Left, Right, and Common Sense:
In many ways the political right has a troubled history when it comes to immigration. Too often anti-immigration rhetoric has been used as a populist veil for bigotry and racism. Thus it is perhaps best that the case for secure borders be made from the left. The wholesale accommodation of people seeking better lives in Europe will generate more suffering than it alleviates. Europe cannot accommodate its way out of this crisis.
This position will be contradicted by hundreds of news stories highlighting the dramatic improvements in the lives of refugees resettled in Europe. Almost anyone who is resettled from Africa or the Middle East to northern or western Europe will have a better life. If not them, their children and grandchildren will. Sweden will always trump Somalia.
But reporters don't interview the people who die in the Sahara Desert, the people who are imprisoned in transit countries, or the people who are lost at sea. They don't calculate the impact of the migration of middle-class professionals on the availability of education and healthcare services in the sending countries. And they don't acknowledge that ordinary citizens should have the democratic right to decide who will be admitted into co-citizenship with them.
A focus on the migrants who make it puts the call for charity ahead of the call for justice. Some 3 million people in Eritrea are liable for unlimited national service under the rule of a totalitarian one-party state. Another 3 million people have fled Syria for safety in neighboring countries. A billion people might leave China for northern Europe, given the opportunity. Globally 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
It strains common sense to argue -- as liberal internationalists implicitly do -- that those among the world's poor who are willing suffer terrible privations and risk their lives at sea to get to Europe should win the lottery of good schools for their children. It encourages others among the world's poor to enter the same lottery. If Europe wants to admit new citizens, it should do so in a fair way, perhaps in a real lottery like the one the United States uses. The drowning lottery is a terribly cruel way to be kind.
The hard Way Out:
European governments should take a tough stand against irregular migration. But they should also contribute massively to the funding of better facilities for refugees in Africa and the Middle East and they should get serious about pushing for the peaceful resolution of conflicts across the region. Most of all, they should act together, if the refugee crisis is not to undo sixty years of progress toward a borderless Europe.
The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of homeless foreigners in desperate need trudging north and west across Europe is the unintended consequence of years of interventionist foreign policies that have destabilized the countries of Africa and the Middle East combined with neoliberal economic policies that have exacerbated global inequalities. As ye sow so shall ye reap.
There is no way out of this crisis except the hard way out -- both for the countries of Europe and for the migrants who are so desperate to live in them. Continuing accommodation will yield an exponential growth in migrant numbers (and deaths), a spiraling crisis that will ultimately break the Schengen agreement. The European Union faces a clear choice: open borders without or open borders within. The old liberal dream of both at once cannot survive the harsh reality of our unequal world.
Image: Creative Commons/Flickr.