Politicians in Europe are howling about President Trump’s cruel and inept executive order on refugees, and comparing his scattershot treatment to Europe’s which they argue is benign and in line with European values.
Don’t be fooled. Europe, if it can be said that there is such a cohesive entity, is full of efforts to curtail refugee and migrant flows in ways that (might even) make Trump blush. But for now, it is easier to take a holier-than-Trump stance than do what is necessary, both in Europe and Washington, to deal with the reality of refugee issues in the age of failed states: migrant flows are not going to end soon from all sorts of places and no one knows how to handle them.
Europe’s response is hardly a source of pride. To wit:
• Germany, which opened its borders to almost a million refugees in 2015 and a 280,000 last year, is now deporting the newcomers at breakneck speed, especially from Afghanistan, which Berlin has decreed is a safe place to go back to. Sometimes Germany pays migrants money to encourage their exit. Chancellor Angela Merkel worked out a deal in which the European Union paid off Turkey to stop migrants from taking to sea to get to Europe. She has also floated the idea of banning burkas, the full body conservative covering of some ultra-conservative Muslim women. Even Trump hasn’t thought that one up.
• France’s President Francois Hollande, whose opinion doesn’t count much since he’ll be out of power this year, has lambasted Trump for his refugee policies. He said Europe “must respond.” In the meantime, his government blocked the borders with Italy to keep African migrants form coming north and arrested Frenchmen who have tried to guide them across the Alps. The top candidates who would replace him in this year’s election have all taken tough stands on immigration. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon and nationalist firebrand Marine LePen are running on anti-immigration platforms. The socialist candidate Manuel Valls has said Europe should not accept any more refugees. He also suggested that full-body covering women’s bathing suits should be banned. Only Emmanuel Macron, head of a new party, has expressed willingness to welcome more refugees.
• Poor Theresa May, the British Prime Minister who rose to power atop the Brexit vote. Under public pressure, she had to criticize Trump, forgetting that the Brexit referendum was largely about with blocking immigration. Whoops, I meant controlling borders. Meanwhile, her government just reneged on a promise to accept thousands of unaccompanied minors languishing on the continent.
• Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen called Trump’s decision “to block people from certain countries” extremely “unwise.” Wait! Is this the same Denmark that has restricted family visits of immigrants from Syria? That took out ads in Middle Eastern newspapers advising refugees not to come? That limited access of asylum seekers to court? The same Denmark that seized money and valuables from refugees in order to make them pay for the cost of processing their requests?
• Parts of Eastern Europe have been more receptive to Trumpism. Some of their policies and attitudes presaged it. Poland (no refugees allowed), Hungary (pioneer fence-builder), the Czech Republic (keep ‘em out), Slovakia (Muslims don’t fit in) comprise an anti-migration bloc in Europe that shows no sign of compromise.
• In 2015, The European Union pledged to resettle 160,000 refugees marooned in Greece and Italy, the first points of arrival for large numbers of migrants. Latest figure: 12,000 resettled. That didn’t stop the Financial Times from lambasting Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni for not joining in the European chorus to dump on Trump. Gentiloni’s quiet approach, the FT intoned, would hinder forging a “common European response” to the US president. Maybe the Italian has seen enough of Europe’s common response to things— like not keeping its promise to resettle refugees across the continent.
The refugee conundrum is not a temporary blip on the screen of global problems. Just look at the longevity of conflict in the the roster of countries that Trump tried to block: Somalia, on and off warfare since the 1980’s; Sudan embroiled in intermittent civil conflict plus endless dictatorship; Iraq, civil conflict for the 14 years since the US-led invasion; warfare into its sixth year in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Iran is a kind of outlier in this group, though Trump’s ban was aimed at reminding everyone that the US labels the Islamic Republic a sponsor of international terror.
So enough of this moralistic grandstanding and breast beating. The EU and the US should look clearly at international law and what it requires, either for people who have a “well-founded fear” of persecution back home or those fleeing warfare. These laws, enshrined as they often are in domestic legislation, need to be balanced against the capacity for Western states to absorb refugees—possibly millions— from countries in almost perpetual crisis. Neither Trump’s unthinking policies nor Europe’s ad hoc solutionsto confront that inconvenient truth.
Germany and deportation.
UK: Suffer the little children.
Eastern Europe hard line on migrants.
Italy and Greece left on their own.