comment read here at the time of the Libya war, how about building refugee camps to start with. Huge well-funded ones with adequate (nay, excellent) medical care, teaching facilities so that children (and adults) can receive an education and legal and diplomatic offices so that the people there could carry out legal procedures. And if you are worried about where to build them, well there is a nascent but for the moment resilient democracy in Maghreb, Tunisia, and its political stability is severely threatened by the massive influx of refugees it is allowing, so let’s do it there: no need for military protection and in fact you’d be helping the first and for the moment unique democracy to have come out of the Arab Spring. Do the same in Lebanon. And that’s just a start.

67

Anarcissie 04.22.15 at 2:38 pm

Poverty and destitution are defined economically, but they are political, are they not? There is food, but some people starve; there is land, but some people have no place to live. These seeming paradoxes result from particular applications of force, do they not? So I don’t see the difference between ‘economic’ migrants and those fleeing more explicit persecution.

If you want a somewhat longer dose of the refugee experience, I recommend the books of Edwidge Danticat.

68

Chris Bertram 04.22.15 at 2:50 pm

. The “classic” (if I may use that word again) notion of refugees dates from the period from the late 1930s to the late 1940s when identifiable groups of people fled, or were driven out of various countries (notably Eastern Europe and Palestine) because of who they were.

Anachronism eh? Actually it is rather striking how similar the official and media discourse about the people now is to that about Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. A point well documented in Carens’s Ethics of Immigration but probably elsewhere too.

As for blaming people, the starting point of the OP was the predilection of politicians to blame the smugglers and “traffickers”, a bit of blaming **you endorsed** above as it happens. When those who are themselves responsible for the catastrophe start finger-pointing then those of with critical minds will want to question whether they are entitled to.

69

Chris Bertram 04.22.15 at 2:52 pm

“How would they make their way legally and safely to the UK, or another European country?”

Well, Syrians might have flown here, except that as soon as the conflict broke out the UK tightened its visa requirement (including on transit visas through the UK) with the explicit aim of stopping them from doing so (and then claiming asylum). Your rhetorical question thus has a straightforward factual answer.

70

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.22.15 at 2:54 pm

Just to add some context, the Mare Nostrum operation that was so critiziced for being so costly and a invitation for people to try and cross the sea in unseaworthy vessels, had a cost of 9 millon € per month.

Last year, the Spanish goverment paid “damages” to the firm that they contracted to build an undersea gas storage on the Mediterranean and then had to told them not to continue after an increase in earthquakes in the region. 1350 millon €

That is, 6 years and a quarter of funding for Mare Nostrum.

Of course, the biggest owner of that company is the owner of the Real Madrid football club and one of the big shots of the country. That is what makes it sure that any cost will not be spared to rescue him from financial “drowning”, while the people actually drowning in the Mediterranean …

71

Philip 04.22.15 at 3:15 pm

I don’t see why people are focussing on ‘economic migrants’ or ‘economic refugees’ and contrasting them with ‘political’ ones, except to blame the victims. If they are fleeing because of a well founded fear of persecution then they are refugees, there is no obligation on them to claim asylum in the first ‘safe country’ so if they claim asylum in Lebanon or the UK it is only the reason they left their home country that matters legally. A country can send them to a safe third country that they are known to have passed through and where they had the opportunity to claim asylum, generally it will only be known if they were in another EU country and they were processed there and had their fingerprints and other biometric details taken. If the person is not sent to a third country there is an obligation on the country where they claim asylum to determine their case. Even if the claim is refused, their appeal rights exhausted and they are unable to present new evidence for a fresh claim it does not mean that they are ‘illegal’ or ‘economic’ migrants or ‘bogus’ asylum seekers only that they did not have enough evidence to support their claim, so if they want to remain in that country legally they need to apply for some other form of immigration status. But since they drowned before they could have their claim heard let’s just second guess their motive and blame them for being on the boat at all.

72

L2P 04.22.15 at 4:06 pm

“Exactly! This is why all countries with generous welfare states strictly limit the right to bear children. After all, you cannot have a non-contributory welfare state and yet freely allow the entry of new children.”

Unicorns:

Countries with generous welfare states and high birthrates.

White Lions (or Florida Panthers, pick your animal “so rare we haven’t seen one in decades”):

Countries with generous welfare states and anything close to replacement birthrates.

You’re asking for something that doesn’t exist, which is a country that proposes an unlimited welfare state.

73

Ronan(rf) 04.22.15 at 6:06 pm

“..how about building refugee camps to start with. Huge well-funded ones with adequate (nay, excellent) medical care, teaching facilities so that children (and adults) can receive an education and legal and diplomatic offices ….the moment resilient democracy in Maghreb, Tunisia..”

This is being tried, to some extent, in Jordan where the Zaatari Camp was (theoretically) meant to double as an outlying urban area that would be incorporated into Jordan in the long run. (As one part of a plan to deal with the refugee crisis, the other was offering funds to the Jordanians to resettle people in the cities etc)
Poor or middle income countries are generally reluctant to take on such a burden though because (apart from the logistical, political and funding problems) (1) they fear, with good reason, that once the camp is built it will be difficult to dismantle (2) it could work as a breeding ground for insurgents who might target their own country (3) the ‘international community’ will lose interest after a while (which they will) and they’ll be expected to pick up the tab (4) any long term integration of refugees will upset domestic ethnic/confessional etc demographics.
Better funded, more functional camps could be a positive, but they will still (to some degree) suffer from the same problems that refugee camps have generally suffered from.

74

djw 04.22.15 at 6:15 pm

What you are saying, and what Chris Bertram is saying, is that the concept of the nation-state makes no sense to you.

This claim doesn’t get less stupid or ahistorical with repetition, Bloix.

75

Marc 04.22.15 at 7:28 pm

@74: I think that it’s quite clear that CB opposes all restrictions on immigration, period. If there is a counter-example I’d love to see it and will happily stand corrected. And that does contradict the most basic definition of what a nation-state does.

76

Bloix 04.22.15 at 7:39 pm

#63 – “Most of the people commenting on this thread would be of no use to ISIS except to dig a ditch – once.”

Well, I’m glad that we all get to participate in your exciting fantasy of watching your intellectual adversaries having their heads chopped off.

