Two stories illustrate one of the battles at the heart of how developed nations are dealing with the series of migrant and refugee crises all over the globe. First, Australia will have to shut down its migrant detention center in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, after the country’s Supreme Court struck down its government’s arrangement with Australia. The BBC reports:
Papua New Guinea’s constitution guarantees personal liberty for all people, except in defined circumstances relating to crime, illegal immigration and quarantine.
In 2014, Papua New Guinea’s government amended section 42 of the constitution to add a paragraph that allowed for “holding a foreign national under arrangements made by Papua New Guinea with another country”.
But the Supreme Court ruled this amendment was unconstitutional, as it did not meet a requirement to respect “the rights and dignity of mankind”.
And in Europe, the Wall Street Journal files a story on the makeshift camps created by Hungary’s new border fence with Serbia:
Hungary’s 153-mile wire fence, hastily built last fall after some 400,000 asylum seekers walked into the country, has become a standard for other European nations aiming to check the biggest flow of displaced populations since World War II.
Despite protests from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and the United Nations Refugee Agency that Hungary is abandoning its duty to assist refugees,Hungary has all but sealed off its southern border. Slovenia and Macedonia have since erected their own fences.
The result has been mushrooming makeshift camps in Serbia, where migrants spend their days arguing over why they haven’t been picked yet, and whether to keep waiting—or attempt to illegally jump the fence.
Life in one of these “makeshift” camps—or in a formal Australian one—cannot be particularly pleasant, even assuming (which is not always so) that they are safe. But on the other hand, right now the Hungarian fence is what’s keeping the Hunger Games-esque scramble across the Mediterranean and up the Balkans from returning to the proportions that existed last year. As Damir wrote last week, “The migrant problem is best dealt with from the supply side, so to speak. If people get wind that a path to asylum in Europe is no longer open, they simply won’t attempt that passage any more.” That also means they won’t drown during dangerous crossings incentivized by the “if you survive, you can stay” message.
Human rights types might thus consider focusing on improving situations in these wretched places rather than trying to abolish them. After all, it should be abundantly clear by now that there is no unlimited appetite in Europe for Merkel’s fanciful “Welcome Culture,” and that the imperfect, stopgap measures adopted by the countries along the Balkan corridor, in the face of loud opposition from Merkel and the UNHCR alike, has given the Continent’s centrist, pro-EU, liberal forces some breathing room.
These measures can and should be improved upon. But across the Western world, from Australia to the EU to America, it’s high time to start thinking about what sustainable, good-to-great refugee and immigration policies might look like, rather than one that’s (in the eyes of the human rights activists) perfect but impossible to sustain in an age of global waves of immigration.