By Kevin Benning & Niels van de Ven
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991 a lot of barriers came down. One result was the opening of the borders between several nation states, which resulted in a free flow of e.g. cargo, money and people. Furthermore, the European Union started to expand to all sides, particularly eastwards. Eventually, the so-called Schengen area expanded to 21 European countries. The past decades have proven the free flow of traffic is a blessing for people and companies which import and export goods. It supports economic growth. It also upholds the ideal of liberty, of being able to travel internationally without being interfered with.
However, the free flow of traffic does have a dark side. In the past few years we have seen the effects of uncontrolled borders in the middle of the refugee crisis. As people fled the violence of terrorist groups and civil wars, the weak spot of Schengen became exposed. Because of failing border controls in states that are on the outer border of the Schengen area, over a million people were able to flee towards Northwestern Europe and Scandinavia. First, they were able to travel through the so-called Balkan Route, entering the Schengen area by crossing the border of Hungary. Once inside the Schengen area the refugees were able to resume their course to Germany, The Netherlands or Sweden. The inflow of these amounts of refugees sparked debate within the EU and the populations of these nations, who demanded a proper solution from politicians, who were struggling to find a proper response. As the EU did not have the ability to act quickly and decisively, and outer states such as Greece did not have the capabilities to establish border patrols, several countries temporarily closed their borders. Additionally, during the refugee crisis the threat of terrorist attacks by ISIS increased. ISIS managed to transfer a few terrorists into Europe with the flow of refugees and recruit and activate people who were already living in the EU. This threat became reality with multiple terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany.
At the moment the storm seems to have calmed. The European Union signed a treaty with Turkey, which has to support the incoming refugees and prevent them from traveling further into Europe . However, migrants are still trying to reach Europe by boat, traveling from Libya to Italy, and Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla have to cope with migrants that storm and climb the fences surrounding them. Once on European soil they want to apply for asylum .
These are all contemporary sources of migration into Europe. Whereas the migrants travelling via Turkey are mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans the migrants travelling via Libya mostly come from the north and sub-Saharan part of Africa. When looking at the future of Africa and the Middle East it can be expected that these migration flows will remain and even grow. The Middle East is unstable and the flow of people from Africa looking for better a life grows. At the same time Africa is booming demographically. The United Nations predicts that there will be 4,4 billion people living south of the Sahara in 2100 .
Due to this enormous demographic growth it can be expected that, if economic growth or expectations in these countries do not keep up, these people will try to build up a life in Europe. This scenario is fairly likely as the reality is that most of these young people live in badly governed or so called failed states. The expectation is that, as they travel to Europe, they will mostly try to get into Northwestern Europe. Which would be very undesirable. These nations do not have the public support to allow such amounts of immigrants. Uncontrolled immigration has high costs. It does not only cause a heavy burden on state finances, which will have to reserve budget for accommodation and higher welfare costs, it will also lead to cultural tensions. Furthermore, previous immigration flows from Sub-Saharan Africa show that these people have troubles with integrating into their new society. In The Netherlands immigrants have a lot of difficulty learning the language and finding a job. Most of them are very dependent on welfare systems. Fifty percent of the migrants from Eritrea who arrived in 2014 were still unemployed in 2016 . The Dutch research institute WODC conducted a research about migrants in the 80’s and 90’s and concluded that they have huge struggles finding a job. After fifteen years 35 percent of the refugees had a paid job for more than 30 hours a week. For labor migrants this is between 65 and 50 percent. This means a life dominated by unemployment for most migrants .
So, what should the EU be doing do tackle this problem? The mission for Europe is clear: gain complete control over the outer Schengen area borders to attain the ability to control migration flows. Prohibit people from trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or other Schengen borders. Decide which demands are to be met to migrate to and reside in Europe. Make it illegal to reside in Europe without permission, be tough against human traffickers and close deals with countries that refuse to take back migrants. Show that you are prepared to be tough during the negotiations. Demand that other countries have to be willing to help and if they do not, be ready to cut back on (development) cooperation . Not solving this migration problem will have a cost. The refugee flows will remain the same or even increase, the Mediterranean Sea will become a mass grave, unrest in European nations is likely to rise and serve as fuel for populist voices, and it will cause problems in both financial and societal terms.
Image: Lior Sperandeo / IsraAID