77

David 04.22.15 at 8:07 pm

OK, for what it’s worth.
Ronan is absolutely right about camps. They are (part of) a theoretical solution, but middle-income countries hate them for all the reasons he gives. This is why the Lebanese (who have enough Palestinian camps thank you) have been reluctant to set them up for the Syrians they have absorbed. It’s worth pointing out that, insofar as there was a principal “cause” of the Civil War in Lebanon, it was the Palestinian camps. Again in theory, it would be possible to gather together all the refugees from different countries in Libya, get them out of the hands of the militias, take them hundreds of miles through a war zone and house them in specially-built camps in Tunisia, assuming of course that the Tunisians (a small country of 11M people with their own problems) were happy, or indeed that anyone thought to ask them. And then what?
And Chris is obviously right that you can’t put all this down to traffickers, for all that they do exist. But nor can you offload responsibility onto some indeterminate set of western states, for all that individuals in leadership positions may have said or done wicked things. This is not a new problem, and has been known about and studied for decades, notably the attempts by desperate Africans to reach the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco, which are technically EU territory. If they manage to get across, the Spanish usually let them stay. There have been many studies into their motivations, and its clear that, in the past, these were mainly economic. That’s obviously changing now, as the situation itself has become progressively much worse, both politically and economically, and the number and type of refugees is changing.
And finally, don’t forget that what we are seeing is effectively a secularized version of the Lisbon Earthquake Syndrome: how could God permit such things to happen? In a secularized world, governments and the international community get landed with the same set of expectations, which of course they cannot fulfill, and we get angry when they can’t.
And can we respect the rule that comparisons with Nazi Germany are not appropriate in debates like this?

78

Z 04.22.15 at 8:14 pm

FWIW, Bloix, I understood faustusnotes as meaning that we (quite collectively) would be doing all we could this very minute to escape certain death were we living in an area about to fall under the control of ISIS, that maybe we would even be paying a smuggler to put us and our families in a raft on the Mediterranean to do so under said circumstances and that, given that, it could be good to pause for a while before making assured pronouncements about the motivation of the people actually living under the rule of Daech (or of Isaias Afewerki etc. etc.).

79

Tom West 04.22.15 at 8:55 pm

MPAVictoria #9
>> ” I am also the local welfare-abolition nutcase.”
> Now this is interesting…. So just let fellow citizens starve on the street?

I believe this is part and parcel of the Libertarian reasoning that a government has no right to prevent immigration for any reason (outside of legal issues with the specific immigrant). i.e. total open-borders.

Given the economic incentives, along with the ingenuity of people that can now legally work to transport people as cheaply as possible, one likely sees an immigration rate into Western countries that would eventually make a welfare state almost impossible to sustain. Any country that did maintain it would continue to receive immigrants until it did not.

Their point is that no-one has a moral right to deprive someone from seeking to economically better themselves by barring them from entry. However, being Libertarians, they also tend not to believe that just because someone comes to one’s country to economically better themselves doesn’t mean we have the moral duty to support them.

While I strongly believe in increasing access by refugees and healthy immigration levels, I am *not* a fully open borders advocate because I believe the Libertarians are correct – open borders and a welfare state can’t coexist in the long term.

However, if I’m being honest, it’s probably because I value not living amidst poverty along with the benefits that go with it (public services) more than I value a significant increase in standard of living for hundreds of millions of people.

80

djw 04.22.15 at 9:11 pm

@74: I think that it’s quite clear that CB opposes all restrictions on immigration, period. If there is a counter-example I’d love to see it and will happily stand corrected. And that does contradict the most basic definition of what a nation-state does.

This continues to be a bad, ahistorical argument. States do many things, severely restricting the movement of people across borders is potentially one of them, but it certainly hasn’t always been, and it doesn’t need to be. It is in no way constitutive of statehood.

81

P O'Neill 04.22.15 at 9:27 pm

White Lions … Countries with generous welfare states and anything close to replacement birthrates.

Ireland
France

And not far behind, Sweden, Iceland, UK.

Source.

82

Marc 04.22.15 at 9:29 pm

@80: Completely open borders is a radical idea, one without any modern examples. If there is any bad, ahistorical argument, it’s the claim that something that is nonexistent in the world today is so obviously morally superior that any disagreement can simply be waved away.

And that always seems to happen here. If we ask whether it’s analogous to demanding that anyone be allowed to move into our houses – we’re dismissed out of hand because the analogy is deemed obviously false. (The idea that people in a place can have a collective property interest similar to that of individuals is hardly reactionary: it’s a core ingredient of everything from the welfare system to eminent domain to the existence of public parks and beaches.) If we ask about costs, we’re told there aren’t any. If we bring up cases like lightly populated countries being replaced completely by numerous migrants – think of Tibet, for example – we’re ignored.

This comes across from the outside as a matter of theology: any objection to completely open borders marks you as a moral monster and isn’t worthy of response.

83

faustusnotes 04.22.15 at 11:54 pm

Wow Bloix, that’s surely your most mendacious misreading to date!

84

Anarcissie 04.23.15 at 1:14 am

Marc 04.22.15 at 9:29 pm @ 82 —
I don’t want to say anyone is a moral monster, but I think we can be clear about what borders and other types of property in land actually do. They’re among the cutting edges of the state, one might say.

85

William Berry 04.23.15 at 1:58 am

“And the sign said: ‘Anybody caught trespassing will be shot on sight’
So I jumped the fence and I yelled at the house
Hey! What gives you the right!
To put up a fence and keep me out, or to keep Mother Nature in
If God was here, he’d tell it to your face, man, you’re some kind of sinner . . . “

Basically with CB, anarcissie, et al, here.

But there is a flip side. If we are not capable of absorbing all the refugees, then we have an obligation to work to alleviate the underlying problems/ conditions. But, doing so might go against the anti-interventionist convictions of many right (left)- thinking people. So, not military intervention, but– stuff like: Ending Western Economic Imperialism; doing something real about climate change; ending dependence on fossil fuels; reforming the United Nations into an entity that can act; generally stop being clueless, unself-conscious ass-holes.

Yes, I live in a dream-world.

86

djw 04.23.15 at 3:15 am

@82: Radical, sure. Perhaps entirely ill-advised and foolish. I was responding to the ahistorical, overwrought, silly claim that controlling and restricting access to territory is constituitive practice of statehood. I’m not interested in a grand open-borders debate with you.

87

ZM 04.23.15 at 4:50 am

William Berry, for once I very much agree with you ;)

88

Chris Bertram 04.23.15 at 6:05 am

I think that it’s quite clear that CB opposes all restrictions on immigration, period.

Hard to see how you reached that conclusion from this post, which is about a much more limited issue. This post observes that carrier sanctions and visa regimes have blocked safe routes of travel for many people fleeing persecution and thereby exposed them to danger. If those measures were reversed then more people would turn up and claim asylum or other forms of humanitarian sanctuary. If they did, then countries such as the UK, bound by the non-refoulement obligation, would have to assess their claims. If the claims were properly assessed (and often there is serious reason to worry about the quality of Home Office decision making) then those who fail (and could be removed to a safe country) could be asked or made to leave.

(You are quite right to think that I, personally, favour a much more open regime with a strong (but defeasible) presumption in favour of freedom of movement. But I don’t expect states to implement such a regime unilaterally if other states are unwilling to do so, and it isn’t required as a solution to the current crisis.)

