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Humanitarian catastrophe – migration battleground brings out the worst in Europe

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Natale Labia writes on the economy and finance. Partner and chief economist of a global investment firm, he writes in his personal capacity. MBA from Università Bocconi. Supports Juventus.

Wishing it all away through deals with dubious neighbours will not improve the appalling conditions that millions are enduring, right on Europe’s fringes.

Migration is back as Europe’s most consequential and controversial battleground. This was made clear by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s visit this weekend alongside Italian PM Giorgia Meloni to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which finds itself once again at the centre of the maelstrom.

More than 12,000 people have reached Italy in the past week, mostly to Lampedusa, with thousands more waiting to make the relatively short journey from Tunisia’s port city of Sfax to the island famed for its delicious red prawns and stunning beaches.

The situation is at a breaking point with sanitary conditions on the island deteriorating fast. 

Authorities have struggled to ship the new arrivals off the island to Sicily and other parts of Italy amid concerns about Lampedusa’s overcrowded migrants’ reception facility which was designed to accommodate just 400 people. The local population of Lampedusa is 6,000.

Sadly, however, this immensely complex topic does not look like it will be solved anytime soon, for four interrelated reasons.

First, the oft-vaunted “European solidarity” is scarcer than ever on this politically toxic topic. 

There is simply no consensus across the bloc on how to make comprehensive revisions to the current “Dublin Regulation”, which states that the first Member State where an asylum claim is lodged is responsible for that person’s claim. 

The system thereby in effect makes EU-wide immigration a problem only for those countries like Spain, France, Italy and Greece that just happen to be on the front line. 

In the last instance of talks breaking down, Poland and Hungary vetoed a proposal on migration policy review at the European Council in June. 

Even the European right is in disarray on this topic, with right-wing Meloni ironically kiboshed by her supposed allies in Poland and Hungary.

Second, the tactic used to stem the flows – effectively, paying a bunch of dubious autocrats on Europe’s borders to harbour the vast number of illegal migrants in increasingly squalid conditions – is clearly neither morally defensible nor effective. 

As Kim Ghattas, the author of Black Wave, has written, “Europe is helping to entrench Arab autocrats by asking them to stem the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean, with no regard for their governance or human rights record. They, in turn, are only too happy to pose as partners, claiming they alone can protect Europe’s southern border from illegal migrants, in exchange for more cash.” 

Perversely, it is, in fact, often those autocratic and repressive leaders who are driving hundreds of thousands from their homes and causing them to make the treacherous trip to Europe in the first place.

Most recently, Tunisian despot Kais Saied has been the biggest net beneficiary, last month signing a strategic partnership deal with the EU worth hundreds of millions of euros. 

This is just the most recent example of such bipartisan dealmaking on the topic of migration. 

Meloni has brokered a similar deal with Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar; French President Emmanuel Macron bestowed Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with the Legion d’Honneur; while Angela Merkel famously brokered numerous such deals with Turkish ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

However, with the number of arrivals in Lampedusa and elsewhere soaring, clearly this strategy is not working.

Third, the long-term plan looks completely unrealistic. Meloni has repeatedly stated she believes in the long-term potential of Africa, saying on Fox News: “Africa is not a poor continent; it is a continent that has many resources. Africa today is a victim of systems which make it unstable.” 

She has spoken regularly about the so-called Mattei Plan for African Development, named after the founder of energy multinational, Eni. This is meant to be a blueprint in which Europe partners with Africa by investing in green energy and hydrogen, making everyone better off. Staying rather than immigrating theoretically therefore becomes more enticing.

Sadly, however, for Europe, the current reality of their relations with African states could not be further from this naïve green-tinted vision. 

With the recent coups in Niger and Gabon, the EU has lost two more of its allies in the form of Ali Bongo Ondimba and Mohamed Bazoum. Now the entire Sahel region is practically in anarchy, creating an ever more precarious environment from which millions are desperate to escape.

Fourth, and perhaps most critical of all, with the effects of climate change only just beginning, the situation will almost certainly become immeasurably worse. 

The wildfires in Algeria, floods in Libya and near 50°C temperatures across the region this summer are all a harbinger of things to come. The current flow of people may well turn into a flood of millions escaping future cataclysms.

