WASHINGTON, June 30, 2016 — Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union stunned the continent and will lead to some serious technocratic soul-searching in Brussels. Whether flawed or fair, the referendum highlights British concerns with immigration and the flood of refugees encouraged by the continent’s eminence grise, Angela Merkel.
The latest numbers show the number of asylum requests declined by 33 percent in the first quarter of 2016 from the last quarter of 2015. As temperatures rises over the Mediterranean, though, an increasing number of desperate migrants will risk their lives to make the journey from Northern Africa to the shores of Europe.
Thousands have died already this year, drowning after the dangerous boats they were herded onto by human smugglers sank or capsized at sea.
Many more have completed the journey successfully, landing in Greece and Italy before attempting to travel north, paying little attention to laws which oblige them to apply for asylum in the first European country they set foot in.
In the face of one of the largest human migrations in history, the European Union is increasingly desperate to stem the flow of refugees and impoverished economic migrants in search of a better life. The 28-nation bloc has struck a controversial deal with Turkey deigned to discourage migrants from making the dangerous journey to Greece, and offered Middle Eastern and African nations aid to help them better control their borders and care for refugees.
Under pressure to pull up the drawbridge of Fortress Europe, the EU Commission has been willing to get into bed with autocratic regimes with appalling human rights records, including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. In May, German magazine Der Spiegel revealed that Germany was heading up a program to provide personal registration equipment to Sudan, a country whose president is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Similar deals are in the offing with Nigeria and Lebanon.
A document outlining the plans demonstrates that the EU aware of the potential problems of dealing with repressive African regimes. In a section titled “Risks and assumptions” it states, “Provision of equipment and trainings [sic] to sensitive national authorities (such as security services or border management) diverted for repressive aims; criticism by NGOs and civil society for engaging with repressive governments on migration (particularly in Eritrea and Sudan).”
Seeking to defend migration-control agreements with corrupt African and Middle Eastern countries, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters: “Millions of people are on the move worldwide and we can only manage this if we act globally, in full partnership. Our goal, while staying focused on saving lives at sea and dismantling smugglers’ networks, is to support the countries that host so many people and foster growth in our partner countries.”
Separately, the World Bank is providing “development solutions” designed to help halt the migrant flow in Africa’s Great Lakes region and in the Horn of Africa. It last month approved credits totaling almost $250 million this fiscal year to provide support for refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and Zambia.
Turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses committed by some of these countries it plans to work with is one thing, but both the EU Commission and the World Bank also seem happy to ignore the fact that many of their proposed partner nations are incapable of carrying out their side of the proposed bargains.
The EU seems under the impression that it can replicate its deal with Turkey, which has proven at least partially effective at limiting the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, albeit at very high costs for the EU’s moral standing.
In an apparent act of wishful thinking, the Commission has failed to acknowledge the limitations of the new regimes it is targeting. While the carrot and stick approach has brought some lackluster results from Turkey in terms of passing new legislation, corrupt countries with poorer infrastructures are likely to be far less competent partners, even when faced with sanctions for non-delivery of their objectives.
Many of nations the EU and the World Bank hope to work with are ill-equipped to either integrate or shelter the refugees arriving on their shores, with or without the aid the two bodies are offering. A prime example is Djibouti, which has been flooded with thousands of refugees fleeing across the Red Sea to escape the fighting in Yemen.
Despite an influx of outside resources, the impoverished African nation has shown itself to be incapable of hosting its growing migrant population, in no small part on account of its kleptocratic government led by Ismail Omar Guelleh, which siphons off money from aid organizations and cash from countries that use its territory for military bases in exchange for its acceptance of refugees.
Six hundred refugees have even made the trip back to Yemen, apparently preferring the devastation of the Saudi-led war to the desolation of Djibouti’s desert.
Another danger of linking aid to migration-control agreements is blackmail. Niger attempted to extort $1.1 billion out of the EU after it struck its deal with Turkey, while Kenya has threatened to close the its Dadaab refugee camp. As further deals are agreed, it will be more than likely that other nations will demand their slice of the action.
It may well be the case that Europe’s migration crisis is so severe that turning a blind eye to human rights abuses committed by potential partner nations becomes palatable, but seeking a quick fix by throwing cash at regimes that are clearly incapable of stemming the flow of human traffic that continues to flood towards Europe is just blind buck-passing that is doomed to failure.
Buoyed by Brexit, Europe’s far-right parties have just received a new lease of life and will most likely pounce on the chance to further paint the Brussels elite as out of touch and irresponsible.