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Why the fake “migration crisis” is bad news for European privacy and rights

African migrants take part in a rallyBy Simon Davies

I’m starting to believe the so-called “migration crisis” facing Europe is little more than a tragic confidence trick. Worryingly, however, it involves dangerous consequences for the rights of every EU resident.

I’m not being heartless. Yes, thousands of refugees have lost their lives in the struggle to reach EU borders. Many more are living in a desperate plight, often at the mercy of human traffickers. That’s not my point.

Relatively few of us have genuinely got to grips with the realities of this situation. It’s a massively complex issue that goes to the heart of geopolitics and national dynamics, but intelligent people should not be sucked into the orchestrated rhetoric that is being peddled. This isn’t the first time we’ve faced such circumstances – and it certainly won’t be the last.

Intelligent people should not be sucked into the orchestrated rhetoric that is being peddled. This isn’t the first time we’ve faced such circumstances – and it certainly won’t be the last.

The migration issue is trending across the political landscape of nearly all EU countries. Emerging from the hysteria over rising numbers of asylum seekers is a mix of innovative and humane solutions. Sadly, the “crisis” is also spotlighting the very worst of Europe, spewing out a raft of reactions that defy the very basis of the values that Europe is supposed to uphold.

Instead of making an effort to find a rational way through the difficult issues, some governments have cheered on a contagion mentality which has genuinely terrified entire populations that the barbarians are at the gate. It feels like Donald Trump’s shadow has fallen across Europe.

At one level (though certainly not for the migrants themselves) the situation is nowhere near as dramatic as some media outlets are portraying. At another level, the crisis is far worse for Europe than anyone could imagine. This situation could trigger a backlash for civil liberties across the EU.

Let’s deal first with the raw figures.

At the risk of simplification, here is the top level statistic. The EU’s external border force, Frontex, which monitors the flow of people arriving at Europe’s borders, says some 340,000 migrants have been detected at EU borders in the first eight months of 2015. That compares with 123,500 in the same period the previous year.

My response is “what’s the big deal?” Historically, migrant movement was never a smooth trajectory. It was always characterised by sharp peaks and troughs. European governments know that dynamic better than most, considering that many of them have experienced such undulations at times of EU regional conflict.

During World War II, refugees flooded from Germany to Switzerland, as any Sound of Music fan will remember. Between 1933 and 1939, about 200,000 Jews fleeing Nazism were able to find refuge in France. At around that time several hundred thousand Spanish Republicans fled to France after their loss to the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. Unlike the EU of today, nations coped with such circumstances.

It’s true that the current headline figures can look dramatic. More than 300,000 migrants risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe last year, according to the UN. This compares with 219,000 for the whole of 2014.

Nearly 200,000 people have landed in Greece since January this year, while another 110,000 made it to Italy.

To put the current situation into a statistical perspective, imagine a town of 10,000 people calling emergency meetings and getting into a froth of paranoia because ten migrants show up at the town hall office. 

Having said that, the total population of the EU member states is just over half a billion. Is anyone seriously arguing on any basis of rationality that a region of five hundred million people can’t find a way to absorb a peak of an extra half million migrants? In the view of many observers, this isn’t so much a migrant crisis as it is a crisis of political fragility over Europe’s teetering economy and employment.

To put the current situation into a statistical perspective, imagine a town of 10,000 people calling emergency meetings and getting into a froth of paranoia because ten migrants show up at the town hall office. Most of us would condemn such a response.

In line with this reasoning, let’s try to put the situation is a historical context.

Some people might like to forget that the decade leading up to 2001 saw the one of the bloodiest conflicts of modern times – and right on Europe’s doorstep. The Bosnian and Yugoslav wars saw genocide that murdered between 100,000 and 200,000 people (depending on whose figures you accept). States that are now happily part of the European family of nations were obliterating entire communities at the time your fifteen year old child was born. Now, all is forgiven – and almost forgotten.

But at the time, there was misery and human displacement at a scale that people these days can barely understand. Vast waves of refugees poured out of the carnage and tried for a new life in Europe and elsewhere.

Europe whines about a “crisis” of having to deal with an overflow that’s equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent of its population. Compare this to what Croatia agreed to burden at the time of the conflict.

The U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, tried to put the number of refugees in Croatia into perspective during an interview in 1993. He said the situation would be the equivalent of the United States taking in 30,000,000 refugees. The number of Bosnian refugees in Croatia stood at 588,000. Serbia took in 252,130 refugees from Bosnia, while other former Yugoslav republics received a total of 148,657 people.

It’s so heart-warming to see the UK Tories slurping up the bile of xenophobia to gain brownie points for its exit from Europe.

History will judge us harshly for the barbarism that is taking place right now. Clearly, EU states and the EU Commission have not only failed to implement any sort of forward planning, but they have also sacrificed Europe’s humanitarian obligations on the altar of populism. With all the “emergency” summits going on at the moment one is inclined to wonder what we’re paying these people to do.

It’s so heart-warming to see the UK Tories slurping up the bile of xenophobia to gain brownie points for its exit from Europe. It’s even more eyebrow-raising to witness the Netherlands – once a cradle of humanity – announcing that will let these people starve. Meanwhile, Hungary – in ironic ignorance of its own refugee history – has completed the construction of a 110 mile long, thirteen foot high fence across its southern border.

Well here’s some news for Europe. Throughout history, all successful and prosperous empires have accepted significant numbers of migrants. It goes with the territory. The Greek and Roman Empires did it; Jerusalem did it; the Ottoman Empire did it. True, in many cases those migrants were treated as second class citizens – usually during their initial stay – but at least those empires didn’t exhibit the hypocrisy that EU nations are showing today.

For the average EU resident, all these developments could manifest in what you might call the “British Syndrome”. That is, no matter how severely a nation cuts migration intake, public opinion will reflect the opposite. And as paranoia is fuelled by the right wing press, governments start to consider intrusive population-wide measures to address “this growing problem”. Being an “emergency”, this process will doubtless start with the re-introduction of internal borders within Europe. This will then spread to domestic measures such as arbitrary stop and search, more extensive identity checks and a range of data schemes designed to match the information across various IT systems. Germany has already started to consider reintroducing border controls.

Whatever the outcome, the present situation is bad news both for European unity and for European rights. We should be wary of the path that we take over the coming months.

 

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