luis melon

In October 2013, a ship carrying migrants sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean. Some 300 people drowned. European leaders expressed anger and outrage. The Italian government declared a national day of mourning. ‘I hope that this will be the last time we see a tragedy of this kind’, said Jean-Claude Mignon, head of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, ‘and I make a fervent appeal for specific, urgent action by member states to end this shame’. The disaster, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon promised, would be ‘a spur to action’.

In the wake of the tragedy, I wrote that such leaders may well be ‘sincere in their expressions of anger and grief’. And yet, I observed, ‘one cannot but be cynical about all the lamentation. The horror of Lampedusa did not come out of the blue. Much of the responsibility lies with the policies pursued by European nations.’

And I concluded:

The next time there is another tragedy as at Lampudesa – and there will be a next time, and a next time after that – and politicians across Europe express shock and grief and anger, remember this: they could have helped prevent it, and chose not to. That is the real disgrace.

There has indeed been a next time. And a next time after that. In fact, over the past two years Europe has been witness to a constant parade of disasters and tragedies and crises. And after every one, politicians have wrung their hands, and expressed their anger and promised that it will never happen again. And after every one they have refused to do the one thing that might have prevented such a tragedy: liberalize border controls, dismantle ‘Fortress Europe’, open up legal routes for migrants. Instead, they have continued to reinforce Europe as a citadel against immigration, shielded by laws that cut off most legal points of entry, and protected by walls and fences, by sea, air and land patrols, by a high-tech surveillance system of satellites and drones. When a journalist from Germany’s Der Speigel magazine visited the control room of Frontex, the EU’s border agency, he observed that the language used was that of ‘defending Europe against an enemy’.

Germany’s decision on Sunday to reintroduce border controls and temporarily to exit the Schengen group, a week after it opened its doors to all unregistered migrants coming through Hungary and Austria, might suggest that the liberalization of border controls is untenable. Germany’s actions were not, however, a serious policy decision, but more like reflex strikes in a bitter internal struggle within the EU over how to deal with the question of refugees and migrants. Germany’s initial reaction, effectively suspending EU rules encapsulated in the Dublin Convention, was an attempt to assert its moral authority over the issue. Its subsequent decision to reintroduce border controls was again to send a message to other EU nation, to try to force them to come to some agreement about refugee quotas. The German government has taken a far more generous view of asylum seekers than most other EU countries. The willingness of many ordinary Germans (and, indeed, of many ordinary people throughout the EU) to welcome more refugees, and to take to the streets to make their voices heard, has been heartwarming. Nevertheless, there is something objectionable about the German government’s use of migrants as fodder in a political battle within the EU. Germany’s actions tell us little about the consequences of properly organized liberalization of border controls. In any case, those who argue that liberalized controls would mean a ‘flood’ on migrants to Europe forget that the current policy is not preventing people from attempting to reach Europe. It is simply killing them, by the boatload.

It is worth adding that while numbers of refugees coming to Europe are large, they are not ‘unprecedented’ as many claim, either comparatively or historically. The UNHCR estimates that some 400,000 have arrived by sea at Europe’s borders this year, almost double the 2014 total. But that represents less than 0.1 per cent of the EU population. There are already 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon – 20 per cent of the population. There are nearly 2 million refugees in Turkey, and more than 600,000 in Jordan. Compared to elsewhere in the world, refugees are hardly ‘flooding’ into Europe. The poorer countries bear the greatest burden. And even if every single Syrian refugee were to come to the EU, that would represent less than 1 per cent of the continent’s population.

And while there are more refugees than ever before in the world, the numbers coming to Europe are historically not unprecedented. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, a million Belgians fled their country. Britain, alone, played host to a quarter of a million Belgian refugees – and without any great strain. Some three million people fled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. 2.5 million were resettled, mainly in North America and Europe. The USA – with a population smaller than that of the EU – alone took in more than a million. The numbers entering Europe today only seem frightening because we have lost perspective.

graham voyage 2

When the image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy who drowned near Bodrum in Turkey, was flashed around the world, it generated shock and horror. The little boy’s body seemed like so much debris washed up on the beach. Yet that is exactly how the Fortress Europe approach has come to view migrants – not so much as human beings as flotsam and jetsam to be swept away from Europe’s shoreline.