89

lurker 04.23.15 at 7:03 am

@Marc, 82, about completely open borders
I’ve read that just before WWI the only European countries to require passports were Russia and Turkey.
OTOH Britain was trying to restrict Jewish immigration in 1905, so maybe getting in and getting to stay if you were considered undesirable were two different things.

90

Chris Bertram 04.23.15 at 10:00 am

Here is Hans Rosling, making essentially the same point as the OP, though carrier sanctions by individual states predate the EU directive. Among other things he skewers the claims made my David @60 about the lack of regular “travel services”. Not only are there flights between Ethiopia (for example) and Europe, the flights are cheaper than the price people pay to get on the boats.

https://youtu.be/YO0IRsfrPQ4?list=PLSrgd_ElrrXcMZ1Nt8hTC2tj1psJ4-K5O

91

David 04.23.15 at 10:57 am

@90. Of course there are regular flights between Ethiopia and Europe – I have taken them many times. If you book sufficiently long in advance then the kind of prices quoted in the video are not unrealistic. Refugees from Lebanon, Syria and Eritrea have entered Europe quite legally that way – I have met a number of them. That’s not the question. (There are also shipping services.) But the point remains that the majority of refugees are not in the kind of places (e.g. Libya, arriving from Mali) where such transport is possible, and those that are don’t have passports, identity documents or the resources to buy airline tickets. (Financing of clandestine voyages is quite different and is fairly well understood).
Nobody denies that entry regulations to European countries are harsh and unjust, and have caused a great deal of needless trouble and even suffering. Again, I have first-hand experience of that.
But the fact is that no country in the world lets people in without examination. I need a visa to go TO Ethiopia, among many other countries, which can be refused if, for example, I can’t produce a letter saying who is responsible for me while I’m there. Just to get onto a plane to go elsewhere in Europe I need to show a current identity document, and I have stood next to middle-aged white people in check-in queues who have been devastated to discover that they can’t travel to the US, to Australia or to India on holiday because they haven’t applied for a visa. In such cases (and in spite of the shocked tone adopted by the video) checkin assistants are doing no more than tell people they can’t fly because they won’t be let it. (I agree that penalizing carriers is wrong and immoral). So our friend in the video may be able to do research on expedia.com but I doubt he is that familiar with international airline travel.
But this is an argument without resolution. As others have pointed out, there are essentially two ways of looking at the problem: absolute moral duty which must be fulfilled irrespective of practical obstacles, no matter how great vs. practical, if necessarily imperfect attempts to address the circumstances. The first is an approach which is very common today: I understand it, even if I don’t share it. Unfortunately it too often degenerates into name-calling (“I suppose you want them to die then!”). The original assertion, that recent European legislation, immoral as it is, is somehow responsible for the deaths of these individuals at sea, is unproven and unprovable except through a kind of moral guilt by association, and it also obscures the question of what we are actually going to do about this tragedy.
Over and out.

92

ZM 04.23.15 at 11:15 am

You can easily combine absolute moral duty and practicalities.

There are about 50 million refugees – you do a census to see how many like to wait in camps to go home and how many like temporary resettlement and how many like permanent resettlement.

Then the numbers that like to wait in camps need aid money so the camps are pleasant and there is education and work and other activities while the wait.

Then you do a global analysis of all countries to see the capacity of each country to take how many of the temporary refugees and how many of the permanent ones. Then they go on ships to their destination countries – not aeroplanes because of greenhouse gas emissions.

This should be achievable in 5 years I think.

And at the same time you start converging all the countries economies to a sustainable amount of production and consumption by 2050. Then Chris Bertram can have his open borders maybe as a trial period to see if it is orderly or too disorderly.

93

Rich Puchalsky 04.23.15 at 1:10 pm

David: “As others have pointed out, there are essentially two ways of looking at the problem: absolute moral duty which must be fulfilled irrespective of practical obstacles, no matter how great vs. practical, if necessarily imperfect attempts to address the circumstances. […] The original assertion, that recent European legislation, immoral as it is, is somehow responsible for the deaths of these individuals at sea, is unproven and unprovable except through a kind of moral guilt by association, and it also obscures the question of what we are actually going to do about this tragedy.”

Morally incoherent. If you’re not taking an absolutist stance, you necessarily enter a world of practicality in which denial that events have causes is not really available to you. Legislation that makes unsafe routes the only routes possible for many people obviously contributes to the deaths of many individuals at sea. You can then argue that no better solution is available, perhaps, but you can’t deny causation.

94

Jesús Couto Fandiño 04.23.15 at 3:25 pm

Again, while a lot of you are discussing the non-existant plans from nobody to open the borders to anybody, the actual EU measures that are related to the current deaths are the ones replacing Mare Nostrum’s patrols deep into the sea, with Triton’s just-out-of-the-coast patrols.

Practicality has its place, of course, but the cost of Mare Nostrum (hell, of a better operation than that) to not see how thousands die in our doorstep, I would consider it not much an issue of practicality but just human decency on an humanitarian crisis that, for once, doesnt require us to go and bomb anybody to help.

Maybe thats why they dont like it.

95

christian_h 04.23.15 at 3:43 pm

Thanks CB for the original post. Also, this thread depresses me. Chris argued that the EU is engaged in policies that by design lead to the mass death of desperate refugees and that this is morally despicable – and a slew of comments chooses to ignore the fundamental issue here (that thousands of people are drowning) and instead argue about the refugees’ motivation, or the cost of admitting them to our nicely rich countries, or whether being appalled by policies directly leading to the deaths of thousands must logically mean the person so appalled wants to abolish the nation state.

96

djw 04.23.15 at 5:45 pm

Agree with @95. Whenever anyone says something like “this particular feature of our immigration regime is morally objectionable because it leads, predictably, to specific dreadful outcomes” the responses pretty much always about something else. The invocation of the specter of completely open borders reminds me a bit of red-baiting; trying to taint the speaker with a highly unpopular policy. If it were coming from the right, I wouldn’t find it too depressing, but a lot of the people playing this game imagine themselves, remarkably, to be some sort of leftist.

97

Z 04.23.15 at 6:56 pm

Exactly agree with Jesús Couto Fandiño, christian_h and djw. There was a mechanism to save migrants from drowning, it saved actual lives, it was terminated, actual people died. Draw your own conclusion but enough with the “responsibility can’t be assigned” or the “morality obscures the real question” gambits

98

The Sanity Inspector 04.23.15 at 7:25 pm

By all means, save these unfortunates from perishing at sea. But relocating them to Europe? The people that a democracy lets in become its future rulers. Choose wisely. Otherwise in a few decades you may find political correctness forbidding you from taking note of the Finsbury Park Mosques and Rotherhams going on in your own cities.

