I hope to get a word in before readers of the headline scream ‘Deus Vult’ and ‘Deport Kebab’ in comment sections and steal my fifteen minute claim to internet obscurity. The EU’s asylum-seeking model is flawed and inhumane by the left’s own standards towards the very people it purports to help.
Dr. Tino Sanandaji, a Kurdish-Swede economist, posed a very interesting question (which I answered wrongly) on one of his YouTube[i] lectures. He asked, ‘Why don’t refugees fly into Europe?’ My first thought, as is yours I am certain, is poverty. Regrettably, this is untrue. For instance, we know from this Guardian article[ii] of a person seeking political refuge paying large amounts (approx. $7,000) to smuggle herself from Eritrea into Libya. She will then have to take a boat ride from a shoddy smuggler and pray that the boat reaches some sort of European land or is spotted by a European vessel before sinking. Utilizing what had become a very lucrative Libyan black market was the preferred method, until political instability made the prospects of smuggling via Libya untenable. Nonetheless, a flight from Asmara, Eritrea, to Rome, Italy, costs only around $1,200. The correct answer to Mr Sanandaji’s question is that Europe does not offer visas to any of these people. The first implication here is that the only way one can claim asylum into Europe is to get there illegally, in ways that can be deadly. The second implication, and the more sinister one, is that you have been sold a lie. The politicians’ goal in general has not been to help migrants; their goal has been to make it as hard for them as possible to enter Europe and gain refugee status, all the while winning more and more of your votes.
Europeans who oppose Trump’s wall do not realize they too support walls by expressing favourable opinions of the EU. After all, Spain has built walls on its North African enclaves[iii] with alleged agreement from the Moroccan government, and Bulgaria has built ‘border fences’ on its Turkish border. Worse still, Spain has built walls on Moroccan turf, likely violating European law. When a migrant climbs over this wall, he or she is technically still not in Europe, and as a result, will be unable to claim asylum. To add insult to injury, the Moroccan military can take action against the migrant for being in Morocco illegally. To what extent this is happening is uncertain, but if it is, this is a clear impediment to asylum seeking rights[iv]. The EU has in general turned a blind eye to these walls, especially after the land route via Turkey into either Greece or Bulgaria became more and more accessible.
What happens when an asylum seeker does make it into Europe alive? Well, first they have to wait, and the wait depends on the country they make it to. The goal in the UK is for the process to last around 6 months, but for some it can last years[v]. Many (as high as 30% in the Italy)[vi] journey for nothing and have their asylum claims rejected, and instead of the promised 35 day detention centre stay, often spend closer to a year there. The detention centres themselves can be problematic from a human rights perspective, especially due to overcrowding and underfunding problems. Moreover, smaller nations like Malta[vii] often have to use military barracks to house asylum seekers who overstay their originally given visa, most of which lack proper sanitation and hygienic services. Then there is Lampedusa, the small Italian island in the Mediterranean which houses more immigrants than locals, a situation which has fuelled increased political tension amongst the locals and their government, as well as shambolic living conditions for the migrants.
The system is also imbalanced for the constituent members of the EU. The smaller and economically weaker border nations (Greece, Malta, Italy, Spain, and Bulgaria) have to deal with most of the voyagers, and often times with little help from the EU. Malta threatened to send an entire boatload of people back to Libya unless it received help (threatening to violate EU agreements); Operation Mare Nostrum, a naval and aerial operation whose goal was to save or help migrants, was costing the Italians 9 million euros per month, and had to be shut down after none of the other EU countries honoured the calls for support – the operation did finally get replaced by a European funded effort. One need not look too far either to understand the situation in Greece and Spain, and how unjust it is for weak countries with unemployment rates above 20% to have to deal with some of the largest and fastest migrations in human history.
Other absurdities exist for the often uninitiated asylum seekers, due to the badly formulated European system. For instance, an asylum seeker has to apply for asylum in the country they first land in. Once they obtain refugee status and become residents of the EU (they do not need citizenship), they are allowed to move anywhere within the union under the EU’s laws. However, an extra piece of legislation states that a person with refugee status can be sent back to the country in which they originally applied for asylum. So, our Eritrean friend paying $7000 may land in Italy, apply for asylum, be granted refugee status, not find a job, move to a country with more jobs (like Germany or Sweden) only to be sent back to Italy by the German or Swedish governments. Chancellor Merkel eventually ignored this rule in response to the Syrian crisis, and allowed asylum seekers to apply for asylum in Germany directly, even if Germany was not the original landing spot. However, new investigation lends support to the notion that much of these policies have been pushed forth for political, and not humanitarian, gains[viii].
There are arguably many other factors I could add to this list. Jobs in Europe, particularly the South, are virtually non-existent for migrants, and where they are common, such as in Sweden, very few of the asylum seekers have anywhere near enough skills to be able to compete for opportunities against their much higher educated Swedish counterparts – thus exacerbating social and economic inequality. In fact in most of Europe, foreign born migrants lack way behind in employment opportunities, and in many instances, refugee employment is considered ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ due to this skills shortage. If we look at economic data[ix], the gap between local and foreign born employment is largest in wealthy nations like the Netherlands and Sweden, and lowest in countries that are either poor (Greece, Spain) or have long histories with migration (UK, US). There are some stories of migrants receiving such bad treatment as to suggest to their families not to bother with the trip, or to even go back home[x].
What I fail to understand is why a top-down European approach is needed, when arguably countries could have maintained their own border security and tried to negotiate better deals individually. The current system is as inhumane as it is political and legal insanity. I myself, an educated and comfortable Western citizen, fear to have made mistakes in describing it, and entertain any corrections to this article. Just imagine what it must be like for the Eritrean escaping a warzone, who has to wager potentially all her assets on a boat trip that can result in heaven, hell, or as most often is the case, bureaucratic limbo.