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EU still in denial on immigration

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“The North/South destabilising trade imbalance can no longer be sustainable. It is time to stop playing the ostrich…” – Refugees crisis: Chickens coming home to roost; The Guardian, October 2, 2015. The 28-member European Union (EU) has yet to brace up to the real causes of millions of unsolicited migrants on its doorsteps, even as one of its leading members, the United Kingdom (UK) voted in 2016 to leave, and few others now threatening to borrow a leaf from the would-be leaver. Immigration is at the top of the issues threatening the Union.The essential causes of those problematic migrations are historically evident, but the EU apparently regards that evidence as inconvenient. So denial provides provisional convenience to the European bloc; meanwhile, thousands of economically dislocated humans perish in the bordering Mediterranean Sea every month, as the EU erects both physical and legal walls to fence off its unwanted guests.

Latest reports on the vexed challenge show that these walls are composed of: a) disrupting humanitarian rescue missions in the Mediterranean(!); b) offering aid to countries that commit to stemming the flow of people; c) funding the United Nations (UN) to repatriate migrants stuck in Libya; and d) beefing up the Libyan coastguard to nip migration in the bud. (This should partly explain the harsh treatments Nigerian returnees received in the hands of Libyan authorities)

Only recently the EU has opted to increase its expenditure on Africa by over 20% spread across seven years hence, to a minimum of €36 billion (£31 billion) in a bid to reduce the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea. A large part of that amount is said to be targeted at funding the Italian-trained Libyan coastguard, whose primary task it is to force migrant-boats back to Africa. But so far, the effect of all these international efforts to stem mass migrations northwards is comparable to the effect of water on a duck’s back. The migrations have increased with time. And rather instructively, a recent study by a watchdog, Eunpack, to closely examine EU’s efforts to tackle the migrations challenge has revealed “a mismatch between the grandiloquent declarations and the action actually implemented on the ground…” and “a troubling lack of monitoring and impact evaluation schemes across most of the EU crisis response initiatives…” The study then concludes that, “outsourcing of migration management to Libyan authorities and the dramatic increase in the number of people in custody in Libyan detention centres is fuelling a criminal economy and traffic”.

Sequel to that disheartening report, EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, suggested that, “If you want to manage migration and if you want to prevent further security threats in particular terrorism, there is one single place where you have to invest all your political, economic and diplomatic efforts and that is the belt of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa”. For its part, the European Commission (EC) has entered a “compact” with five African counties: Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal that is inextricably tied to development aid, trade and other EU’s policies to the original agenda of returning unwanted migrants from Europe. In the first year of the compact Mali accepted EU funds in exchange for 404 returnees; those funds are tied to beefing up internal security forces, border control, and crack down on smugglers. One fact however stands starkly out of all the foregoing: the efforts fight shy of the real causes of the 21st century mass migrations from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. But William Swing of the UN International Organization for Migration didn’t fight so shy of that inconvenient historical fact when he recently asserted thus, “For three centuries Europe populated the world…and today, because of demographics and the low birth rate, it has become a continent of destination. This is a psychological adjustment that has not been made…”

The UN official has stated a fundamental fact only peripherally. Population and demographics are not at the core of the issue, but material wealth and economic opportunities are primary to the discussion. Until some two hundred years ago when the United State of America gained her independence, Europe was a net receiver of global wealth. But even with the US independence, global wealth continued to flow from the south to the north. For a planet that was evidently designed for a circular flow for its equilibrium, a unidirectional flow would inevitably result in catastrophic disequilibrium. It therefore requires little imagination to see that the ongoing mass migrations are naturally following the flow of global wealth for, as a popular adage makes plain, bees always follow honey.

It is understandable that the EU is presently having difficulties coming to terms with this reality. But we should make bold to remind the Europeans that the short term pains of facing up to this touch reality is as nothing in comparison with the unending nightmares of looking the other way. Token gestures which results from looking away from reality will not wish away the migrations challenge. What the moment calls for is an all-encompassing infrastructural development progamme for Africa – the equivalent of post World War II Marshall Plan for the redevelopment of Europe.

The need for such a plan was proposed at UN Roundtable discussions as early as in the last months of the 20th century. Other forward looking groups have since continued to call for a Marshal Plan for Africa. One of the more dedicated of these groups, The Club of Rome, in the early 1970s published its detailed studies of human exploitative activities and their consequences on global stability, The Limits of Growth. As the over 200-page book indicates, employing empirically derived data, trillions of Euros, rather than tens of billions, are the realistic sums required to sustainably check the present global socio-economic instability; and by extension, the mass south/north migrations. Of course the impulsive response to that suggestion would be to exclaim that the sums are simply unaffordable. But I would counter thus: if the northern hemisphere’s unsustainable consumption and undifferentiated growth patterns could be reasonably adjusted, funding for Africa’s Marshall Plan would materialize. The EU as a bloc and her North American neighbours need to make a fundamental shift in their existing social values; that is the “psychological adjustment” William Swing of the UN was talking about.

There is little doubt that a painstaking digestion of The Limits of Growth and countless related studies on the subject would facilitate this all-important adjustment of mindset.This is not an option for the EU, but the only option for the entire northern hemisphere. To persist in denial could be likened to a bomb waiting to go off.
Nkemdiche is engineering consultant.


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