99

Abbe Faria 04.23.15 at 7:45 pm

“Again, while a lot of you are discussing the non-existant plans from nobody to open the borders to anybody…”

But this actually happened and is completely relevant. What open borders advocates don’t want to admit is you actually got your wish. Libya went from a closed to an open border and it’s awful.

This catastrophe wasn’t caused by politicians closing safe routes through visa restrictions. It was caused them bombing of Libya, causing the collapse of the state, and the opening of previously closed unsafe routes. You’d think the failure of Libyan security services and absence of a border guard or coastguard would be a dream come true for free movement and open borders advocates, you guys got what you wanted – right? Unfortunately, the influx of jihadis and outflow of boats makes it obvious that this is a total disaster and completely validates the need for strong border controls. I don’t see how you can turn around and try and blame this on the other side, this didn’t happen when there were people policing the Libyan border.

100

The Temporary Name 04.23.15 at 8:11 pm

I guess it just takes one to tango.

101

djw 04.23.15 at 9:46 pm

I guess it makes a certain kind of sense that in a thread filled with people who are claiming, against history and reason, that aggressively policed and ‘controlled’ borders are constitutive of statehood, that someone would come along and claim there’s no conceptual difference between open borders and a failed state.

102

engels 04.23.15 at 10:24 pm

‘”There are no easy answers here”
‘Good grief.
‘”?”‘

Please see 94-97, and the OP. The measures which EU could take to prevent incidents like this are not difficult, complicated or unaffordable.

103

Bloix 04.23.15 at 10:35 pm

#96 – “The invocation of the specter of completely open borders reminds me a bit of red-baiting; trying to taint the speaker with a highly unpopular policy.”

Well, as I was the one, perhaps, who mentioned open borders on this thread, I note that I was responding to a particular comment that strongly implied an open borders policy — a comment that had nothing to do with the OP, which is about traditional refugees who are fleeing violence and are thus legally entitled to asylum under the current regime — and I noted that CB (not in this post, but elsewhere, as he confirmed in #88) is more or less in favor of such a policy.

It’s pretty typical in CT threads for the discussion to open up to more general topics than the OP encompassed and I don’t think it’s fair comment to say that anyone who talks about broader issues is acting in bad faith.

104

Val 04.24.15 at 9:48 am

ZM @ 55
Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, I have to admit I am very cynical about the Labor party and refugees (like many others, it’s the main reason I left the party). However I wish your local MP well. I would be extremely surprised, but very pleased, if Shorten ever apologised for their treatment of refugees. However they key thing still remains what is to done, and we clearly need both regional and global responses.

If the ALP would go for something that was truly about regional cooperation, rather than Australia just trying to bribe or bully other countries to take the refugees, it would be a first step to a regional solution.

105

Mitch Guthman 04.24.15 at 9:51 pm

There have been a number of commenters here who have made very broad statements about morality who seem unwilling even to countenance that honoring the moral imperatives they so blithely declare will involve difficult tradeoffs. Writing blank checks drawn against other peoples’ blood and treasure is something we should be discussing. Rescuing and supporting large numbers of migrants isn’t totally without cost or dangers of all sorts; a better, more honest discussion would acknowledge this and require the proponents to say who should pay the price and whether those who would be required to bear the burden of rescue would be entitled to any say in the matter.

To begin with, rescuing large numbers of people at sea, in all weathers is dangerous and expensive. The most recent incident involved the navigator of the people smuggling ship deliberately ramming the rescue vessel. These is a real likelihood that the moral imperative for humanitarian intervention which people are expressing here will eventually result in the death of people on the rescue ships who are simply doing their jobs.

The economic costs also seem to be huge and are very likely to be borne by those who can least afford to bear them. I don’t believe it is possible for Europe to provide, health care, education and pensions to all who wish to migrate there. And so, who will lose out? Workers and the middle class will lose, that’s who.

Basically, what I’m seeing here is people who point to others and says that’s it is morally imperative for them to risk their lives. Or they point to workers and the middle class and say that the moral imperative requires that they not only sacrifice their futures but that they must actually facilitate the mass migrations that are jeopardizing the viability of the social welfare state. I think it’s just too easy to smugly demand that other people should be altruistic.

106

The Temporary Name 04.24.15 at 10:23 pm

These is a real likelihood that the moral imperative for humanitarian intervention which people are expressing here will eventually result in the death of people on the rescue ships who are simply doing their jobs.

Dangerous jobs are dangerous? This is news to me.

107

Anarcissie 04.24.15 at 11:08 pm

Mitch Guthman 04.24.15 at 9:51 pm @ 105:
‘… other peoples’ blood and treasure….’
I and some other people have suggested that the US ruling class and its satellites stop drawing on other people’s blood and treasure in pursuit of domination of the Middle East, North Africa, and the world in general. Maybe that would be a good basis for the Plan. I am not moralizing — God forbid — my argument is only a practical one, based on the historical fact that the expense of other people’s blood and treasure has thus far not brought the advertised results.

108

Mitch Guthman 04.24.15 at 11:24 pm

Anarcissie at 17,

I think that’s somewhat analogous to a plan to combat the immediate crisis of global warming without reducing the use of fossil fuels by having a plan to build a huge number of fusion reactors. Unless you have some reason to believe that you will be able to defeat deeply entrenched incumbents and reorganize basically the entire world’s economic and political systems within the next year or two, I don’t think you should get credit for actually confronting the hard questions involved by simply declaring that everybody should get a pony.

The question isn’t how should the world ultimately organize itself but rather what how should this immediate crisis be addressed and who should shoulder the burden of resolving it.

109

Mitch Guthman 04.24.15 at 11:45 pm

The Temporary Name at 106,

I agree that it should be obvious that rescuing migrants at sea is dangerous. Yet the dangers to rescue workers doesn’t seem to have been a part of any moral calculus being advanced by the proponents of increased or even unrestricted migration. So, for example, the proposals to reduce the scope of rescue operations would, presumably, make these dangerous jobs marginally less dangerous. Increasing the number of rescue operations and the distance from European waters in which those operations will be undertaken presumably would marginally increase the risk to the rescuers. I think that the lives of rescue workers are worth considering.

It’s much too easy to say that refuges and economic migrants must have safe passage and resettlement in Europe, come Hell or high water. Facilitating the migration of tens of millions of people and then resettling them in Europe will not be inexpensive or free of consequences. I’m merely pointing out that most of the people who will be giving up their health care, their education, their pensions and their quality of life if it turns out that Europe can’t absorb millions of migrants are doubtless not from the same class of people who see those sacrifices by European workers and the already struggling middle class as mere trivialities.