Aylan Kurdi will not have been the first child migrant to have died on Europe’s beaches. Nor will he be the last. Since 1993, it is estimated, some 25,000 people have died trying to cross Europe’s borders. The true figure is probably much higher. There will have been thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, who have perished in silence, their deaths never recorded. But only now have we begun to notice, to talk of a ‘crisis’.

The crisis, however, is not simply one of refugees. It is also a crisis of Europe’s response. Until Europe’s politicians recognize that walls and warships, and the language of war, are not useful responses to the issue of migration, then there will continue to be more crises, more tragedies, more politicians wringing hands. And we will be forced to repeat again, ‘Remember this: they could have helped prevent it, and chose not to.’


A shorter version of the essay appeared as part of a collection of responses to the refugee crisis on 3 Quarks Daily.

The images are, from top down, Luis Melón‘s ‘20,000 Dead Migrants Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar’ and ‘Voyage 2’ by Euan Benjamin Graham.


    • I hardly think that these kinds of opinion polls provide any form of ‘evidence’ about the consequences of liberalized border controls. If you look at the actual facts, you find that open borders rarely lead to ‘floods’ of immigrants, but closing borders often create the very problems that they are meant to solve.

      Until 1991, Spain had an open border with North Africa. Did all of North Africa flood in? No. But once border controls were introduced, the numbers of North Africans in Spain shot up. In 1990, there were 25,000 North Africans in Spain. Two years later, after the introduction of tough border controls, there were 71,000. By 2003 there were over half a million. Why? Because an open border allowed migrant workers to move in and out, come when work was possible (often fruit picking) and leave to go home when it was not. After the introduction of controls, workers had to stay in Spain because were they to leave they would find it difficult to return. People tried to enter in all manner of ways, including the use of flimsy boats, thousands dying in the process. And they often settled, and brought their families with them. It was the introduction of controls, in other words, that created the upsurge of immigration.

      Similarly in the case of America and Mexico. When there was an open border, Mexican labourers came to work, but few settled. Perversely, American efforts to close the border led to a surge in permanent settlement. People rushed to move before controls tightened, then stayed for good. And once the border fence was built, hundreds of thousands tried to enter illegally, and tens of thousands have perished doing so.

      Or take the case of Britain and the Commonwealth. Before 1962, there were no restrictions on the movement to Britain of people from its former colonies. Commonwealth citizens were not subject to immigration control. The numbers coming to Britain were, however, relatively small, and mainly single men. When the government mooted the possibility of immigration controls in the mid-50s, the numbers started rising and families rather than single men started arriving.

      It is, in other words, tight controls, rather than open borders, that often create the problem.

      • El_Mocho

        That may be true as long as the economical situation on both sides of the boarder is about the same. If it is much better on the other side, people start to move to the place where life is better. And everybody who is able to do so, moves. Many millions of people, more than we could ever feed, would come to Europ if the boarders where really open.

      • Chris

        I don’t think it’s credible to claim that it’s the presence of border controls that is principally what drives people to want to cross borders, or that the removal of such controls would lead to a reduction in migration. Border controls are not a cause of migration – they are a response by the authorities to it – and their removal would not stem a migratory surge.

        The relaxed border controls between the US and Canada is not the reason that Canadians don’t flood into the US, but a consequence of them not wishing to do so.

        • I see you’ve neatly avoided the point I was making. I did not suggest that ‘the presence of border controls is principally what drives people to want to cross borders’. Damon suggested that any relaxation of controls would lead to tens of millions of people entering Europe. You also claimed (in your comment below), without a shred of evidence, that liberalization of controls would mean ‘tens, if not hundreds, of millions’ coming in. I was pointing out the actual evidence that shows that where open borders have existed this did not happen. And that where those borders have subsequently closed, much larger numbers come in; it is, in other words, the closing of the borders that often create the problem. If you want to challenge my actual argument, or provide evidence to the contrary in those cases, I am happy to debate.