Finally, this is, above all, a humanitarian catastrophe. 

Wishing it all away through deals with dubious neighbours will not improve the appalling conditions that millions are enduring, right on Europe’s fringes. 

Many of Europe’s far-right rulers, Meloni and Viktor Orban included, are found regularly flaunting their Christian beliefs, often stating how important Christianity and the traditional family are for European identity. 

Perhaps they could start by sounding and acting more compassionately on the dreadful plight of the thousands of stranded Africans on Europe’s shores. 

Once again, it seems that the lofty values of the European project only apply to citizens who look and sound like most Europeans. DM

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  • Ben Harper says:

    Alas, Africa will never change, it is destined to be chaotic and poor forever

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking article. The only way to address the issue of migration, which is going to significantly increase with climate change, is for the West to adopt measures to promote development and stability globally, and climate adaptation, which will mean people will have reasonable prospects for their lives where they are. Pushing back boats, building walls, and propping up autocratic regimes certainly is not going to succeed, but they seem to persist in believing that it will. The fundamental issues need to be addressed, not only the results. There are significant and complex issues that need to be addressed, but that is the only potentially effective way to deal with the issue. Politicians, though, continue to pursue simplistic measures that look like something is being done, when it will achieve nothing.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Citizens of western countries are genuinely sick and tired of seeing billions of their taxpayer dollars vanish into the pockets of thieves and dictators all while those self same thieves and dictators openly criticize and mock the west – just look at our own government, they openly exalt and praise Russia and other despots while at the same time go on bended knee begging the US to continue AGOA and the other donations they receive annually even when Russia’s contribution to our economy is miniscule

  • Alastair Stalker says:

    Spot on, Louise. What you didn’t mention is the elephant in the room. The biggest driver of migration is the massive population increase in all these African and Asian countries. Nigeria expects its population to double by 2050. Pakistan’s population has gone from 46 Mill in 1960 to over 230 Mill today. Likewise, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Afghanistan. These countries cannot support these populations so they have to migrate. What all these countries have in common as well is that they will be most affected by the climate catastrophe and sea level rise.
    South Africa is also not immune to this problem. We have an internal refugee problem where rural families are still having large numbers of children who are going to have inadequate nutrition and very poor schooling and have no real future in these areas. Witness the trek of Eastern Cape residents to Cape Town. The Cape Town mayor is planning for a population increase from 4 Mill to 10 Mill.

    I don’t think there is a solution but massive food aid to climate refugees in Africa is only going to exacerbate the problem. As Yuval Noah Harari said, one of the challenges of this century is to figure out what to do with hundreds of millions of “”useless people”.

  • Louise Louise says:

    Where did my earlier post go and the response to it? Is DM censoring posts now?

  • Johan Bosman says:

    My question is why are people in the Middle East and Africa fleeing to Europe? Because those countries have dictators as so called leaders who do care about their own citizens. These countries cannot govern themselves and their leaders should be ousted by re-colonisation. But unfortunately this will not happen as the liberals/lefties/the politically correct will not allow it.
    Furthermore, it is the explicit goal of those so-called migrants to infiltrate Europe and destroy Western civilisation. Their should be more countries like Hungary and Poland by not allowing uncheck immigration. Only people with the necessary skills and experience, who can make a contribution to the economy and who accept the local culture, should be allowed.
    In the 1960’s, there was a British Conservative MP, Mr Enoch Powell, who at that stage warned against the uncontrolled influx of people from the former colonies. Today Britain is reaping the fruit of their ill-conceived actions.

    • Nina Bodisch says:

      “Furthermore, it is the explicit goal of those so-called migrants to infiltrate Europe and destroy Western civilisation.” – really? ! I think it is rather a case of: there but for the grace of (insert your deity here) go we! Most migrants/ refugees / asylum seekers would probably stay where they live and get on with their lives, if their country was economically stable and safe. It is not an innate human urge to cast yourself into a flimsy boat onto an open ocean (Mediterrannean Sea), or wander through a jungle (Darien Gap Central America) or march through a desert (Texas Mexico border) and try and scale a razor wire wall, just to arrive in another place. It’s more like jumping from a high storey of a burning building, in order to escape the flames, hoping that something will arrest your fall.

