Open Borders: A Naïve And Unworkable Approach In Combating The Migrant Crisis

03/10/2016 12:44
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WHEN the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, brazenly stated last month that the idea of borders was 'the worst invention ever', it wasn't overly surprising when it prompted widespread criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Amidst the spiraling migrant crisis, the question of border control and restriction on immigration has been elevated to the forefront of European countries' political agenda- the discourse surrounding the EU referendum in the United Kingdom an apt epitome. The increasing inflow of refugees and migrants into Europe and current socio-political tensions creates an unsettling image of the future, and now is the time necessary for the EU to re-evaluate the current approach taken.

The current immigration of peoples from the Middle-East and North Africa is rising sharply. In 2015, the International Organization for Migration estimated that over 1 million migrants arrived into mainland Europe. A year-by-year comparison of the same data from the IOM highlights the worrying continuation and acceleration of this trend; by the end of July 2015, 2220,000 documented migrants were recorded to have sought refuge in Europe. By the end of July this year, this number had risen to 258,000. Similarly, the cost to human life has become graver- over 3,000 lives have been lost in an attempt to reach Europe so far this year, as opposed to the 2,700 lost from January to August 2015.

Compassion is an inherent virtue in humans and should be displayed when possible. The unfortunate plight of those in the Middle-East, enduring oppressive despots, wars and ISIS undoubtedly provokes sympathy. Too, the opportunism and desire for the migrants' betterment of their current situation is understandable - most humans would seize the opportunity to improve their own lives and circumstance if the situation arose. It is vital, however, that European politicians avoid blurring the line between compassion and recklessness. Resource and social strain are being reported throughout Europe- the migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is said to be overrun, and political tensions in France and Germany have caused a rise in the support of far-right groups and nationalist parties; Germany's far-right party the AfD (Alternative fur Deutschland) had the second highest amount of net overall votes in recent state elections. Opinion polls carried out by Pew Research Centre in different countries are suitably reflective of the public's disenchantment with the EU's handling of the crisis- 72% of civilians in Hungary disprove of how the issue is currently being dealt with, as do 88% of all Swedish citizens. Such statistics alone are sufficient to prompt a change in policy direction.

Despite the bleakness of the current scenario, a strategic rethink and alteration of the present approach could well preclude later catastrophe- though what options exist? Mass deportation is logistically difficult, expensive for states and extremely time-consuming, in addition to the inevitable deepening of the already substantial political rifts in European countries. It is, however, an option that has already been initiated by countries such as Greece who have gradually begun the process of returning refugees to Turkey following the deal the EU brokered with Ankara to stem the flow of refugees to Europe. In Germany the rate of deportations is accelerating, but not without internal disputes between Germany's federal and state governments.

The 'Responsibility to Protect', a global political commitment promised by all UN member states to help prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity, theoretically obliges states to intervene in the current discord in the Middle-East. However, this proves an awkward subject. The past decade has evidenced the inherent dilemmas and problems associated with humanitarian intervention in the Middle-East (despite overall benign and constructive intentions), and the spillover of the conflict and heightened tensions it would cause make the expansion of intervention in the region a large gamble, albeit one that isn't impossible. One important step to be taken is streamlining the current intake of migrants and allocating them to countries proportionally- in 2015 Hungary had the highest amount of asylum applicants in proportion to its population with almost 1,8000 refugees per 100,000 of Hungary's population. Evenly balancing the distribution of the migrants across EU states is the perhaps the fairest solution to a problematic issue for which no European country is solely responsible (despite Angela Merkel's -perhaps myopic - hospitality in welcoming 800,000 refugees.) Though the importance to provide shelter for refugees remains, countries should hope to avoid serious resource strain through tightening their quotas and exercising a right to stem migration in order to ensure those wishing to enter are in genuine need of refuge, rather than opportunistic economic migrants. It is in the best interests of countries to clearly distinguish between these two groups, and ensure the latter are relocated in Turkey as part of the recent March EU-Turkey refugee deal.

Other avenues of aid exist as an alternative to allowing the total freedom of movement across the continent. Despite possible reluctance, European governments could consider (at least partially) supporting the refugee camps in Turkey and on the Greek border financially and logistically, and financial aid from influential international organizations such as NATO and other nations would be of highly constructive value. In 2015, countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands donated £42m and £73m respectively- the wills of European countries' leaders to continue such donations will be seminal in framing the future of the crisis. As aforementioned, intervention undeniably fuels aggravation and animosity (whereby the deaths of thousands would be unavoidable), though intensified deployment of NATO troops in the Middle-East region would be a strong signal of support from the West in the destabilization of the al-Assad regime and Islamic State influence. Leaders throughout Europe, and the world, face a quandary in attempting to quell a seemingly deteriorating problem with no visible end. Patent however is both impracticability and illogic of allowing a free-flow of migrants into Europe against the wills of the populace, with no coherent plan of re-housing and redistribution. It is advisable the EU and international order avoid calls for open borders and instead create a detailed and structured framework with which to combat the crisis- an undeniably complex and onerous task.

Thomas Smith