      • damon

        I’m not entirely convinced.
        But the future of the world is evermore mixing of populations. It will happen more slowly or more quickly, but it will happen. And I don’t care myself either. I won’t be here to see how it develops anyway. It might be really fantastic.
        But I don’t see how open borders could mean anything but greater numbers coming.
        Or the chaos of a constant ”churn” with people coming and going all the time and transience and rootleness becoming even more an issue. Just look at some of the most transient parts of English towns and cities right now. The bedsit-land and the ”firsts ports of call” for new migrants.
        All those houses of multiple occupancy and flats where single young men from North Africa, and west Asia first pitch up. And the parts of town like in Oxford, Telford and Rotherham where the grooming scandals have taken place.
        We can remember back to South Africa in the final days of apartheid and how unhealthy it was to have migrant hostels of Zulus living in areas away from their own region. The hostels were violent and dangerous places. All those single men together with only work to keep them occupied. No families with them. I have seen just a little bit of this in parts of London.
        Arab young men just hanging about with nothing to do. Maybe failed asylum seekers from Algeria or somewhere.
        This is just me looking on the negative side though. It can be much better than that.

  1. Chris

    I don’t see any alternative to the Fortress Europe policy if we’re not to commit cultural suicide. The number of people from Africa and Asia that would like to live in Europe, were they to be made welcome, is vast – at least tens, if not hundreds, of millions (see the reference given by the previous contributor). They would quickly kill the goose that lays the golden eggs that makes Europe attractive to them in the first place. What’s more, few of these people hold the Enlightenment values that westerners generally do – tolerance, free speech, liberal democracy, human rights, women’s rights etc – in fact, very many of them are positively hostile to these ideas.

    It’s impossible, of course, not to feel sympathy for refugees. I do so myself and have contributed modestly to one of the relief funds. I also feel, however, that the situation is too grave to let the heart rule the head. I think these people should be provided with reasonable security, food and shelter close to their places of origin, but should not be given the automatic right to permanently reside in Europe.

    • I often wonder at the self-awareness of those who argue in effect ‘We must defend Enlightenment liberalism and tolerance by being illiberal and intolerant’. Liberalism, tolerance, free speech, etc – these are values, not the property of any continent or people. Some Europeans hold to those values, others do not. Some non-Europeans hold to those values, others do not. Europe, let us not forget, was the continent upon which the Holocaust occurred, the continent whose nations imposed colonial rule across most of the world, often through great barbarism, and whose nations helped launch two World Wars. None of this makes Europeans inherently reactionary or wicked. But neither does it suggest that they have an inherent attachment to Enlightenment values. If you want defend liberalism, tolerance, free speech and human rights – do just that. Defending Fortress Europe does not show much respect for, or understanding of, such values.

      • Chris

        The fact is, that the countries of what we often call The West – Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand – have all developed systems of governance that are broadly based upon Enlightenment values, and the citizens of these countries are broadly familiar with and accepting of these values. This is generally not the case with the countries of Asia and Africa from where the current migration is coming. This is an exacerbating factor in the migratory issue, but it is not the main one, which is the sheer numbers of those wishing to migrate. A migration of tens or hundreds of millions of people would be likely to destabilize Europe regardless of their background.

        • Yes, most ‘Western’ countries are liberal democracies, many non-Western countries are not. It’s worth noting, however, that, even at a formal level, Western liberal democracies only became liberal democracies relatively recently – barely half a century ago black people in large sections of America were denied the vote, women gained the vote in many Western nations less than a century ago.

          Why are so few non-Western countries liberal democracies? A myriad reasons, both internal and external. Internal reasons include corruption, lack of development, and poorly developed social structures that allow the elite to maintain power almost unchallenged. External factors include, among other reasons, Western liberal democracies helping to oust democrats and to back dictators in non-Western countries, from the 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew the democratically-elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh (an action that was eventually to lead, a quarter of a century later, to the Islamic Revolution and the coming to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini), to another CIA-backed coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected President Salvador Allende in 1973, to the current Western support for the deeply reactionary, deeply authoritarian Saudi Royal family, support that includes providing the arms used against demonstrators struggling for a more liberal, more democratic nation. The trouble with many Western liberal democracies is that they often prefer in the non-Western world pro-Western dictators than critical democrats.