110

Philip 04.25.15 at 10:04 am

Mitch, as a a European worker who has been made redundant then taken on part-time and volunteers to work with asylum seekers I disagree with you. No one is saying that the ‘economic migrants’ should have automatic resettlement in Europe, but that they should be able to come to Europe and have an asylum claim heard in line with the UNCHR and without having to risk their lives crossing the sea. If they don’t claim asylum, support their case with sufficient evidence, or are shown to have come through a third country where they could have claimed asylum then they can be refused leave and sent to another country. This would not hurt the people who can afford it least as they are the people in other middle eastern countries where most refugees flee to. Also if there were more safe routes then there would be less people taking dangerous ones and there would be less need for rescue operations and therefore less risk to the rescue workers.

If it were made easier for people to come to Europe and claim asylum then there would be big questions as to how make decisions, process claims, keep a track of individuals, remove people who should be removed, and share the burden between member states. I think we need to ask these questions and find answers because to me just letting people drown in the mediterranean and saying it’s too expensive to help them and nothing can be done is not acceptable.

111

faustusnotes 04.25.15 at 12:57 pm

Mitch Gutman … other people’s blood and treasure … there are millions of refugees camped throughout the middle east, in countries with a great deal less treasure than ours, who are largely there because of the blood spilled by us. Perhaps you should rock up to their shores and talk to them about “other people’s blood and treasure”. I’m sure they’d love to take your advice on how to best handle the millions of refugees our wars created.

112

Anarcissie 04.25.15 at 1:54 pm

Anarcissie 04.24.15 at 11:08 pm @ 107:
‘… I don’t think you should get credit for actually confronting the hard questions involved by simply declaring that everybody should get a pony. …’

I do confront hard questions, and when I come up with the obvious answers, everyone tells me the solutions are too difficult. Deeply entrenched incumbents and all that. All right, I agree I am not very successful as a politician, an activist, a pony distributor. In the case of the Middle East and North Africa, it’s too difficult to stop shooting and bombing strangers who have little or nothing to do with us, because our great leaders love bombing and shooting them so much. But let’s at least recognize the truth: the American ruling class and its satellites in Europe have not brought about peace and order. They have created the present situation and are maintaining and aggravating it. Meanwhile they’re blaming the victims and lesser predators. Business as usual.

113

Hal 04.25.15 at 3:01 pm

Mitch Guthman @105,

Yes. It seems to me ironic that (some of) the same people who are now gung ho to be mobilizing massive forces and funds regularly pooh-pooh any mention of R2P when that involves use of military force, in particular when the Syrian civil war was starting and could then have avoided some of the current refugee problem, not to mention 200,000 deaths. My brother-in-law volunteers with a refugee welfare organization in France and the constant refrain is why no one intervened when Assad began his campaign.

Not to mention (from @109) most of the people who will be giving up their health care, their education, their pensions and their quality of life if it turns out that Europe can’t absorb millions of migrants are doubtless not from the same class of people who see those sacrifices by European workers and the already struggling middle class as mere trivialities.

114

Z 04.26.15 at 12:23 am

I don’t believe it is possible for Europe to provide, health care, education and pensions to all who wish to migrate there. And so, who will lose out? Workers and the middle class will lose, that’s who.

Meanwhile, in the actually existing EU of 2015, the set of significant political movements advocating humane policies with respect to immigration is (perhaps with no exception) identical to the set of those advocating for the defense or the expansion of the welfare state for workers and the middle class (and logic being logic, this entails that the political movements defunding Mare Nostrum and pushing restrictive interpretation of asylum laws are at the same time cutting welfare for the same workers).

It seems to me ironic that (some of) the same people who are now gung ho to be mobilizing massive forces and funds regularly pooh-pooh any mention of R2P when that involves use of military force,

So let me get this straight: one the one side, you have politicians (like Cameron) who organized the Libyan war (cost: between 300 and 1100 million dollars for UK alone says Wikipedia, add to that 1 billion from Italy and France) and defunded Mare Nostrum (cost: 12 million dollars a month overall) because it created a “pull factor encouraging more migrants” (actual quote), on the other side, you have people and organizations advocating for the renewal of Mare Nostrum and skeptics of the capacity of military intervention to do much good. And you think the second group is hypocritical and inconsistent in its attitude towards funding political aims?

115

Hal 04.26.15 at 4:42 am

Z@114,

I guess you missed a line. Here, I’ll repeat it: …in particular when the Syrian civil war was starting and could then have avoided some of the current refugee problem, not to mention 200,000 deaths.

116

Anarcissie 04.26.15 at 1:55 pm

A Responsibility to Protect can be meaningful as a norm or law only if everybody concerned, especially including the most powerful, agrees to be bound by it and submit to it. If that were the case, then more obvious interventions than Syria would be called for. As it is not, it’s just more imperial propaganda.

117

Mitch Guthman 04.26.15 at 5:42 pm

Z at 114,

I’m not sure what your point you are trying to make. I accept that it is entirely possible for people to want both generous treatment of refugees and generous treatment of workers and middle class people; just as I accept that there are people who oppose both immigration and the social welfare state. I don’t see how you are addressing my argument that Europe cannot provide pensions, health care and education to everyone who wishes to migrate there and enjoy those benefits.

I do not see how such a mass migration would be compatible with trade unionism. I do not see how a European economy under the increased burden of funding health care, education and pensions could afford what would then be the luxury of environmentalism and fighting climate change. I do not see how Europe could continue to subsidize the arts and a whole host of programs to improve the quality of life enjoyed there.

What is do see is the intensification of the pressures that globalization and the unrestrained movement of capital have inflicted on the social welfare state. And, equally, I see the potential for increasing the stratification of European society into a very small number of the superrich and, basically, everybody else.

If this grand experiment fails, the people who will pay the price of failure will be those who rely on the social welfare state for education, health care and pensions. Workers and the middle class will pay with declining wages and blocked upward mobility. Basically, everyone except the superrich will pay a horrible price if it turns out the Europe can’t actually afford what is functionally a policy of open borders.

Facilitating a mass migration is an irrevocable decision and its proponents need to offer something more than moral indignation and agitated hand waving.

118

Mitch Guthman 04.26.15 at 6:42 pm

Philip at 110,

I think that facilitating the migration of anyone who wants to come to Europe and then pretending to sort them all out and then eventually send back those who are economic migrants is the functional equivalent of open borders. Basically, if it were made easier for more people to claim asylum, then more people would claim asylum and then live in Europe for the decade or two that it will take to sort it all out.

There is some UN official being quoted on the Guardian website as saying that Europe needs to immediately resettle at least 1 million refugees and then undertake something more significant in the years to come. So, as a practical matter, we really are talking about facilitating a mass migration of tens of millions or perhaps even hundreds of millions of refugees and economic migrants from failed and failing countries across the globe. I don’t see how Europe can accommodate them even temporarily while they pretend to process (and investigate) so many millions of asylum applications—which I why it seems obvious to me (as I’m sure it’s obvious to you) that you are advocating an open borders policy under the guise (or perhaps for the reason of) humanitarianism.

