The EU is increasingly surrounded by a moat of fire. War and instability reigns across Europe's borders from Libya to Syria to Ukraine. Yet it is telling that we call the ensuing problems a 'migrant crisis' as it infers that these problems are only important insofar as they affect us. As the new briefing from Global Justice Now spells out, the reality is that a new crisis of war and instability has augmented the existing crises of inequality and poverty in much of the world to produce increased migration. These issues are the real crisis, and there will be no solution to the migration crisis until they are dealt with.
Unfortunately, the powers that be across Europe are busy building new walls and borders instead of dealing with these root causes of the crisis. Last week, Austria, a country dangerously close to electing a far-right nationalist as its president, declared that it was imposing border controls at its frontier with Italy. This is just the latest blow in a series of severe setbacks to the EU core principle of free movement. Hungary, ironically the first country to cut down the Iron Curtain in 1989, became the first to build a high-security fence across its borders with Serbia and Croatia. The Channel ports of Dover and Calais have become home to more security infrastructure than you will see at any prison. And in a morally abhorrent quid pro quo with Turkey, the EU has agreed to turn a blind eye to a severe crackdown on free media and Kurdish rights activists in return for "help" in ensuring that people fleeing ISIS and the Assad regime are not able to seek refuge in Europe.
These attempts at stopping migration will likely be in vein. They will succeed only in bolstering the momentum of the far-right and encouraging people to think that shutting the door, rather than dealing with the real problems, is the answer. But they will almost certainly lead to the deaths of thousands more people. According to the International Organisation for Migration, over 25,000 migrants have died in their attempt to reach or stay in Europe since 2000. On the current trajectory, this figure is set to get a lot worse.
It is true that problems as massive as the war and poverty are not going to be solved overnight. But countries like the UK can start by ensuring they aren't making the situation any worse. On inequality, the UK can stop advocating unfair trade deals that lock in policies that make inequality worse. On poverty, the UK could use aid money to promote successful models like the NHS instead of unproven private health and education schemes that would face uproar if implemented here. The conflict in Yemen is being exacerbated by UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia which is using UK arms to bomb the country. Ending arms sales to regimes with dubious human rights records would help ensure that there is a stronger incentive for peaceful solutions.
Ultimately, part of the answer may even lie in opening our borders, rather than hiding behind the walls of Fortress Europe. Remittances (money sent home by migrants) were worth $580 billion in 2014, a figure that dwarfs the combined aid budgets of every country in the world. Four out of five Haitians who have come out of poverty to earn more than $10 a day have done so by migrating. The evidence suggests that migration does more to help than hinder the causes of greater economic equality and poverty reduction.
The moral justification for ever crueller immigration restrictions is collapsing. Quite apart from the deaths on the Mediterranean, there is a clear problem with demanding that people from the global south to do as we say and not as we do. Almost none of the people demanding less immigration are also demanding that they be stopped from travelling wherever they choose. They assume that they, as citizens of a rich country, should have the right to live and work wherever they like. But these same people would deny that right to people in other countries. This is not a morally consistent position. A right that is only enjoyed by the rich is no right at all. If British expats can live anywhere they like, it follows that someone fleeing the war in Syria should enjoy the same right. Anything else is unfair.
So it's time for us to reassess what we currently think of as a migrant crisis. What we face is a crisis of war, poverty and inequality. And free movement, far from being the problem, is part of the solution. Indeed, it's time to begin the fight for free movement for everyone, whether they be rich or poor. This may sound idealistic, but the alternative, the continuation of the unfair and cruel status quo, obligates us to at least begin to build a different kind of world.Suggest a correction