In 2015, more than 3,700 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean, and more than a million arrived in Europe. So far this year, at least 2,500 have died, and another 200,000 have arrived — and if 2015 is any precedent, migration will spike in the summer and fall. Europe seems helpless to stem the tide.
Anyone who pretends to have a solution to this crisis — or to any other major problem — is selling snake oil. Solutions don’t exist. We can’t solve the problem of China, or income inequality, or health care or the migrants. All we can do is to recognize the trade-offs, and do our best.
But right now, no one’s doing anywhere close to their best in Europe. The problem is pervaded by an air of helpless resignation. European politicians I meet complain at length about the migrant problem, but are bereft of ways to address it.
The reason for that is simple: The alternatives are unacceptable to them. One possibility is armed intervention to create safe havens in Syria and Libya that would stop the migrants before they can start the voyage to Europe. But there’s no appetite for that in Europe — or in the United States.
Another possibility is using NATO’s navies to intercept the migrants on the high seas, intern them humanely on a Greek island, and return them — willingly or not — to their ports of origin when we decide to do so. But that falls foul of Europe’s human rights courts, which the Europeans don’t dare challenge.
So far, the European answer has been to make a deal with Turkey. It has not worked. Those courts are increasingly unwilling to allow migrants to be sent back to the autocratic regime of Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Now that Germany has recognized the Armenian genocide of 1915, in a vote guaranteed to outrage the Turks, the deal looks even shakier.
So, apparently, the migrants can’t be stopped, intercepted or sent back. One final answer is that Europe has no choice but to accept all the migrants who land on its shores, or even to help them arrive. The UN asserts that the “vast majority” of the migrants need “international protection.”
Others go further. One pro-migrant group proclaims that Europe must “increase safe, legal routes to and through Europe . . . expanding use of all possible tools for safe entry into Europe.” In other words, not just an open door, but a welcome mat, too.
Well, that’s not going to happen, because if Europe’s political leaders do it, they won’t remain political leaders for long. And it shouldn’t happen. Promoting migration on this scale is akin to agreeing that the only responsibility you have to the place you were born is to get out if it’s bad.
Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — the top three sources of migrants — are indeed bad. I’d want to leave, too. But are any of these terrible places going to improve if we encourage all their most educated people to flee to Europe? Is skimming off the cream really the moral answer?
And then there are the deaths, which reflect the fact that a lot of the migration is organized, criminal human trafficking. The traffickers don’t care whether the migrants drown. So one result of Europe’s fetishized human rights is to empower the traffickers — and add to the death toll.
The crisis can’t be addressed without using force, challenging the courts or taking millions more migrants. Europe can’t, or won’t, do any of these. Therefore, having reached the limits of its flaccid bureaucratic model, all Europe can do is wallow in its own helplessness.
What do I prefer? Door No. 2: Patrol the Mediterranean, intercept and intern the migrants, disempower the traffickers — and tell the courts to get lost. I don’t believe in solutions — but I do believe that you’re only as helpless as you want to be. And I don’t like being helpless.
Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.