And once these millions of people are in Europe, what then? Are we really going to be able to track hundreds of millions of people over long periods of time so as to be able to deport them and their families back to the nightmarish failed states from whence they came? Will European governments really be able to force even genuine asylum seekers and refugees to return to their countries of origin if there’s a change of regime or some other condition that removes the danger to that person? Obviously not; so, it seems to me that what you’re really saying is that anyone who gets to Europe really will get to stay and enjoy the benefits of the social welfare state and I think it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

119

Philip 04.26.15 at 9:11 pm

Mitch, I just had a quick google for some numbers and about 50,000 people left the UK in 2013 through removal or voluntary return after deportation procedures were started and in 2012 about 13,000 people were turned away at the border. There are systems in place to handle asylum claims and I think giving them more funding is preferable to letting people drown. I don’t know how much more clearly I can say that I am not proposing an open border policy.

Even just reinstating mare nostrum would be good and I doubt it would lead to tens of millions more asylum seekers. If there were a massive increase in the numbers of asylum seekers the EU would have to make more use of detention centres while they processed claims, look at ways of making decisions more quickly, although this would result in more wrong decisions, and ways of sharing the burden among member countries. Also countries don’t look to return refugees after they have been given status even if it becomes safe for them to return. In the UK refugee status is usually given for 5 years then they can apply for settlement and that is usually granted. The problem with tracking people is more for those who come to the end of the asylum process and are no longer eligible for any government support and become destitute (not if there are children under 18 though), so I am not saying that anyone who gets into Europe will get to stay and enjoy the benefits of the welfare state. You should really try and understand the asylum system and what happens to asylum seekers before you start trying to tell people what they really mean to say. Also you haven’t commented on the fact that more safe routes would be good for the rescue workers who were your concern when you started posting on this thread, maybe you are not arguing good faith.

120

Chris Bertram 04.26.15 at 9:40 pm

My goodness. How easily the lazy assumption is made that migrants are a drain on the welfare state. Given that Europe has an ageing population and that migrants tend to be younger and keen to work and pay taxes, the opposite could very well be the case. Incidentally, since the EU has a population of 500 million, a commitment to take a million people would be a tiny proportional increase.

121

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 12:35 am

Philip at 119,

I appreciate that you keep saying that you’re not advocating an open border policy but it’s hard to see how the aggregate effect would be anything less, particularly in light of your previous discussion of the need for “safe routes”. As I mentioned, the concern is not simply with the ability to handle the current number of migrants but is more sharply focused on the concern that to create “safe routes” will turn the flood into a tsunami. This concern seems more significant as the categories in the 1951 Convention are becoming blurred to the point that Chris Bertram earlier got away with defining asylum as the “discharge of a general duty towards people whose states have failed them in particular catastrophic ways” rather than a focus on the persecution of individuals or identifiable groups with “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

Indeed, the response of the UNHCR has been very similar to Bertram’s approach, which to blur the definition of the terms “asylum-seeker” and “refugee” into an amalgam of people involved in mass migrations who are then declared “prima facie” refugees because of the impracticability of making individualized determinations. Your response, coupled with the blurring of distinctions and difficulty of investigation for individual cases suggests why helping every asylum-seeker to reach Europe and then sort everything out is the functional equivalent of open borders.

Even the UNHCR acknowledges that you can’t actually investigate the claims of millions of asylum-seekers who would be expected to claim refuge in Europe if only that could physically reach there. Your idea of housing them in refugee camps reflects either a hidden agenda or willingness to kick the can down the road in the hopes that everything will eventually work out okay. The obvious problem is that every previous experience with large scale, long-term DP camps has been disastrous for everybody and, most particularly, for the host country that has a large, unhappy group of socially isolated foreigners.

I frankly don’t believe that the West is going to set up massive (and hugely costly) refugee camps within their borders where generation upon generation upon generation of migrants will grow old and die as their applications are reviewed. At some point, the pressure will build for these people to be sent back to their home countries—which will be decried as inhumane—or released into the new host countries with the corresponding pressures on the social welfare state that I have described. I believe this is the outcome you think is the inevitable outcome of basically facilitating anyone who says he is a refugee to be brought to Europe and cared for while his application is being reviewed. If so, I think Europe would be on a slippery slope to open borders.

As for my opposition to opening of “safe routes” demonstrating that my concerns for the safety of rescue workers was insincere: “Safe routes” is a pretty ambiguous phrase. One question is “safe for whom”? “Safe routes” may be safer for migrants but I see no reason to believe they will be any safer for rescue workers and, indeed, depending on what’s involved in facilitating the safe transport of migrants to Europe, it’s probably going to be infinitely more dangerous.

Several commenters have raised a number of questions about the mechanics and possible risks of extracting refugees or migrants from conflict zones or militia infested DP camps that evoked many dismissive sneers and clever retorts but no real description of what these “safe routes” might look like, what costs would be involved and how the risk of violence in such places would be avoided. I think if you’re planning on rescuing refugees from a camp in Libya, you’re either going to pay some money to the militia in control of the camp (thereby further destabilizing the country) or shoot the leader of the militia in the head. If you see a way of getting refugees out of such a camp that doesn’t involve the choice between silver and lead, I like to hear about it.

122

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 12:41 am

@ Chris Bertram,

I don’t think I’m being any lazier in my raising of concerns about the continued viability of the social welfare state than you are in dismissing them. Europe’s population may be aging but it’s a relatively small, relatively homogenous and very well educated, highly skilled population that generates significant tax revenues. Despite your earlier breezy response that integration would be easy because migrants are mostly multilingual cosmopolitans, it isn’t clear that that integrating them would actually be cheap and easy. Or that a massive influx of migrants would have the desirable effects you are promising.

If the past fifty years are any indication, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that large numbers of migrants can be successfully absorbed in Europe and absolutely no reason whatsoever to think that they actually would be. Similarly, I do not see why you believe that large numbers of low skill, low wage migrants will be net contributors economically or are capable of either replacing existing workers in any but the least skilled, lowest paying jobs. Why do you think that things will be different this time?

123

faustusnotes 04.27.15 at 12:59 am

1 million migrants is less than the number of children born in Europe. Children require 21 years of investment to become a “very well educated, highly skilled population”, yet for some reason people are convinced that absorbing a million asylum seekers is just fiscally impossible… even in some European states that have free education, where the state bears the entire burden of educating people for 16 years. Yet they can’t afford a couple of years’ full time education for a tiny proportion of the number of children they educate annually?

Mitch, what you are saying is that your priorities do not extend to helping the poor. There is no factual basis for saying it’s a challenge – you just don’t want to.

