So far this year, about 80,000 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, have been rescued at sea by coast guard ships of various nations and by private organizations. That’s double last year’s number of arrivals through the same period. If the pace continues, Italy will be hosting around 150,000 by year’s end—about 2.5 per cent of the country’s 60 million population.
Italy is pleading for help to both stem the flow and distribute the arrives elsewhere. The EU has responded with platitudes and inaction.
The reasons for the increased traffic are several. Anarchic Libya has become a funnel for human traffickers who guide migrants through the country to the shore, put them on boats and push them out to sea. Quickly the migrants are picked up by rescuers, some of whom communicate with the smugglers, giving an added attraction to would-be refugees to reduce the risks of crossing the Mediterranean.
In 2016, a deal with Turkey to block emigrants from reaching Western Europe—the EU ponied up 5 billion Euros to get Turkey to block the travelers—had the unintended effect of moving the flow westward to Libya.
The move followed a flood that began in 2015 when Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders to people she thought would only be refugees fleeing warfare. Desperate refugees and economic migrants flooded Germany from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. Merkel closed the doors when the number reached a million.
Since then, the EU has issued statement after statement designed to portray action. They include calls for strengthening borders, for identifying root causes, for saving lives, for the need of immigration policies, for ‘action plans’ to break up the smuggling business and most commonly, for further consultation and assessing. And so the flow has continued and increased, despite the danger to the migrants themselves, the profits to smugglers and discontent in Italy and Greece, which have been blockaded by the rest of Europe fearful of anti-immigrant backlash.
On Monday, Germany and France offered solidarity to Italy and plan t throw some money at Libya and ask private rescue organizations to stay further away from Libya’s coast..
The EU initially promised to distribute the arrivals in both countries to its 28 members. Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland outright refused. Polish president blamed Merkel for the entire problem. As a whole, the EU has only taken in 20 per cent of the tens of the 160,000 that arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 and 2016.
Leaving Italy in its current lurch has required a quick dose of amnesia from key EU France and Germany. France was a major promoter of European bombing of Libya that helped rebels oust dictator Moammar Gaddafi and unleashed the chaotic reign of hundreds of militias, some of whom make money by trafficking migrants northward. Never mind. Current French President Emmanuel Macron told Italy they’ll get some sort of help; at the same time he is blocking any passage of migrants from Italy into France along the Riviera.
The United Kingdom, also a promoter of the Libyan intervention, is leaving the EU altogether and wants no part of migrant resettlement. Austria, the buffer against migration on Germany’s behalf, is threatening to send troops to the border with Italy just in case.
Merkel initiated the parade of migrants but has rejected Italy’s request that travelers rescued at sea be taken to ports other than its own. Spain, another possible port of entry, is freaking out because 6,000 refugees have arrived on its coast this year.
The EU will meet on Thursday in Estonia to try to figure out, once again, what to do.
Estonia provides a mini-example of the problem in welcoming so many foreigners all at once. It has promised to take in 550 refugees, but so far has accepted 150. At least a third of the newcomers don’t like it and have moved to other EU countries.
Meanwhile, integration of migrants has not turned out as Germany, at least, had predicted. Merkel said they could be absorbed by the need for young labor. However, the newcomers lack the skills to integrate into the labor force. German officials predict that the vast majority of migrants will remain unemployed for at least five years; Merkel is now paying would-be refugees to go home. As she faces reelection in September and Germans are uneasy about another possible influx, reopening the border is unthinkable.
It all adds up to the dangers of blind virtue-signaling. EU leaders endlessly speak of the need to welcome migrants and how the welcome mat policy reflects European values. They didn’t think much about concrete problems. Such as how economic conditions might drive an infinite number of migrants to Europe from all over and not just from war zones. Or about the dangers to migrants by putting them into the hands of smugglers. Or how the arrival of mostly single young men with few labor or language skills might impact European communities and harden their hearts.
In any case, the values espoused by EU leaders have run into reality. So far, it’s easier wipe their feet on Italy, and Greece for that matter than actually take really figure out what to do about uncontrolled immigration from the south.
By the numbers, arrivals to Italy in 2017.
Germany says work prospects for migrants are minimal.
A timeline of EU empty talk.