      • Lawrence Sisitka says:

        Absolutely, I agree 100% with you Nina. And as for the fascist ravings from Johan, there is little to say except that he should be very grateful that by accident of birth he did not end up in Sudan or Somalia or any other country where merely surviving is a miracle. No. Johan, it is neither the explicit, not implicit goal of these ‘so-called migrants’ to ‘…destroy Western civilization’. Where on earth did you get that from? Some Trumpian social media platform no doubt. No, the goal is simply survival and finding some opportunities for their children. Do yourself, and everyone else, a favour, and look at the Atlas of Human Migration (Earthspan) – this makes it very clear that the history of the human species is and always has been one of migration. A little more thought and empathy would go a long way. And poor Hungary, the country of my blood, formed through centuries of migration of different peoples from different cultures passing through Europe, but now the xenophobic capital of the continent – how the mighty…!

        • Louise Louise says:

          Please look up the Coudenhove Kalergi plan for more information on why there is so much uncontrolled immigration in Europe?

          As for Hungary, PM Orban is 100% correct when he says “family, nation, God” are important and in that order. Hungary is a Christian country which does not need millions of people from a completely different culture there.

          Nobody has the right to leave their own country and seek another country just because they are poor. It’s like saying that the child of a poor family has the right to go and camp out in a rich family’s house and stake a claim to live there.

          If you look at the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants arriving in Europe, where are the wives and children? Most of these illegal migrants are young men on their own.

          Hungary currently has a population of just under 10 million. How would you feel if say 2 million migrants with a completely different culture arrived in Hungary and said “feed me, clothe me, give me work”? It’s akin to 3 foreign children with a different culture and different language coming to my family home and demanding that I feed and clothe them, when I can barely make ends meet with my own family of 5 children. It’s just not logical nor feasible.

          • Natale Labia says:

            Thanks everyone for the vibrant debate in reaction to my article. I will add two things. First, long term growth in the EU economy simply depends on immigration. Even Meloni recognises that, so whether Orban likes it or not – Europe is set to get less Christian and less white. Second, when Hungary or any other state joined the EU they knew what the implications were; you give up elements of “national control” in return for the enormous benefits of being part of the common market. One of those is control of your member state borders. The EU border is therefore a European issue, not a member state one. If Orban doesn’t like that he can hold a referendum on membership of the EU and see where that takes him.

    • Louise Louise says:

      I concur with you, and would add that the agenda for destroying the European nations has been going on for some time and here one can reference the Coudenhove Kalergi plan. And no (sigh!) it’s not a theory, it’s real. Britain cannot take any more people – it cannot cope. You can’t expect a country to survive when its population is 60 million and then bring in another 10 million from other countries! Britain is a caucasian, mostly Christian country with family values – well, it used to be. When you import people from completely different cultures and allow them to create their own communities and not integrate, well, Enoch Powell was 100% correct. It will destroy the lives of the host country. And that is precisely what it is doing. Do we criticise China and Japan for example because they don’t allow unfettered immigration? Are they short of some “cultural enrichment” from nations with different cultures?!

      • Natale Labia says:

        For the benefit of other readers, I cite wikipedia. Probably not worth quoting these things in public comments if you want to be taken seriously.

        The Kalergi Plan (Italian: Piano Kalergi), sometimes called the Coudenhove-Kalergi Conspiracy,[1] is a far-right, antisemitic, white genocide conspiracy theory.[2][3] The theory claims that Austrian-Japanese politician Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi concocted a plot to mix white Europeans with other races via immigration.[4] The conspiracy theory is most often associated with European groups and parties, but it has also spread to North American politics.[5]

        The independent Italian newspaper Linkiesta investigated the conspiracy theory and described it as a hoax which is comparable to the fabricated antisemitic document The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[8] The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Kalergi plan as a distinctly European way of pushing the white genocide conspiracy theory on the continent, with white nationalists quoting Coudenhove-Kalergi’s writings out of context in order to assert that the European Union’s immigration policies were insidious plots that were hatched decades ago in order to destroy white people.[9] Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism advocacy group, has described it as a racist conspiracy theory which alleges that Coudenhove-Kalergi intended to influence Europe’s policies on immigration in order to create a “populace devoid of identity” which would then supposedly be ruled by a Jewish elite.[10]