124

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 4:13 am

@ faustusnotes,

You are mistaken. I am by no means uncaring about poverty. But I do find the problems closer to home to be a far greater priority. I don’t know if you’re aware of this but poverty hasn’t yet been eradicated in Europe and America. Quite the contrary, things are worse now than in any time during my life.

There are a great many people in America who are desperately poor. Many are homeless. Many do not have enough to eat. Things are not as bad in Europe but they’re not great, either. And the future looks even bleaker.

There is terrible poverty and a rapidly declining quality of life in those countries ravaged by the murderous austerity imposed by conservatives, particularly in Spain and Greece. On recent visits, I have seen people living rough in London and Paris. This morning, The Independent carried an article about economic inequality under the Conservatives saying that there were now many Britons who now rely on food banks to survive.

It’s easy to say that Europe can afford this or that but the reality is that the economy is struggling and times are hard. The left’s achievements such as universal health care, education, the minimum wage and requiring clean, safe workplaces are under constant attack. The reality is that it’s a constant struggle to hold on to what has been achieved. If more money could be pried out of the rich in America and Europe, my inclination would be to alleviate suffering in the country where I live or in the places to which I have deep attachments—none of which happens to be Africa or the Middle East.

What’s more, the likelihood that these billions of euros you would like to spend on providing housing, education, health care and pensions for millions of migrants will be paid for by new taxes on the superrich is essentially nil. It is the poor and middle class who will pay. And that’s asking a lot in a Europe that’s already stretched thin taking care of its own. Personally, I think it’s asking too much.

125

Chris Bertram 04.27.15 at 6:09 am

Actually, I think the last fifty years have shown that European countries have been rather good at absorbing large numbers of immigrants. Personally, I find Mitch Guthman’s words about “taking care of its own” whilst leaving others to die repugnant. Perhaps he thinks some kinds of human are more valuable than others? There’s a word for that.

126

ZM 04.27.15 at 7:19 am

In Australia one of the most prominent figures speaking out for refugees – for a good sustained period too – is QC Julian Burnside. his family even takes in refugees to live with them and he gives a lot of time to speak to meetings around the country. He has found himself a bit ostracized in legal circles for being such a voice for justice.

He was among the authors of a recent book called The Drownings Argument – which criticized the argument made oft times in Australia that to save asylum seeker lives from drowning the government should make policies to “Stop The Boats”.

He thinks maybe refugees in camps in our Asian-pacific region need faster processing to deter them from taking dangerous sea voyages and then the Australian intake can be settled in rural towns to help rural economies.

A very nice acquaintance I know is currently paddling down the Murray River at the moment to raise awareness about river issues – she wrote on her blog for the project how she can hardly imagine the large numbers (100,000) of people who came often from overseas to build the Snowy Mountain hydro electric system – and it is a great contrast to the short-sightedness of our current governments.

Since we need such a lot of rapid changes for climate change and other sustainability issues refugees could be welcomed as a great help with this, like the Philosopher Raimond Gaita’s father who was not a refugee but came from Europe and was I think bonded to labour on our local Lake Cairn Curran water storage and recreational dam.

This is a good song we sing at choir for refugees by a great singer Kavisha Mazzella who is temporarily leading that choir and the writer Arnold Zable

http://youtu.be/DE8vk7JHj9g

127

Anarcissie 04.27.15 at 1:51 pm

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 4:13 am @ 124:
‘… What’s more, the likelihood that these billions of euros you would like to spend on providing housing, education, health care and pensions for millions of migrants will be paid for by new taxes on the superrich is essentially nil. …’

Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Or the other half of the problem, since the first half is the death and destruction visited on the countries which are the source of the refugees by these same elites, or at least by their subservience to the Great Hegemon.

128

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 6:39 pm

Chris Bertram at 125,

To begin with, I do not agree that Europe has integrated immigrants well. The “guest workers” and other immigrants encouraged to come to Europe to provide cheap labor have always been on the marginalized periphery of society; the economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa have been treated even worse. I have some knowledge of the situation in England and France where immigrants now form a permanent underclass facing staggering levels of unemployment, poor education, and generalized discrimination. From what I have read, I believe that conditions in other European countries are basically variations on the same themes.

Many of the people who came as refugees or guest workers are clustered in the cités or large housing projects where they have historically been dumped and forgotten except as a disposable source of cheap labour. By and large, they and their generations cannot escape the housing projects and the residents of those places are treated badly by the government and the local people. The residents of the housing estates are often forced to take low wage, low status jobs even if they have a qualification and are generally looked down upon as racailles by much of the population.

The conditions of marginalization that I have described have been exacerbated by recent budget “reforms” in England and France that have slashed the budget for social welfare programs from their already inadequate levels. In France, the large housing projects have lost funding for after-school programs, vocational training and internships, and special programs to help with integration into mainstream French society. In return, the cités have gained militarized policing and the constant harassment of identity checks.

In England, the giant housing estates are factories of despair and hatred. They are castoff, forgotten and disenfranchised. They may be out of sight and out of mind for the moment but the resentments have been building for generations; we got a slight taste of this in 2011 when riots erupted in London, Manchester, and other urban areas in England. I still have an article from the Guardian quoting Prof. John Pitts as saying that the people from the estates and other places like Tottenham “have no career to think about. They are not ‘us’. They live out there on the margins, enraged, disappointed, capable of doing some awful things.”

There is plenty of work to be done right here at home. The conditions that brought about the 2005 riots in the banlieues and the 2011 riots in London remain unaddressed. Glibly saying that one can dump millions more migrants into these improvised and ignored communities without consequences is the height of arrogance or foolishness.

Similarly, there is poverty in Europe that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second World War. There is mass unemployment in Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere. There are people in places like Greece who do not have enough to eat. Why are their needs not worth considering? It seems to me that there’s plenty of poverty and social injustice in the places where most of us live and, name calling aside, you have given any reason to prioritize helping people in Africa or helping people right here at home.

129

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 7:25 pm

Anarcissie at 127,

I think what you and others are saying is that we need to accommodate a mass migration from Africa and the Middle East as a matter of urgent necessity and worry about the consequences later because, really, everything will work out fine. I think that a recipe for disaster—conditions in those places are only going to get worse as more countries in those regions experience political turmoil and economic collapse. So I don’t think things are going to work out fine for anybody in Europe, least of all the people in the giant housing projects where we have been dumping the immigrants who come to provide cheap labour.

These mass migrants won’t be living in Knightsbridge and competing for jobs in the City of London and Oxbridge. And they won’t expect union wages or decent working conditions. They’ll be in the housing estates with the last two waves of immigrants, fighting for the dirtiest, lowest paying jobs in places where the unemployment rate is already as high as sixty percent or more. The European governments won’t double the amount spent on social services, education and housing—they’ll just give people already living a marginal existence less help.

