arianna vairo nyt migration

My latest column for the New York Times is on the tragedy of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean and the immorality of the EU policy. Here are the opening paragraphs. You can read the full article in the NYT. The image above is by Arianno Vairo from the New York Times.

Up to 1,200 people are believed to have died this past week when, in several incidents, their flimsy boats foundered in the Mediterranean. These migrants from Syria, Mali, Eritrea, Somalia and beyond had set out from North Africa hoping to reach Europe’s southern shores. Fleeing war and poverty, most had paid large sums to traffickers.

The scale of the tragedies is shocking but no novelty. It is estimated that since 1993 some 20,000 migrants have died trying to cross Europe’s southern borders. The true figure is undoubtedly higher: Thousands have perished, their deaths unrecorded.

Who is to blame? European politicians point the finger at traffickers. On Monday, European Union officials came up with a 10-point plan, including military action against smuggling networks.

The traffickers are certainly odious figures, recklessly placing migrants in peril. But what pushes migrants into the hands of traffickers are the European Union’s own policies. The bloc’s approach to immigration has been to treat it as a matter not of human need, but of criminality. It has developed a three-pronged strategy of militarizing border controls, criminalizing migration and outsourcing controls.

For more than three decades, the European Union has been constructing what critics justly call ‘Fortress Europe’, a cordon protected by sea, air and land patrols, and a high-tech surveillance system of satellites and drones. When a journalist from Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine visited the control room of Frontex, the European border agency, he observed that the language used was that of ‘defending Europe against an enemy’.

Read the full article in the New York Times.


  1. brueckenbauer

    The Gold Standard of such a commentary is always:
    How much sacrifices is the columnist personally prepared to make for the sake of immigrants? Is he prepared to give a part of his Job, his income etc.?
    If a columnist doesn’t approach this question, his commentary is ethically irrelevant.

  2. Two pieces to this puzzle. The West must become more aware of how our policies make these countries less desirable to live in. For one, using cheap food commodities to balance our trade – so that we can continue to consume more than our share of the world’s mineral resources – weakens their ability to feed themselves, displaces rural populations & fuels population growth. The resource curse, much written about, refers to how trade in a country’s mineral wealth supports a moneyed elite but creates displacement, disenfranchisement and conflict that drive migration. Oh, and the recruitment of terrorists.
    The other is fiscalization of the global economy. 36% of world trade, by one figure, is financial transactions. Talking to you, hedge-fund investors and currency traders. This is one significant structural cause of inequality. It overwhelmingly benefits the most developed nations, as well as the financial classes within each nation. Concretely put, lobbing other people’s money around and charging for it is favored over producing things that people eat, wear, use and live in.
    For those who raise the issue of population control: on another page, you are sure to find an article about how population decline threatens prosperity. I don’t agree, because I believe prosperity is possible without unchecked growth. But our policies do little to encourage control, often the reverse.
    Europe seems happy to be the billionaire in the gated enclave.

  3. The term gated enclave/community seems absolutely relevant, in particular for the tragic situation of people fleeing for their lives from war and violence and perishing in the process, in identifying the real source of tragedies around the Earth through history persisting till today. Those living inside the “gates” are, and have been historically, responsible/accountable for conditions leading to such instances of profound human tragedy happening outside the “gates”, so the metaphor precisely suggests where focus needs to become highly concentrated before moral actions can be undertaken to eventually stop the tragedies.

  4. damon

    It’s such a difficult issue. People should lay their cards on the table though when they talk about it.
    If we are to have continual large scale legal migration, populations will rise. And I know there are some people who are very keen on that because they imagine future megacities in Europe, with populations of over 20 million. The south east of England could become one giant conurbation. And by doing that, we could welcome millions of the world’s poorest to England.
    Whenever I ask work colleagues from Eastern Europe, how their country would feel about being as diverse as London, I’ve nearly always got a negative response. It wouldn’t be a popular notion in Warsaw, Riga and Budapest. And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be popular in Slovenia or Slovakia either.
    Ireland used to have a bigger population than it does now, so you might think that they could take in hundreds of thousands of Africans and others seeking new lives in the West. But do the Irish really want that? I know some relatives of mine there were very unhappy when an asylum hostel was going to be opened in their small town. They protested to stop it.

    If migration routes were to be opened, it would be logical to have ferries sailing back and forth between North Africa and southern Europe.
    At this time of year there could be daily departures. To Italy, to France, and even a British ferry that could leave once a week maybe. Bringing about a thousand people directly into a British port.
    Let’s not pretend though that it wouldn’t change this country quite radically.
    More places would become like our most diverse boroughs. More like Southwark and Newham.
    Which can be seen as a good thing. While some wouldn’t see that as so good. It would definitely have a displacement effect, causing some of those who live where they do now, to move out to make way for the newcomers.
    Something should be done about the Libyan town of Zuwara though.
    It’s not a big town, but is one of the main criminal smuggling centres where these ships are leaving from.

  5. nannus

    What should also be looked at is why do people leave their home countries. In some cases at least, it seems to be the politics of the EU that took away the livelihoods of Africans. For example, there are cases of farmers in west Africa going broke because the EU is exporting subsidized food, e.g. Ghanian tomato farmers and tomato paste producers have lost their business due to subsidized Italian tomato paste being imported from Italy. Other examples include fishing in African waters by EU trawlers that destroyed the livelihoods of west African fishermen, e.g. in Senegal. So one should not only look at the migrants and how to deal with them once they are on the way, but also at the conditions in their home countries, partially influenced or caused by the EU.

  6. Chris

    Kenan is critical of Fortress Europe and believes the EU should liberalize its immigration policy. But he doesn’t address the likelihood of this leading to a flood of immigrants. There are a great many people in Africa and Asia who would like to live in Europe. How many of these the continent could sustain isn’t certain, but what is certain is that it’s a finite number.

  7. damon

    Chris, I think you’ll find people who support open borders think no such thing about finite numbers.
    I don’t really understand it but I think they believe that we can just build more infrastructure and overcome any issues that scarcity or nature might throw at us.
    It’s certainly a theory, and may be the future of the human race.
    It’s just that it can be difficult to imagine it from where we are now.
    It means a total transformation of the world though. And that people would go in all directions.
    Europeans and people from developed countries would be going to what’s now the third world as well and bringing that up to international standards. Everywhere would become equally developed and you could chose where on the planet you wanted to live.

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