  • Terence Dowdall says:

    In the light of the currently received moral and ethical principles of the ‘Western’ democracies, this article can hardly be faulted. The appalling and squalid leadership of many African countries keeps all but a small group poor and with very limited prospects. The repressive and autocratic nature of many of these regimes and their irresponsible use of armed forces means that many people are in danger of their lives in their countries of birth, particularly if they challenge the regime in power. Who among DM readers would not seek to flee to the stable, relatively well-governed democracies of Europe or Northern America if we lived in those conditions? Surely everything we have been taught should lead Europe to open its borders to those “in search of a better life”? Sadly, however, it is overwhelmingly likely that sociological and nationalistic pressures will move Europe in the opposite direction, towards an ‘armed fortress’ approach, by the end of this decade. The reasons for this are not simply cultural incompatibilites or assimilation difficulties, but the increasing devastating effects of climate change, where much of Europe’s resources will have to be diverted to managing climate problems. Climate problems will turn the present trickle into a massive and sustained flood of refugees. In those circumstances the current shift to the ideological right will rapidly increase. I suspect that at best, the boats will be turned around. At worst they will be sunk, not rescued.

  • Vas K says:

    Allowing this lawless, unchecked and chaotic invasion to take place only illustrates the degeneration of the western societies. There doesn’t seem to be anymore the will to enforce the law and order. Letting in unchecked hordes of people unwilling or unable to integrate in 99% cases will not make the world a better place. It will just spread undemocratic and often violent ideologies and values that the inviders bring with them, causing serious problem in the future. These people break the law because they are allowed to – another sign of the societal degeneretion: the criminals have more rights then the victims and law abiding citizens. I often wonder why the invaders do not invade other prosperous countries like China, India, Saudi Arabia and Middle East in general. Could it be that people in these countries refuse to feel guilty for something they are not responsible for? A humanitarian catastrophe indeed. But at the end of the day self-inflicted.

  • Johan Bosman says:

    Why do people from the Middle East and Africa flee to Europe and not to Russia or China? When arriving in Europe they want to force their culture and religious beliefs on Europe, want to live on European state support and multiply their population. The late Ghaddaffi of Libya has long ago said that Islam will take over Europe without one shot being fired.
    In the sixties, a British Conservative MP, Mr Enoch Powell, warned against the uncontrolled influx of people from former British colonies like Pakistan, Africa and the West Indies. Today Britain is sitting with a big problem. The rise of right wing parties in especially Europe is notable.

  • Louise Louise says:

    Please look up the Coudenhove Kalergi plan for more information on why there is so much uncontrolled immigration in Europe?

    As for Hungary, PM Orban is 100% correct when he says “family, nation, God” are important and in that order. Hungary is a Christian country which does not need millions of people from a completely different culture there.

    Nobody has the right to leave their own country and seek another country just because they are poor. It’s like saying that the child of a poor family has the right to go and camp out in a rich family’s house and stake a claim to live there.

    If you look at the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants arriving in Europe, where are the wives and children? Most of these illegal migrants are young men on their own.

    Hungary currently has a population of just under 10 million. How would you feel if say 2 million migrants with a completely different culture arrived in Hungary and said “feed me, clothe me, give me work”? It’s akin to 3 foreign children with a different culture and different language coming to my family home and demanding that I feed and clothe them, when I can barely make ends meet with my own family of 5 children. It’s just not logical nor feasible.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    Mr Labia, have you recently visited any ports of Spain, Italy and France? Have you witnessed the migrant invasions at Lampadusa?

    “long term growth in the EU economy simply depends on immigration. Even Meloni recognises that, so whether Orban likes it or not – Europe is set to get less Christian and less white” is such a facile set of observations that it needs to be addressed. Yes, the citizens of Europe welcome migration. Yes, Europe needs migration for growth. What it does not need is the current wave of indigent, unskilled and uneducated young men from North Africa. These are not refugees, nor immigrants. They are for the most part economic bandits, seeking an easy life in Europe.

    As for less Christian and less white, is there a slight blush of racial and religious darkness underlying your public veneer?

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