In DepthColumnsImmigration: Fortress Europe heads for the wall


Posted on Monday, 18 November 2013 11:25

Immigration: Fortress Europe heads for the wall

File photo©ReutersAfter Lampedusa we are obsessed with migration. The first task is to end the human tragedy. That means recognising the cultural and economic virtues of open borders.

From fishing boats capsizing near Italy's island of Lampedusa to the dusty border post near Garissa in Kenya's North Eastern Province and 'Amexica', the bloody borderline between the United States and Mexico, we are all getting obsessed with migration.

The first task is to end the human tragedy. That means taking the right of vulnerable people to travel out of the hands of criminal gangs and recognising the cultural and economic virtues of open borders. Let the people go.

Instead of looking for ways to reinvigorate relations with a now resurgent Africa, European politi- cians look like grumpy husbands in a bad marriage

At the best guess, we are talking about 3% of the world's people or about 200 million who leave their countries. Less than 20% of those migrants are estimated to be undocumented, and many are in the US working on farms for wages that few locals would consider.

In most Western countries, migrants make up about 9% of the population.

In the US it is about 13%, still lower than it was 100 years ago when the 'great migration' helped to create the most powerful economy in the world.

In Africa, migration is even more critical in uplifting people's lives, and the response of its governments is as myopic as their Western counterparts.

Somalis, many of whom are entrepreneurs of a particularly determined genius, struggle to get licences to set up businesses even in neighbouring countries, let alone far-away South Africa.

Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who benefited from the post-independence education boom headed to the Beitbridge border and have spent the last decade or more in middle management jobs in South Africa.

Why isn't the African National Congress (ANC) government more appreciative of their efforts and thoroughly condemnatory of grassroots xenophobia that attacks them and other migrants?

Perhaps it is because many South African politicians are as pusillanimous and opportunist as their European counterparts.

Today, migration keeps the US economy dynamic and innovative: 40% of its science and engineering PhDs are immigrants. Countries that welcome immigrants have stronger and more diverse economies than those that keep them out.

Yet the führers of Europe's growing fascist movements are more interested in peddling their prejudices than learning, and they are
alarmingly successful.

Establishment politicians compete with each other to mimic the fascists' xenophobia as they make the case for a 'Fortress Europe' to shore up their votes.

As the Mediterranean Sea turns into an aquatic cemetery, politicians blithely ignore the human suffering and discuss more efficient ways to turn back the new boat people.

This heartlessness and political populism is easier to understand than the outright stupidity of the little Europeans trying to lock out the world as they preside over an ageing continent that every year looks less relevant in the changing international order.

It may have the world's best museums, but without friends and allies Europe does not have the ticket to the future.

Instead of looking for ways to reinvigorate relations with a now resurgent Africa, European politicians look like grumpy husbands in a bad marriage as their young attractive wives go on dates with Chinese internet entrepreneurs.

Trying to win the anti-immigrant vote, British Prime Minister David Cameron came up with a spiffing wheeze in June: Whitehall would charge all Nigerian, Ghanaian and Indian visa applicants a £3,000 ($4,850) bond for the privilege of visiting Britain.

Apparently, it would be returned on their departure.

For once, corporate lobbyists and leftist internationalists spoke with one voice, condemning the move as an insane piece of nationalist populism.

Britain is also making its universities prohibitively expensive to foreigners and making the issuance of student visas ever more Kafkaesque.

Yet there must be a meeting of minds, if not at least an honest discussion of what is at stake.

A year ago a fleshy faced corporate lawyer was holding forth in a London salon about the threat that migration posed to quintessential English values.

His high-volume peroration prompted a dreadlocked Senegalese kora player to reply with a haiku-like history of European colonialism: "My friend, I'm here because you were there!" Happily, that particular confrontation ended in a glimmer of mutual understanding. ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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