How many immigrants can Europe accommodate?

September 24, 2015 9:47 AM (UTC+8)

 

Europe is now facing a prospect similar to what the US has been facing for decades: the march of millions upon its borders.  But whereas the US got millions of immigrants fleeing Mexico for a better life, the potential millions moving on Europe come from failing states from around the world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya – and through the latter, from Nigeria, Eritrea and other.

Italian navy rescues asylum seekers traveling by boat off the coast of Africa on the Mediterranean, June 7, 2014.
Italian navy rescues asylum seekers traveling by boat off the coast of Africa on the Mediterranean, June 7, 2014.

None of these failing states, nor many others in Asia, Africa, the Middle East adjusted  to the doubling or more of their population since the 1960s, the world’s population growing from roughly 3 to 7 billion over these five decades.  The countries stayed with atavistic institutions fitting — at best — a world of far smaller, mainly immobile populations.  Instead of adjusting their institutions – political, legal and financial – these countries induced their young and restless to move to the US and to Europe.  Having this outlet diminished domestic pressures for political reforms not only by getting rid of their young and restless – after all, it is the younger, not the older who climb barricades — but also by getting remittances from their fleeing youth to the US and Europe.

Segments of the West and the US were content to get this influx be it for political reasons, or employing the migrants in domestic industries, as result of which Western governments put less — or no — pressure on the mismanaged, utterly corrupt, lawless countries.

This unstable arrangement worked for a while, when Western societies still held onto the principles of the main role of the state being protecting its borders and enforcing laws, immigration laws in particular.  It also worked because there were no massive wars along its borders — such as there have been raging for few years by now in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  With failing states and porous, unprotected borders and with the discrepancies between even a 2008-crisis affected West but falling far behind other countries increasing, it is not surprising that the young male population in the war- and poverty-ravaged corrupt countries decided to march on Western Europe.  (Though obviously statistics are lacking, the many photos of the migrants clearly show a vast majority of young males, with sprinkles of women and children).

How many refugees can Western Europe accommodate? Or Canada, or Australia — two relatively empty countries– accommodate?

Contrary to much discussion, it is not simply a matter of numbers.  Exceptions disprove rules, so what’s new? Again — Israel is that exception.  Between 1989 and 1995, Israel accommodated on its roughly 4 million population one million Russian immigrants — a 25% percent addition to its population.   Israel was not then a rich country, it was fighting wars, had an extensive welfare system offering significant help to immigrants.  Israel was quickly transformed into Silicon Valley East by abandoning its atavistic socialist past, and going through major de-regulatory, privatization and fiscal restructuring.  Also, a third of the one million were scientists, engineers and technicians — and, well, they were Jewish, with very few exceptions.

So numbers are not the issue: the issues are what relatively few politicians want to raise: namely that the vast majority of the millions of migrants marching — and intending to — toward Western Europe, are neither particularly skilled, nor do they share Western culture and principles.   Could Canada, with its 35 million population in a virtually empty country (almost all the 35 million are located with about an hour of the US border, in few isolated pockets) accept – 8.5 million young men – 25% addition to the population (as Israel did) – from Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America – relatively unskilled, and some perhaps not willing to assimilate, but to impose their own laws, customs and traditions?  Canada being a democracy, an 8.5 million influx of mainly voting age migrants could achieve in no time.   Briefly: the West cannot emulate what Israel did, and it is not a simple matter of numbers.

What are then the solutions?  The lasting, relatively stable solution would be for both the West and the US, Canada and Australia (perhaps Japan too – though few migrants appear to be heading to that xenophobic country where Koreans migrants from centuries ago are still held apart) to put far more intense pressures on all the now almost failing states (the ones already failed, that’s a different problem) to change so as to give far greater opportunities to their own people within their borders.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration and Western Europe have been doing just the opposite the last few years: Diminishing the pressures on these states, Iran being one example, Syrian lack of enforcement of promised “red line” – another.

At the same time, both Europe and the US have to spend more on their military and enforcing their borders, laws, immigration laws in particular, at the same time adjusting their domestic policies along the lines Israel did, so as to more easily accommodate the already resident refugees and migrants.

Perhaps to get the political guts to do, they should read Jean Raspail’s Camp of Saints published in 1973.   People thought at the time that it was a racist science fiction, and PBS at the time refused to show a BBC movie (“The March”) drawing on it.   The story is roughly this: The Belgian government announces a plan to bring thousands of Indian babies to Belgium.  When India’s poor parents trampled over the consulate, Belgium changes its policy (eerie reminders of the German accidental tweet that apparently started the march on Germany, and the present policy reversals, closing borders).

An Indian “activist” organizes then a mass exodus toward Europe, where they get to the French Riviera, whose population flees as a large fleet of migrants approaches the coast.  The migrants all want the Western goodies, but do not want to hear about assimilation into Western culture.  Eventually the migrants cross seas and oceans, with the future king of England forced into marrying a Pakistani woman, and the mayor of NYC forced to share Gracie Mansion with a number of families.   Oh, and Mr. Putin would perhaps like this: only a Rambo-like Russian soldier tries to protect the march from China.  But he is depicted being drunk.

Only Switzerland stands up, but the international community labels it a “rogue state” for protecting its borders.   The book appears too close for comfort.

Today, the West appears to have forgotten that military may be required to enforce borders and that with competing military within its presumed borders you cannot have a “state.”  They advocate Palestinian one and Iraqi one – never mind that there are competing military in the former, and in the latter, Kurds have already their own military, protecting their officially unrecognized borders.  Meanwhile, Israel, protecting its borders with military and walls – often gets the “rogue state” label.   With walls being erected on the Mexican border, others on the Hungarian, Austrian ones – perhaps soon the above definition of a “rogue state” will acquire a positive connotation, and Israel will have company.

Reuven Brenner holds the Repap Chair at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management.  The article draws on his Force of Finance and Unsettled Civilizations.

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