mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
the other immigration crisis
Europe’s Options on Mediterranean Immigrants: Bad and Worse

What do you do when hundreds of thousands of immigrants start to flee north to your country from collapsing states and murderous gangs, taking life-threatening risks to do so? America isn’t the only nation facing this dilemma today—so is Italy, and to some extent all of Europe. As an editorial in the Financial Times explained yesterday:

Italy has been particularly stretched by its laudable desire to deal humanely with the flow. Following the deaths of 366 people in 2013 when their boat capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa, the Italian navy has run a search-and-rescue operation called Mare Nostrum, which focuses on saving lives. It has rescued more than 100,000 to date. […]

Next month…Brussels will introduce Operation Triton, its own humanitarian naval operation around Italian shores, under the aegis of Frontex, the union’s border agency.

This is, however, more of a band aid than a solution. Only a minority of EU member states will contribute. Some, such as Britain, argue that such operations are counterproductive, encouraging the refugee flow because migrants know they will be rescued.

Europe’s debate about Mediterranean migration shares many features with the conflicted U.S. response to its recent border crisis, but is further complicated by the Schengen Zone rules. Once a refugee reaches Italy, there is no border control with, say, France—but France can’t control Italy’s refugee policy.

More broadly, the Europeans are dealing with the same array of ugly choices facing all accessible, developed countries today. Those fleeing oppression deserve sympathy, but there are only so many people a given area can take in. Coming to their rescue is the humanitarian response in the short term, but also encourages others to follow, undertaking a dangerous journey they may not survive. And after they are brought to safety, are they to be returned to their chaotic homelands, where the government is in complete collapse? Allowing them to stay could incur considerable public expense and add to the allure of the perilous Mediterranean crossing. Of course, the choice to ignore them brings a wrenching moral burden of its own, even if the goal (deterring others from risking their lives) is humane in the long run.

Ignoring them seems cruel; accommodating them, potentially unsustainable. For Europe, and Italy in particular, facing rising populist movements and financial challenges far beyond the economic difficulties of the United States, these questions will be particularly nettlesome going forward.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Suzyqpie

    Has anyone ever heard of any concern for these people, presumably their brethren, from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, or Qatar? No they have no concern for the welfare of their brethren because Muslims expect “someone else” to do the heavy lifting. They say, de facto, “We will keep our money, consume your own, thank you very much.” Operative words – accommodating them, potentially unsustainable.

  • Rick Johnson

    I wouldn’t be using the words ‘fleeing oppression’ so loosely. Australia has managed to get its borders under control again following the disaster that was the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd imbroglio that was responsible for at least 1200 deaths at sea. What was very apparent is that many of those who claimed to be ‘refugees fleeing oppression’ where people who wished to come to Australia to enjoy a better life and the generous welfare state. Many of these people had the money to fly from the Middle East to Indonesia, then paying Indonesian business people large sums of money to be loaded onto a rickety boat and setting sail for Australian territory just off the Indonesian coast.

    These people are often referred to as economic refugees. Life in their home country is crap, but they aren’t suffering from oppression that would justify taking them in as genuine refugees.

    Also, they are clogging up the refugee processing system, which makes it harder to process genuine refugees fleeing actual oppression.

  • Pete

    ‘What do you do when hundreds of thousands of immigrants start to flee north to your country from collapsing states and murderous gangs, taking life-threatening risks to do so?’

    You send them back — otherwise there will be a million of them coming for the handouts.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    All illegal aliens must be returned to their country, there can be no exceptions. How can the failed states ever recover if all those that want something better for themselves and their families are allowed to leave? The ambitious must be required to improve their own countries, in order to improve their own condition. This allowing people to leave rather than fight for their own well being is very similar to the so called “Brain Drain” that America used to be accused of. Those willing to risk their lives leaving would be equally willing to risk their lives to make things better if they see no alternative. It is said that it only takes 1% of a population willing to fight in order to have a revolution. We should encourage revolutions in all the Islamic hell holes of the middle-east and north Africa, and a revolution in Mexico and points south would be a good thing as well.

  • mdmusterstone

    So people put themselves at risk and others feel hostage to
    their well being and provide aid that encourages others to put themselves at
    risk until the help providers are overwhelmed. Sounds like to me that no one in Europe has any ba!!s or brains but they sure know how to whine.

    • Corlyss

      Agreed. That’s been established for some time now, most notably since 1989.

  • Corlyss

    The EU needs to stop this foolishness. All they are doing is incentivizing the desperate and the reckless to come make a 3rd world out of EU. The EU governments can’t take care of their own much longer because of their addiction to regulations and unemployment to control inflation and statism and “taking care” of those increasingly unable to care for themselves.

    The UN might labor under the misimpression that rescuing the downtrodden from “oppression” is the obligation of post-Colonial Western nations, but that’s no reason follow the UN down that rabbit hole. The UN is not accountable to anybody for anything. If it weren’t run by a succession of ingrown pols from former colonies and guilt-ridden white liberals whoring after a redistributionist model, it might be able to make some small constructive inroads into poverty that drives the immigrants. Until such time, the EU should not take its cues from the UN.

  • Cola di Rienzo

    Britain has actually gone further than the FT explains, and is refusing to fund any rescue missions or help political refugees that seek asylum.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service