The European response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” of illegal migration has largely been one of outrage and disgust but, is Europe any different? For many in Africa and the Middle East, Europe’s migration policies are not so different from Trump’s.
Many Europeans take umbrage at Trump’s attacks. But even if they don’t subscribe to his “zero tolerance” approach to migration, European governments have also become much tougher in handling migrants, asylum seekers and even minorities already resident– a position many migration experts describe as very hypocritical.
As I write this article, two boats carrying more than 500 migrants remain stranded in the Mediterranean after Italy and Malta refused to allow them to dock.
Open Arms, the Spanish NGO operating one of the vessels, said they felt “abandoned” and criticised Europe’s alleged silence on the matter.
It is now 12 days that the boat has been stranded with around 150 migrants onboard near the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Another boat, “Ocean Viking”, operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée, is stranded off the coast of Libya with around 356 migrants.
More than 1,000 would-be migrants and refugees are known to have died at sea this year trying to reach Europe. But there is no coordinated rescue response; the European Union has left it to merchant ships and nongovernmental organizations to pick up those adrift. And two of those NGO vessels have been detained in Malta.
The Europeans’ focus is on pushing the problem back to the Middle East and North Africa, similar to the approach adopted by the US president in his dealings with Mexico. Italy is bolstering the Libyan coast guard; more migrants are being sent back to already crowded detention centers in Libya.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fighting for her job, has proposed setting up “reception centers” in several North African states, most of which have already said they’ll have nothing to do with the plan. She has also offered to help Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia improve border security.
Those who do make it to Germany would be confined for up to 18 months in what Berlin euphemistically calls “anchor centers” — large camps close to the border — while their asylum requests are processed. These “anchor centers” can be compared to the “detention camps” set up by the United States at its southern border.
Meanwhile, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean declined sharply after 2015 from 1.07 million to 360,000 in 2016 and 172,000 in 2017, according to the International Organization on Migration.
Lost in the noise is the fact that migration is keeping Europe alive. Birth rates in all 28 European Union countries are below replacement rates. Germany alone needs 400,000 immigrants a year to sustain its workforce, according to one recent study. This week Italy’s pensions chief warned the system would go bust without migrants joining the workforce.
Europe has had its fair share of crises — failing banks, terrorism, Brexit — but has rarely seemed so much in disarray as over migration.
“How we deal with the migrant question will decide whether Europe continues to exist in the future,” Merkel told the German parliament a week ago. Alice Weidel of the AfD retorted: “Under your regime Germany has gone from a motor and stability guarantor to a factor for chaos.”
For migrants in Central America trying to seek asylum in the US, and their counterparts from Africa and Middle East crossing the Mediterranean, the stakes could not be higher, and the barriers couldn’t be much different, the ‘Trump Wall’ is finally up and firm in Europe. Europe cannot claim a high a moral ground when it comes to the issue of migration.
By Gideon Sarpong
Writer’s email: Gideon.email@example.com