The Right of Migration

When obvious remedies are difficult to implement.

The more crucial a subject, the more myths will shroud it. Pretentions, lies, and mindless conventions make it difficult to discuss such matters sensibly. Even more difficult is to avoid curses for crossing an arbitrarily red line that the sanctimonious exploit. The “refugee” crisis in the Mediterranean is such a taboo subject. Unless, of course, that one says what is “proper”, in which case, the pre-programmed answers make it superfluous to address the matter.

A subject that the wise avoid concerns the Mediterranean as a zone of death. The area owes its name to Africans that chase chimeras and to their morally castrated Arab exploiters that provide passage on vessels that are more likely to sink than to sail. Let us repeat the salient fats of the shocker that writes headlines. 

One more overloaded boat that carried migrants capsized in the Med. This is no accident as the condition of the vessel made this outcome more likely than its safe arrival at its destination. Hundreds of bodies were recovered while the few survivors joined the refugee population of overcrowded Lampedusa. Lampedusa is an Italian island that is closer to North Africa than it is to Italy. 

In the past decade about 20 000 people have died during the crossing. Since the newest case broke, new tragedies occurred. With that, the matter is on the agenda of a Europe while concerns regarding illegal migration continue to grow.

Besides headlines, the man-made tragedy demands solutions. Reflecting the temper of our time, certain circles like to label the crisis as the “shame of Europe”. Starting from there, the suggestions discuss how more “refugee” deaths are to be avoided. These generally involve ways to make the passage safer. That is to be followed by the quick transfer of arrivals to the European mainland and their placement there. 

While this sounds as a humanitarian response to a need, the suggested measures and the assumptions behind them are problematic.

To begin, we need to admit that –with the partial exception of the Syrians- we are dealing with a misnomer. Most of those that try to enter “Europe” are not persecuted refugees. At least not in a way that fits the world-war provoked term which led to a right to refuge. The majority of those that wish to settle in Europe - or in other comparable locations- do not flee political persecution. If they would be genuine refugees, the number of the escapees would be much lower. Hard dictatorships close their borders -think of the “Iron Curtain”- to intimidate the discontented. Actually, numerous countries encourage departures while they refuse to readmit citizens that are rejected by their chosen hosts and that thereafter attempt repatriation. 

Convincing motives are discernible behind the migration. However, these reasons are economic, meaning that no moral or legal obligation exists to accept such applicants. Immigration control does not contradict human rights; there is no ethical need to suspend sovereignty to allow settlement according to demand. 

Complicating factors can be added. Europe’s recent experience with alleged refugees is negative. The problems begin with the lies made to gain admission. People that had identifications to board a plane claim upon arrival to lack papers and then assume the fictitious nationality of an “unsafe country” to demand asylum as a right. The lacking IDs hinder repatriation. With disturbing frequency, the alleged victim becomes a warden of the host state that houses and feeds him and allots pocket money. Illegal entry is often followed by a life of crime. Apprehended culprits enjoy virtual immunity as they cannot be expelled or fined. After perfunctory warnings, to avoid “racism”, they are soon released. If incarcerated, the time served is used to demand residency status as the claimant got “used” to his milieu. Except for the Left and the PC privileged, people know this. The rise of parties of outrage and the isolation of the political class, as elections in France and Austria show, is a consequence. 

Mass incursion under the cover of protection from persecution brings obstacles beyond criminality. One: solving the failures of development and the gap to the advanced world cannot be overcome by admitting all those that wish to escape home-grown poverty. Take in a thousand? Easy. Accept ten thousand? Hardly a problem. Let in a hundred thousand? Makeable. How about a million or ten? The reserves are multiples of these figures. An unwelcome question:  Once all from there are here, where are those that are now here to go? Second, those induced to migrate by the promise of an easy life – immigration into the state of welfare- are more than a numerical problem. The masses whose advance is checking in, are for several reasons not integrable in the system of their choice. Africa’s problems cannot be solved through its inclusion into Europe. Transferring the problem will not modernize Africa, as it will only set back the host.

Let us beginning with the receiving societies. Wanted are at their stage of development well trained individuals. That means a trade or college degrees. These are to be in practical subjects achieved at a level that conforms to global standards. A BA in Koran Studies might be nice but it is useless in a modern environment. 

The migrating masses lack more than usable training, they are also devoid of the attitudes that made historic migrations, which brought people from backward areas into developed economies, successful. One value is that even physical work, is honorable. Values that stress individual responsibility and an understanding of why the host society is successful need to be coupled to the acceptance of those norms. Entrants that regard “luck” or “exploitation” as determinants are positioned to fail. Verbal skills to demand allotments through the redistribution of society’s existing wealth might benefit a few but will not feed masses. Besides, those that get gifts tend to think that they got too little. Some of today’s migrations react to their failure to gain acceptance on their own terms, with hostility to their host country. In this, the religious tradition imported in the luggage can act as a catalyst. The “radicalized” globally active extremists that are residents or formally citizens of advanced countries illustrate the point. 

When we look beyond the headlines the hard facts of limitations leave us with a “what can be done?” and some limited alternatives. Humanism and the need to defuse a trend that is becoming a second “migration of peoples” demand action in ways that implement its good intentions. This means that action must be taken locally, that is “over there”. Genuine refugees, such as those from Syria, must be given temporary shelter in their region, among their brothers in language and religion. Upon the conclusion of the conflict, the displaced will be able to return and to rebuild their homeland. 

More complex is the problem of the accelerating migration that leaves Africa. Ill prepared and misled regarding what to expect, the mass in motion cannot be accommodated outside of its own continent. The remedy is to create conditions in Africa that gives people hope and that puts that region on the path of development. Some of those that plead the case like to talk about a “Marshall Plan”. The analogy is wrong and betrays ignorance. In post-war Europe, only the destroyed infrastructure of advanced economies had to be rebuilt. For that, money sufficed as the right kind of labor force –in terms of skills and values- was available. In the case of Africa, the main problem is the lack of the workforce that Europe had. It is easier to build a new industry than it is to hone the people to man its machines. This means that no amount of money thrown at the problem will produce the quick results that the hither policy of aid had tried to achieve.  

Asia’s case demonstrates that the quick closing the developmental gap is possible and that the central question is not money but culture. This brings us to the crucial but solvable problem of upgrading Africa – and by implication also other bypassed spots.

Foreign aid has been remarkably ineffective in Africa. This is no surprise as not the economic base of the population’s wellbeing was funded but the elites of newly created countries were cuddled. To be effective, aid must be handled the way one would ones private investment. Funds, especially in the form of skills, should not be transferred on a government-to-government basis. They need to be directed directly to local projects constructed and run not from above but from below. 

Obvious solutions can be difficult to implement. Accordingly, such a policy will elicit the hostility of the causers of backwardness and its beneficiaries. The rational stimulation along the path that merges organically into the modern world’s order is needed. Such a policy needs to be cognizant that facilitating that process will enrage the local ruling classes. These will loudly justify their resistance as a patriotic act to protect “sovereignty” and “independence”.