The big news in the UK today has been the image above. Taken on a beach in Turkey, it depicts the body washed ashore of a Syrian child drowned while attempting to cross the Aegean Sea to Kos and thus the EU. Despite the well-documented and horrendous stories possessed by seemingly every refugee arriving in Europe, this image has gone viral because it puts the rhetoric into shockingly stark perspective. Talk of ‘bogus asylum seekers’ (despite there being no such thing), of ‘burden sharing’, of ‘maintaining the integrity’ of asylum systems against ‘floods’ of migrants; it all results in dead children.
So how can governments realistically prevent this happening?
I’ve already written about some of the issues involved here (although that post concerned the furore surrounding Calais rather than European migration in general) but some of the main points remain relevant. There’s a panic around a migration crisis or a refugee crisis because we are being told that there’s a crisis. In terms of sheer numbers, Europe is not facing a migration crisis. If anyone is it’s Lebanon, with the highest proportion of refugees per head of population in the world.
Even the notion of a migrant or a refugee crisis is misleading. As ever with migration issues, the language used is vital. What Europe is facing is a problem of infrastructure, of the inability of systems to cope with larger numbers of people with a legal and moral right to be here than governments have budgeted for. But of course, “Infrastructure Crisis!” doesn’t sell.
In the process of this, we’re reassured that governments actually care for the plight of the ordinary refugees. What they’re against is the evil of people smugglers, who have been likened to modern day slave traders. Whether this is an accurate comparison or not, the tactic doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. If anything, it benefits people smugglers by allowing them to charge more for a crossing. Securitarian rhetoric is somewhat ironically fuelling criminal activity.
People will want to come to Europe from Syria because Syria is a war-torn hellhole. Given the choice between a dangerous, expensive border crossing or the tender mercies of ISIS, it’s unsurprising that so many leave. But with European governments attempting to prevent people from entering Europe, they have to turn to people smugglers. Increasing security doesn’t cause a decrease in migrant numbers; instead, it just drives them underground.
Which makes it even more frustrating that the short term solution to the ‘migrant crisis’, to the dead children continually washing up on Europe’s shores, to the people being crushed by lorries or suffocating in cargo containers is continually ignored. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’ll save money. Governments would have to do even less than they do now, for far greater gains.
Just let people come to Europe.
That is, open up far more legal channels for migration. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of Euros on preventing people coming, end their dependence on the people smugglers and let them come. Use the money saved for genuinely good asylum determination procedures that aren’t interminably slow or consistently overturned on appeal. Don’t waste money on locking people up in dehumanising, miserable conditions. Upgrade the health and welfare services that are currently being ‘overwhelmed’ by the refugee crisis.
In one stroke, the people smugglers would lose their business, the ability of governments to separate refugees from economic migrants would be improved, and far fewer people would die trying to reach Europe.
View migration as an opportunity rather than a crisis. Migrants are generally of working age and contribute far more to the economy than they take out. Aging European populations need migration to continue fuelling their pensions. In fact, hell, go full on open borders. Allow people to move and live where they want, where they can pursue a better life and strive to be the best they can. It makes genuine economic sense.
But even if governments choose not to completely open their borders, the easy solution to the refugee ‘crisis’ is staring them in the face. Save lives, save money, fight crime. Stop innocent people dying. Let them come.