The migration crisis that has been central to the European political drama since 2014 is rapidly changing. You can see signs of change everywhere, from subtle intensifications of bureaucratic language to an increasing frankness about what the migration crisis has done to Europe’s nations and societies. It also shows up in the numbers. The overall rate of migration into Europe is starting to decline, but the number of migrants who are dying in their attempt is going up. But you can see it most of all in the willingness of European leaders to tell the truth.
Just in the past ten days, you can see a shift. European Council president Donald Tusk admitted that most of the people coming in have no right to do so: “In most of the cases, and that is actually the case on the central Mediterranean route, we’re talking clearly and manifestly about economic migrants.” He added, “They get to Europe illegally, they do not have any documents which would allow them to enter the European soil.” In other words, these primarily aren’t refugees fleeing war, they’re economic migrants, who are coming in to countries along the southern Mediterranean that already suffer massive unemployment.
The reality is sinking in within the member states as well. Aydan Ozoguz, the German commissioner for immigration, refugees, and integration, admitted this week that three-quarters of the refugees Germany took in recently will still be unemployed in five years.
Just a year ago, pundits were holding out that Europe would find economic salvation in the “warm bodies” crossing the Mediterranean. It was an argument that never made sense, given the millions of unemployed but educated youth already in the European Union. Instead of a new round of guest workers, Germany has added hundreds of thousands of new dependents on the state, most with few job skills and no language preparation. The latter problem now taxes police departments, which have to find Pashto translators to investigate crimes such as the murder of Muslims for apostasy.
For years, Australia’s government had told the EU that they would have to look at Australia’s model for successful border enforcement. EU officials dismissed this, often with criticism of Australia’s approach. But earlier this year, just as Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had predicted, EU officials came to Australia for help.
Germany’s deal with Turkey, along with the enforcement position of Viktor Orban’s Hungary (which Germany still pretends to deplore) has mostly closed the land route into Europe through the Middle East – but now the Libyan coast is the main source of migration. The EU’s President Tusk described a 26 percent rise in the number of migrants arriving in Italy from Europe over the Mediterranean.
But it may finally be dawning on Europe’s elites that their attempts to rescue people at sea are endangering migrants as often as saving them. Migrants hoping for a European rescue are put on inflatable rafts (or worse) and launched off the coast of Tripoli. They make about one-sixth of the journey toward Sicily, and sometimes even less. Once they cross out of Libyan waters they enter what is commonly known as the “Search and Rescue” Zone or just “SAR Zone.” They then signal their distress and get European rides the rest of the way — or they collapse and capsize and the migrants drown. Over the weekend, the Irish navy, and its ship LÉ Eithne, took more than 700 migrants. The composition tells you the nature of the migration: a score of children, some pregnant women . . . and over 500 adult males.
The problem is that by running this ferry service, Europeans have created an ugly industry in Libya. The slave trade and human-smuggling enterprises are now among the most important private-sector businesses in the chaotic post-Gaddafi Libya, which is ruled by two rival governments and several other militias and gangs. This is a brutal business, and the stories from it are terrifying. According to the Daily Telegraph, a young Gambian migrant told the International Organization for Migration that he witnessed a sick friend of his buried alive in one of the sordid migrant encampments in Libya, because he “wouldn’t have survived anyway.” If a migrant in Libya is thought to have relatives with money, he is often sold in a human market to gangs that will torture him to extract the cash from his family.
These stories are starting to shock the European conscience just as the photos of drowning migrants shocked it two years ago.
There’s an increasing frankness about what the migration crisis has done to Europe.
This doesn’t mean an end to migration in Europe. Yet another migration route seems to be opening between Morocco and Spain, even as Europe gets a handle on the previous routes. The millions who have come into Europe since 2014 will now become resources to enable their families and friends and others to make their own, less dangerous entrance into Europe. And there will still be continued pressure on European countries to open up and share their wealth with the booming populations in Africa, and the war-weary nationals of the Middle East. There will be more potential waves of immigration coming, and more debates about whether Europe can and should seek to avoid them.
But right now Europe’s grand experiment in humanitarianism has delivered some results that can be judged. They are the proliferation of human-trafficking gangs in Libya, thousands dying needlessly chasing after Europe’s grand invitation, terrorist attacks across Europe linked to the migration routes, stress on the Schengen zone, and the rise of a populist backlash that powered Brexit and alternative parties all over Europe. Seeing all this, European leaders are at least open to change. Things that cannot continue going as they are, don’t.