So basically, what you’re asking isn’t that Europe, as a whole should altruistically sacrifice itself on behalf of people fleeing failed states, but rather that the people closest to the bottom rungs of society should bear the bulk of the burden of rescue. In the world in which we’re living, there isn’t going to be any new, independent source of money devoted to resettling refugees. The refugees won’t be housed in wealthy communities and be paid stipends by the very rich. The social welfare state is already contracting; the new migrants will be fighting against ordinary people who do not live lives of splendor and ease.

Yes, mass migration means that people in Mayfair or Neuilly-sur-Seine will be able to hire more servants, more cheaply but their taxes won’t be raised and they won’t suffer hardship and deprivation. The lives of the rich and those with comfortable sinecures won’t be made more difficult by mass migrations in the myriad ways that those on the bottom will suffer.

My own view is that unless we address the root conditions that are causing these countries to collapse, things will keep getting worse everywhere. That means addressing climate change, globalization and corruption. As you may have noticed, one of the political consequences of mass migration has been to make it almost impossible to mobilize popular support for addressing those problems.

130

Hal 04.27.15 at 7:53 pm

Quite simply, resources would be far more effectively spent on (the vastly more numerous) refugees still in Africa or the Middle East, along with far fewer problems of social and cultural integration. That’s where the emphasis should be… Which is not to preclude aid to migrants at risk in the Mediterranean, along with a campaign against traffickers.

131

Anarcissie 04.27.15 at 8:52 pm

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 7:25 pm @ 129 —
No, my primary suggestion is that the US and its satellites should stop routinely attacking countries and parties they don’t happen to like in the Middle East and North Africa. That seems to be a very difficult thing to accomplish, a giant first step.

132

Chris Bertram 04.27.15 at 8:58 pm

I live in the UK or “England” as you call it Mitch Guthman, and whilst I’m reluctant to downplay real problems of racism and disadvantage faced by the groups you refer to in an undifferentiated way as “immigrants”, the picture you paint simply isn’t true for many of them. Members of Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities are really quite poor on average, Caribbean communities a bit less so, and African, Indian and Chinese communities are doing pretty well in terms of median income. You aren’t related to the guy on Fox News who thought that Birmingham was a no-go zone are you?

133

Chris Bertram 04.27.15 at 9:07 pm

You might also benefit from reading this piece from Doug Saunders, who draws on Hein de Haas. Both are people who know a lot about migration and migrants. You Mitch, I’m sorry to say, do not and your comments simply recycle the received wisdom of the ignorant and prejudiced.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/the-real-reasons-why-migrants-risk-everything-for-a-new-life-elsewhere/article24105000/

134

The Temporary Name 04.27.15 at 9:57 pm

Hard work is hard, so it should never get done.

135

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 11:11 pm

Chris Bertram,

Well, of course, I called it England because I was speaking about conditions in England. I don’t know very much about the rest of the UK. Really, I’ve only travelled in the North in the last few years so I don’t know it very well either. Mostly I spent my visits to the UK in London and around East Anglia, mostly Suffolk. Lately, I’ve been going to the North quite a bit when I’m in the UK but only for brief visits.

I visited Scotland twice as a child. I’ve never lived in or even visited Northern Ireland or Wales and I don’t read any UK papers except English ones, so I know nothing of life in those countries. But I do follow politics in England fairly closely and I’m not nearly as sanguine about the situation there for immigrants and minorities as you seem to be and I certainly don’t believe that it would be possible to resettle millions of migrants there with very serious consequence down the road.

To begin with, while unemployment for white ethnic groups has remained constant, unemployment among minorities has risen significantly. Yes, Pakistani/Bangladeshi ethnics were hit very hard but unemployment and poverty are also up for black ethnic minorities. Young people of all backgrounds are being clobbered by unemployment and the economic crash precipitated by the insane austerity polices of the Conservatives. http://tinyurl.com/Labour-market-by-ethnic-group

Places like Hackney, Brixton and Peckham, and Tottenham (which is the only one of these places I’m really familiar with) for example, all have very high rates of crime and poverty. I’ve meet people whose families came to England from Jamaica in the 1960’s and are still struggling to find work, got pushed out of the East End and are living in estates where things have always been crappy and don’t seem to be improving. I’m not saying that these places are Hell on Earth and Tottenham, in particular, has had a lot of money and effort invested (the next crisis there, I predict, will be triggered by gentrification), but an acquaintance in the Met says that times are very hard and haven’t really improved since 2011.

From what I’ve read, that seems to be true of almost all of the places where rioting broke out in 2011 (although frequently the rioting spread to adjacent business areas, an example being Tottenham Hale). I’m not saying that poverty and the anger it generates was the only cause, far from it, but it’s clear that the areas of rioting were overwhelmingly peopled with minorities and seem to generally correspond to areas of very high poverty, very low economic growth, very high unemployment, very high levels of child poverty and savage cuts in social spending made by the Conservative government.

The situation is very difficult in certain parts of England that are not Central London and the future looks very bleak indeed in the very areas where these migrants are most likely to settle and compete for scarce opportunities. And while we all wish for a better world, the prospects for any UK government increasing welfare funding by any amount—let alone enough to meet the needs of the newcomers—is essentially zero. The best that can be hoped for is that a Labour government will resist pressures for more savage cuts to the safety net in the name of deficit reduction.

The point I’m trying to make is that settling huge numbers of economic migrants and refugees in such a toxic atmosphere is an unbelievably stupid idea that is sure to have tragic consequences down the line.

Just as aside, I didn’t know that there was anybody named Guthman working at Fox News. Obviously, the man hasn’t ever been to Birmingham, which is a very nice place with a very nice central city that is very, very safe to walk around in and enjoy what England’s second city has to offer. Anyway, I think the Fox News guy was talking about how it had been turned into a Caliphate, governed by Sharia law rather than crime and poverty.

I do want to thank you for the excellent Doug Saunders article, which I found very interesting. I think he’s absolutely correct about why people are migrating from countries where there’s no hope for a better future. Where we differ, I think, is in how the crisis should be addressed. As I’ve mentioned, I believe the keys are creating beneficial economic activity in those countries, fighting globalization and fighting corruption. We need to be focused on creating the conditions that will allow people to have rich lives in their own countries without exacerbating the tensions and poverty that exists in the West.

As to who knows what, well, it must be clear by now that neither of us thinks the other knows what he’s talking about. I don’t think that’s going to change.

136

Mitch Guthman 04.27.15 at 11:20 pm

Anarcissie at 131,

An excellent suggestion. You’ll get no argument from me on that point.

137

Z 04.28.15 at 12:59 am

The link at 133 is really excellent.

Comments on this entry are closed.