WASHINGTON – High minded European media chastise both EU governments and segments of public opinion for their myopic and ungenerous attitude regarding immigration.
There has to be room
The EU is a group of 28 countries with a total population now exceeding 500 million. Surely there must be some extra room for a few thousand refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. EU member states inability to forge a workable policy consensus that would resolve a manageable problem is a bad indication.
After all, the same editorials intone, look at Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. They have welcomed literally millions of Syrian refugees. If under resourced countries can do that, why is that bigger and more prosperous EU countries cannot do better with much, much smaller numbers of asylum seekers?
Not a self-contained issue
Yes, in principle these look like valid arguments. But they are not. They are not because they implicitly assume that this wave of migration from poor and conflict ridden countries to more prosperous Europe is a temporary phenomenon bound to end quite soon. In other words, this is presented by the media as a relatively manageable, self-contained issue; but it is not.
Indeed, while the number of “African Boat People” landing almost daily in Italy are not overwhelming, it is a constant flow: 500, 900, 1200 arrivals, almost every day. And this migration of the poor towards somewhat better off countries is essentially unstoppable.
Africa is poor
Much is said about Africa finally coming of age, with promising growth and more opportunity. However, the Continent remains extremely poor. Most Africans still lack the very basics. They have no electricity, no clean water, bad housing, at best inadequate health care facilities. And let’s not talk about education opportunities leading to good jobs and fulfilling careers. All this may come, eventually. But not now.
Add to this the perpetual political chaos in Libya and other North African countries, with consequent economic misery for millions. And to spice this up, consider the never-ending Syrian civil war, with Assad, ISIL, and assorted Syrian fighters fueling a horrible conflict that essentially destroyed the country, this way creating an immense refugee problem.
All these are the drivers of migration to Europe. It would take heroic optimism to believe that these are just temporary phenomena, coming soon to an end. Until the root causes of extreme poverty and conflict will be taken care of, this flow will go on, and on, for at least another decade, may be much longer.
Not just a few thousand people
So, let’s clarify that the issue at hand is not just finding appropriate accommodation for a few thousand people landing in Sicily, or for the poor souls who are now camped in Calais, France, with the hope to be allowed to get to Great Britain. This is a vast population movement driven by poverty and wars, enabled by a variety of criminal gangs that take care of the travel arrangements.
Unless we can assume that soon enough Africa and the Middle East will offer education, economic opportunity, and security to all or most of their inhabitants, you can safely conclude that this slow but steady migration will continue.
And, wait, there is more. This net inflow of poor, illiterate and mostly Muslim migrants has to be placed in the context of semi-impoverished Southern European countries that are the “port of entry” for the refugees. Greece, Italy and Spain are countries in economic decline. They have overstretched social welfare programs, under performing economies, and declining populations.
The net addition of even a few thousand Africans, month after month, simply makes a bad situation worse. These mostly unskilled and illiterate Africans cannot possibly add to the national economy in any meaningful way. In fact, they become recipients of public assistance, this way adding to already unsustainable costs.
More and more Africans in Southern Europe
Last but not least, in the context of stagnant or declining indigenous EU countries populations, these African and Middle Eastern immigrants will soon begin to alter the demographic picture. The Italians have one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe. The immigrants keep arriving. Those who settle in Italy on balance tend to have higher fertility rates. This means a rapidly growing immigrant population, both in absolute and relative terms.
If these new immigrants were educated, capable and willing to contribute to the societies that welcome them, this would be great. But unfortunately this is not the case.
Given all this, the widespread anti-immigrant sentiment, even if ineffective because it cannot stop the flow, is not that difficult to understand.