          What none of this shows is that those in the West inherently support Enlightenment values or that those from non-Western countries are inherently opposed to them. As for the question of numbers, you again make wild claims without any evidence, an issue that I have already dealt with in a previous response.

        • Noor

          Why are western countries that way? Technology plays an important role, as well as the lack of ongoing war. Afghanistan, despite being primarily Muslim, used to be far more progressive a few decades ago, but once conditions became more primitive, so followed the culture. For example, formal politics and workplaces remain mostly male when women are kept busy and physically not as capable from several pregnancies and childbirth. Again this has to do with lack of birth control, sex ed, and high infant mortality rates in technologically-backwards, war-torn places. Keeping women and children safe is the primary concern in these places, while the men get the ‘right’ to work, i.e. to go out and face all the danger outside, to fulfill their obligation to feed their family.

          The reasons why some places are more traditional and war-torn are complicated, and Western countries have always had a rather large helping hand in sending these places backwards.

      • Sarka

        The parallels you suggest are not specially convincing. The Belgian refugees in WW1 were admitted in a time of total war (PLENTY of employment opportunities) from an immediately (bar channel) neighbouring country, and there was no doubt that most of them would return as soon as the war was over. The seasonal labour thing quite clearly does not apply to the presence stream of migrants/refugees…and as you well know, seasonal labourers have rarely ever been eligible for social security benefits, accommodation etc…in the places they go for a season.
        I agree that it is worth looking at overall actual and potential figures relative to European population, but when doing so you really have to take into account existing immigrant populations in states concerned, and the fact that the present waves do not want to disperse through the EU states but very decidedly want to go to places judged richer, more immigrant-friendly, but also without obscure language to learn, and where there are already large numbers of immigrants of their ethnicity/religion etc. sometimes including friends or family…(a snowball effect BTW). This is what renders allocation schemes (except as between the most favoured target countries) in the EU completely impractical…It involves not just forcing states to take migrants/refugees when they are reluctant to do so, but forcing states to take migrants/refugees who do not want to settle in them and will in the overwhelming majority of cases leave them as soon as they can. So all of this means huge concentrations in a relatively limited number of states and centres within the states, with consequent political, social and economic risks that are simply ignored if you just look at overall percentages of EU population.

        Any intelligent liberal knows that the question of when and to what extent a liberal society needs to take some measures of an illiberal kind in order to protect its very nature as a liberal society is a very important one. It is always presenting liberals with challenges and dilemmas – in principle and in terms of judgment of actual scale of threats to liberalism in any particular case – and it is inane to take the view that it is not a real question and the answer to it is always a simple – no, no illiberal measures must ever be contemplated…

  2. Chris

    It’s hard to know what you would accept as evidence for the numbers that might migrate. You reject the Gallup poll surveys that Damon gave and we can’t run scientifically controlled trials. The best we can do is speculate and predict. I suggested the numbers would be of the order of tens to hundreds of millions and this is consistent with the Gallup poll figures, and also seems plausible when you eye-ball the current flow and the instability in the migrants’ countries of origin. As you don’t accept this though, I’d like to ask you what figure you’d put it at and how you’d support your prediction.

    With regard to the examples you give of the closing of borders being followed by larger numbers of migrants (Spain/North Africa, US/Mexico, Britain/Commonwealth), isn’t it likely that governments acted in response to increased flows, and maybe not speedily enough. After all, governments don’t usually act without being pressured, and, other things being equal, everyone likes relaxed, free-flowing borders. There’s no pressure on the US government to tighten the controls over its Canadian border.

    I won’t try to defend all the Western foreign policy debacles. There have been many blunders, especially during the Cold War. With regard to Saudi Arabia though, it seems to me the royal family are less reactionary than the country at large, especially the Ulema, whose support of the royals is conditional upon them using their wealth to export Wahabism. The late king Abdullah seemed almost liberal compared to the country he ruled.

