(FT)Europe’s Mediterranean crisis

From: Semere Asmelash <semereasmelash_at_ymail.com_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2015 09:44:55 +0000 (UTC)


Europe’s Mediterranean crisis

Gideon Rachman | Apr 20 09:19

When 11 people were murdered by terrorists in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, earlier this year, more than 2m came out on to the streets of France to demonstrate in sympathy and protest. It seems unlikely that there will be a similar outpouring of public emotion in response to the deaths of hundreds of would-be migrants - drowned in the Mediterranean over the weekend as they attempted to make the crossing to Europe.

However, the scale of the tragedy and the emergence of the human stories behind the numbers may finally force European politicians to confront a problem that they have preferred to ignore for the past couple of years. EU foreign ministers will discuss the issue later on Monday in Brussels. However, Italian calls for an emergency summit of EU leaders could still be ignored. That is because all the potential choices facing EU leaders remain unattractive, making politicians reluctant to take ownership of the problem. The basic choices are as follows:

1) Step up patrols and pick up more migrants: The natural human reaction is that these tragedies are intolerable and must be stopped. The Italian decision, under pressure from the EU, to scale back naval rescue operations has led to more deaths on the high seas. There will clearly be a lot of pressure to reverse that decision. However, I am not convinced that – even now – the EU will take that decision.

The humanitarian argument made by the Catholic church and others is that it is Europe’s moral duty to protect the vulnerable, and that a rich continent can easily absorb the kind of numbers attempting to cross the sea. Last year, for example, some 219,000 refugees made the sea crossing – set against a total EU population of 500m.

Until now, EU leaders have feared that stepped-up patrols will lead to an increase in the numbers of people willing to risk the crossing. They are also aware that immigration – both legal and illegal – has fed the rise of populist anti-immigration parties across Europe. Sweden, in line with its liberal tradition, has taken a particularly large number of migrants. But, in response, an anti-immigration party with neo-Nazi roots – the Sweden Democrats – won almost 13 per cent of the vote in the last Swedish general election. The anti-immigration National Front topped the polls in France’s elections to the European Parliament last year. The British government is in the midst of an election and is running scared of the UK Independence party, which campaigns against migration. This month, Germany has seen arson attacks on hostels for asylum seekers. Similar problems and populist parties are popping up all over Europe.

Nor is this an entirely European reaction. In Australia, Tony Abbott, the prime minister, promised to “stop the boats” of illegal migrants attempting to cross into his country. Australia’s policies have become steadily more hardline over the years. The past week has also brought condemnation in South Africa of deadly attacks made on some of the millions of illegal migrants who have entered that country from the rest of Africa. US governments – including that of Barack Obama – have had to promise to step up border security with Mexico.

There are examples of more generous policies. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have all taken hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war in Syria. But only a trickle of those have been allowed to move on to Europe.

2) Burden-sharing in Europe: European countries have reacted with different levels of generosity to the flow of desperate migrants from Syria, in particular. The Germans and Swedes have taken thousands. The British have taken just a few hundred – at least, through formal programmes.

There will now be calls for greater burden-sharing and a more equitable distribution of refugees across the EU, with all 27 nations taking their share. However, even agreement on this is no certainty. There are several reasons for this. First, given that politicians do not know the numbers of potential refugees involved, they cannot know what agreeing to take a “fair share” might ultimately involve. Second, there is free movement of people within the EU. So even, if refugees are initially settled in Bulgaria or Poland, there is nothing to stop them getting on the next bus – and simply moving to Germany or France. Entry into the UK is more problematic, given that Britain has maintained border controls. But the thousands of would-be migrants gathered in the French sea-ports suggest that many are willing to attempt one last sea crossing.

3) Stabilise Libya: The collapse of the governance of Libya – following the Nato-sponsored overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime – has turned the country into a perfect base for people traffickers. The Italian government has talked of a possible military intervention in Libya – perhaps to control the ports and disrupt the trafficking networks.

However, the recent histories of western interventions in the Middle East make governments extremely reluctant to contemplate this option. They know that Libya has become a base not just for people-traffickers, but also for the brutal jihadists, known as Islamic State. If western troops landed in Libya to try to stabilise the situation, it would probably not be long before they were being killed or taken hostage.

There is also a realisation that Libya is merely the end point of the problem. Most of the refugees crossing the Med have come from much further afield – including places such as Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and even south Asia, as well as war-torn countries, such as Syria or Yemen. Closing the Libyan route could be effective for a while. But ultimately, it might only displace the problem elsewhere.
Received on Mon Apr 20 2015 - 05:44:55 EDT

Dehai Admin
© Copyright DEHAI-Eritrea OnLine, 1993-2013
All rights reserved