    • steve roberts

      Any reasoned understanding of enlightenment principles you wish to see defended in the west would see that those very ideals are at present under present attack from within it’s borders by sections of the elite’s particularly, and not from without.
      The Gallup Poll is effectively extrapolated nonsense, certainly not sufficient evidence to warrant forming a debate around and most definetly not one that ought to be cited as evidence as you are.You admit then you are speculating and predicting (based on what) but further ,then expect Kenan to indulge in the same as his “defence”.
      What you are really doing is what all the elites of advanced societies have done for many years and that is actually avoid the real questions that ought to be openly debated in society regarding immigration .Some examples.
      Considering that for the vast majority of people without the ability to work there is a very limited future should all people have to right to freely move between borders seeking work, a principle that appears completely open to capital in all it’s forms?
      Are the cultural and moral norms and values of the advanced societies not of sufficient substance that they cannot cope with an influx of counter values ?
      What are those values we should defend ?
      Do the indigenous populations have a genuine dislike and fear of migrants or is something else going on here ?
      Why do we accept the present constraints of economic activity and the homes, infrastructure, food and other goods and services rather than a more possible and positive expansionary society that could provide for all ?
      Is it morally right that as humans where we are born rather than what we are prepared to achieve -for want of a better phrase “by luck of birth over which we have no control ” – determine our entire lives no matter how much we desire to work and contribute ?
      Of course there is much more too.

    • Chris, you write

      It’s hard to know what you would accept as evidence for the numbers that might migrate.

      It would be good to have any evidence at all. You’ve made vast claims (‘tens of millions will move to Europe’) but the closest you’ve come to providing any form of backing for such claims is an opinion poll about what people might like to do. It’s meaningless as evidence. If a pollster asked me whether I’d like to live in the south of France, I’d undoubtedly say ‘Yes’. That does not mean that I will actually live in the south of France (though, given EU freedom of movement, I have the legal right to). You say ‘the best we can do is speculate and predict’. Speculation, I’m afraid, is the opposite of prediction based on evidence; it’s telling that you seem to think that the two are the same.

      I provided evidence of what actually happens when there are open borders. ‘Isn’t it likely that governments acted in response to increased flows, and maybe not speedily enough?’, you ask. No it isn’t. And you would have realized that had you bothered to look at the evidence (the census data, some of which I linked to, the debates at the time, etc), rather than speculating.

      In Saudi Arabia, it ‘seems’ to you that ‘the royal family are less reactionary than the country at large, especially the Ulema’. Since when was the Ulema comparable to the ‘country at large’? As it happens, even given the ferocious degree of repression inside the kingdom, there were ‘Arab Spring’ protests for democracy, especially in 2011-12, and especially in the
      Eastern Province
      . In neighbouring Bahrain, there was an uprising in 2011 in support of freedom and democracy. The Bahrainis turned to the Saudis for help. The Saudis sent in the tanks and crushed the revolt with utmost ferocity. And yet Bahrainis still continue to protest. These are the people whom you ‘imagine’ are reactionaries and ‘don’t understand Enlightenment values’. They certainly seem to understand those values better than you do, and many not only understand those values but have been willing to give their lives to wrest freedoms from their Western-backed rulers.

      • Chris


        That higher levels of immigration are caused by border controls rather than occurring despite them is such a counter-intuitive idea that I’d need much more evidence than you’ve provided before I could believe it. In the case of Spain/North Africa, we simply don’t know what level of immigration there would have been if the controls hadn’t been introduced. The fact that one event follows another, of course, does not imply causation.

        Yes, I grant that the Gallup poll is pretty crude, but it may not be entirely useless in putting the problem into some sort of proportion. Much, of course, depends upon exactly what question was asked and that I don’t know.

        The relevant question is: if Europe’s borders remain open, will the likely level of immigration over the next few years be sufficient to destabilize the continent and destroy its culture. I can’t answer this with certainty, but, imperfect though my information is, I think that the answer is so far from an outright ‘no’ that I would vote to close the border. As I said previously, I also think that those who are genuine refugees should be provided with reasonable security, food and shelter, close to their place of origin, so far as it’s within our power to do this.

        With regard to Saudi Arabia, I don’t know much about the region. But I do know that the Eastern Province is a Shia area, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they don’t like the al Sauds. But is it a liberal democracy they want or a Shia theocracy like Iran’s? And yes, of course, the Ulema are not the people, but they have enormous prestige amongst the people. If the grand mufti denounced the royal family they’d probably be in big trouble.

        • I’d need much more evidence than you’ve provided before I could believe it.

          As I’ve said before, any evidence on your part would be welcome. It’s clear I’m not going to change your mind. You seem insistent on giving greater priority to your prejudices (so much so that in your imagination a popular challenge to the Saudi regime is likely to be for the creation of another theocracy) over any facts that I might provide, so I cannot see much point in continuing this thread.

  3. El_Mocho

    I don´t see anbody seriously considering going back to Afghanistan oder Nigeria once he has installed himself in Europe.
    Maybe to bring his family, but even that is possible without goingt back in many cases.

  4. Fi

    Dear Kenan,

    When you talking of liberalizing borders, I take it you are not talking of this as an advocate of open borders?

    The only people who really hold the free movment of people as a universal right to my mind are right wing libertarians who wouldn’t recognise a social contract if it hit them between the eyes. Even a lot of them are presently trying to get out of seeing that their principles might lead to an abolition of the US Mexican border controls.

    I think what a lot of people who say they are free movement advocates really want is a kind of affirmative action in terms of who is allowed to move to where. There may be something to be said for this. . But what interests me is that once we accept this is a kind of affirmative action it is no longer an absolute and universali right, but merely a tool to a greater right. and suhject to rigorous and impartial testing to see if it will actually work. . So when open border advocates who are not right wing libertarians, and who would never dream of trampling over he sovereignty of poor peoples, accuse restrictionists of being immoral by virtue of the fact that they want to deprive people of the exercise of a basic human right. they are wrong to do this. Restrictionists, like limited open border advocates, often just want to make the world fairer too, but just disagree on the nuts and bolts of how to do it.

    Some Europeans are very frightened, not of helping refugees or people who are economic migrants even in in their millions, but of the idea that their right of consent is to be taken from them. They are not idiots. They can work out the implications of the likes of Clemens thinking and they think that it is unfair. . The actual numbers that do come is irrelevant here, as it is the principle that matters. Loss of control is never welcome. It is difficult to argue people into behaving fairly in other ways, like working towards global systems of economic equity, if you threaten their autonomy in this way. We know that the far right, for all the wrong reasons will never allow open borders, but the false moralising of the open border advocates polarises people as much as the far right do, and we end up in a cycle of never doing what we should and seriously addressing the causes of global economic inequalities .

    Allowing people live and die trapped in conditions of degrading and preventable poverty while we are affluent is immoral.

    Giving up on trying to improve control of our actions as fully moral beings signed up to interlinked local and global social contracts and instead signing up to the silver bullet of a type of pure capitalism (like pure socialism when it goes wrong, it was never pure enough) is also wrong.

    Trickle down and deregulation does not work . Mixed economies with strong civic sructures and regulation does. Slavoj Zizek in his great piece ‘There is No Norway’ may be right about that – but Sweden and Germany are really damn close. Many Syrians seem to think so.

    My instinct as a green and someone. e who does not want a productive but ultimately fragile global system, is to move towards a type of world where enough global governance and co-operation exists to get the things done we need to and to make a more level playing field. This system needs to be a very strong one where failure of a part will not lead to a catastrophic failure of the whole. The idea of civic structures that exist in parallel to global finance and act as a barrier to capitals tendency to, if left uncontrolled, weaken diversity of local skills. structure and assets is vital. If we allow that these parallel and sub-global structures are important then we must not trample over their social contracts and take away the notion of their consent. This is vital. The movement of free poeple welcomed by free people is what we should aim for,

    • The movement of free people welcomed by free people is what we should aim for

      I agree. But arguing for liberalized controls, or even for open borders, is not necessarily to argue against sovereignty. After all, few people would suggest that the free movement of capital is necessarily a violation of sovereignty, or that the only way of asserting sovereignty is by imposing controls on capital. There is a difference between saying ‘A nation should have control over its borders’ and saying ‘Therefore there must be restrictions on the movement of capital and people’.

      I agree with you that the question of what happens to controls should be taken democratically. It should not be imposed by fiat. But that does not mean that I have to argue the position that most people would take. There are very few issues on which I do.

      You are right, too, that many people feel ‘a loss of control’ and a sense of being politically voiceless, and that for many immigration is an expression of such loss and voicelessness. I have written many times about this. But I have also pointed out that immigration is not responsible for that loss of control or for people being rendered politically voiceless. Rather it is the means through which people experience that loss or voicelessness. And because immigration is not the cause, however tight controls become it would not restore to people a sense that they have control or a voice. So, yes we need desperately to tackle the democratic deficit and the erosion of sovereignty. But that does not require us to argue for tighter immigration controls.

  5. Chris


    I’ve conceded that the Gallup poll doesn’t constitute good evidence for the numbers who might migrate. Nevertheless, we might be able to infer something from them, if only that we’re not dealing with very small numbers.

    I’ve also tried to explain why your example of border controls between Spain and North Africa doesn’t constitute evidence either. Without examples that can act as controls the fact that one thing follows another doesn’t imply causality.

    So, neither of us has good evidence – there isn’t any in this instance – and we are left just with our intuitions, hunches or what we consider common sense. To call these prejudices is just to give them a pejorative spin. I’d agree that they are indistinguishable from prejudices, but calling them so cuts both ways. I agree that we’ve probably exhausted this debate, so I’ll wrap up. It’s your blog, so the last word is yours if you want it. I’m sorry I didn’t manage to change your mind, but thanks for engaging.

    The Saudi Arabia matter is a side issue. If you tell me that the rebels in the Eastern province are seeking a liberal democracy and not a Shia theocracy, I’ll take your word for it.

  6. Hello Kenan,

    Apologies for the late comment — but your excellent essay has helped me put my finger on what makes me so uncomfortable with both sides. Your insight on back migration, a solid part of demographic theory, is key. Of course strengthening border controls will hamper back migration. When the migration stream is predominantly people looking for work to send money back to a cash-starved family, the new border controls will strangle the substantial back migration and have the paradoxical property of increasing the amount of permanent migration.

    But that just leads to the realization that there are different sorts of migration streams. Both you and Chris treat “migration” as a single (perhaps even monolithic) phenomenon, but it’s not. In particular you both talk about worker migrations and refugee migrations as very similar, if not the same. But the migrating workers are mainly looking to send cash home while building up a marriage chest, while the refugees are fleeing for their lives. How the differences work out I hesitate to guess, but there will be differences, and large ones.


    Oh what the heck, I’ll guess anyway. Europe has two separate refugee streams (my guess goes), one from Syria via Egypt and Lebanon, and the other from Africa via Libya. The Syrian one is purely political in origin. It’s not really a “migrant crisis”, it’s a stability, crime, and murder crisis. Create a stable, non-criminal rule in Syria and northeast Iraq and watch for the back migration. But that calls for a military solution, and let’s’ be clear, we are talking about neo-Colonialism here (as in John Brunner’s “Stand on Zanzibar”). Europe is too economically stretched and wracked with guilt over its paleo-Colonialism to do such a thing, but evidently Russia isn’t.

    As for the Libya stream, it’s not so much Libyans fleeing as Sub-Saharan Africans taking advantage of Libya’s chaos. It makes no difference, however, whether the refugees are “political” and fleeing armed killers or “economic” and fleeing endemic drought — as if these can be disentangled. The solution to refugees fleeing for their lives is to end the threats on their lives, not to argue about border controls. And try to imaging an EU border control capable of frightening off people who have experienced ISIS or the child armies of Africa!

  7. The only alternative to Fortress Europe is the effective abolition of Europe, by replacing it with something else, presumable Eurabia, in practice.

    While resentful intellectuals with their roots in other parts of the world (and eager to be revenged for their countries’ humiliation back in the imperial days) will welcome Europe’s disappearance, others of us won’t. Should we ?

    Inevitably, the collapse of Europe will lead to the collapse of European living-standards; and affluent writers like KM are hardly in a position to sermonise about this.

    They may perhaps imagine that when Europe (and the West generally) go under, they’ll be comfortably able to make a good living elsewhere – but they won’t. And supposing they will, merely reveals them to be as much fantasists as all the European upper-middle people eager to welcome “the poor, dear refugees” (but not the homeless people just down the road).

  8. There are no useful responses to mass-migration.

    KM should stop pretending that there are.

    He should also stop pretending that – now that God is Dead – there are still moral imperatives.

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