The burning road to Europe

South and East clash over new EU migration plan, with help from 18th century Sweden.

Fault lines between Europe’s southern and eastern member states have been exposed by long-awaited plans from Brussels for a new policy on refugees. Championed by Germany during its stint in the chair of the rotating European Commission presidency, the new approach promises more humane treatment for people and redistribution of the economic costs. Participation would be compulsory for all 27 member states. 

The new framework spans three steps. First, a mandatory five-day border procedure, to improve administration and deter people-traffickers. Second, compulsory refugee quotas for each country, with scope for reluctant governments to swap or trade quotas. Third, incentives for cooperation by the countries which migrants tend to leave: the likely carrots include more accessible visas, promises of development aid and investment for Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. 

Reporting in De Telegraaf, Ruud Mikkers considers the EU’s proposal that every government would indicate in advance how many refugees each country can accommodate. The clause prompted concerns that announcing these figures in advance could create a sucking effect - een aanzuigende werking zal hebben, in effect signalling to migrants how far the EU member states are willing to go - als migranten vooraf weten tot hoever de EU-lidstaten bereid zijn te gaan.

Much of the new draft has been gathering dust for years - ligt al jarenlang stof te vergaren, and at least since the border crisis of 2015. Introducing a standard five-day admissions procedure for refugees at every European border is a real opportunity to make people-smugglers’ business model unattractive - een serieuze kans om het businessmodel van mensensmokkelaars onaantrekkelijk te maken. Refugees would be less willing to pay in advance, posits Mikkers, if they knew they could be sent straight back home on arrival.  

In Trouw, columnist Sylvain Ephimenco saw a chance that sovereignty will prevail over immigrationism within the EU - de overwinning binnen de EU van de soevereiniteit op het immigrationisme. Drafts of the new Asylum and Migration Pact looked restrictive, argued Ephimenco. Eastern states including Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania are against attempts to tinker from outside - zich verzetten als men van buitenaf, with the composition of their populations - aan hun bevolkingssamenstelling wil sleutelen.

Fleeing the flames

In Athens, The Hague and Paris governments are grappling with the weakness of current policies. A devastating fire in Maria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in late September was followed by a suspected arson at another camp in Samos: migrants were detained by police, but their role in the fire is not known. 

Moria will not be re-built. A temporary relocation camp is under construction - and under military protection - against the wishes of local residents. This new facility will accommodate 5,000 migrants, less than half of the 12,000 already in Greece who want permission to leave for elsewhere. Migrants, the Greek government, local residents and the EU all have different preferences, reported Lisa Spit in NOS: De migranten, Griekse regering, lokale bewoners en de Europese Unie willen allemaal iets anders.

Carl Linnaeus, 18th century Swedish naturalist, promoted his famous system of classification for plants and animals by applying it also to humans

Cabinet ministers from Athens traveled to Lesbos to reassure local residents, warning that migrants will be relocated to the new camp by force - dat de migranten desnoods met geweld. While no-one agrees on what to do next, officials wanted to avoid creating the impression that starting fires will be rewarded - al is het maar om te voorkomen dat de indruk ontstaat dat het stichten van brand wordt beloond.

At the height of the 2015 refugee crisis, mainly Syrians came to Lesbos. Today, data from UNHCR (see chart, source: NOS) shows that 76 percent of arrivals are from Afghanistan. After landing in southern Europe, many would prefer to head north. But prospects for Afghan asylum seekers to settle in the Netherlands, for example, are slim. About one in four are granted permission by the Hague. Almost 75 percent of Afghans who apply for asylum are rejected. 

Meanwhile in France, President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to make his case against separatism - tegen het separatisme - in new legislation to be tabled in the National Assembly. In Trouw, Mr Ephimenco claims that the French president’s proposals are everything to do with immigration. He quotes analysis published by Le Figaro newspaper, which reports that 40,000 minors will reach France this year from Africa or the Middle East, at a resettlement cost of some two billion Euros.

Ephimenco lists all the major atrocities of Islamist attacks in France over the last five years: the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, at rock venue Bataclan, in a Jewish supermarket, in suburban Paris and Nice. Every one carried out by people of a Middle Eastern background, he wrote, before adding: Which is not to say incidentally (my emphasis)  that all migrants from the Middle East are separatists or terrorists - wat overigens niet wil zeggen dat alle migranten separatisten of terroristen zijn.

Share 2nd Opinion

Carl Linnaeus: the artful science of colour coding

Interviewed in Trouw about her new book, The Next Great Migration, American science journalist Sonia Shah asserts that keeping as many people as possible in their own countries - zoveel mogelijk mensen in hun eigen land houden - won’t work at all. Arguments against migration are often rooted in the ideas of 18th century Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, whose energetically promoted his famous system of classification devised for plants and animals by applying it also to humans.

To the urgent question of the Netherland’s overcrowded population, D66 offers bold ideas for asylum seekers and child care

In an era of new and burgeoning global trade, the argument made by Linnaeus that population groups are inherently static helped the new colonial overlords to build their case for a natural order. In Argentina or South Africa, for example, explorers understood the world around them by categorising everything they saw (dogs, monkeys, you name it) - konden ze de wereld om zich heen nog begrijpen door alles wat ze zagen – honden, apen, noem maar op – in categorieën onder te verdelen. So too with humankind, by colour: yellow people in Asia, white people in Europe, red people in the Americas.

Ms Shah’s curiosity was piqued in 2015, when she reported from Greece during the refugee crisis. In her first book, she set out to identify the risks to public health of mass migration, expecting to find the elements for a potential pandemic. Which turned out not to be there at all - maar die bleken er helemaal niet te zijn! A second generation migrant whose parents came to the US from India, Shah did not consider herself xenophobic: Ik ben geen xenofoob.

Where, then, did her instinct to look for health hazards come from - Waar kwam die reflex dan vandaan? Shah’s new book argues that we underestimate both the massive scale - de massaliteit van migratie - and the historical precedents for migration by focusing narrowly on negative drivers such as drought, war and climate. The disruptive effects are real, but closing borders rarely works. By the time Chinese authorities closed down Wuhan in an attempt to contain the Covid-19, for example, an estimated seven million people had already left town as a matter of routine, not fleeing the virus but for all the usual reasons.

Our tendency to welcome migrant butterflies while fearing migrant humans ignores larger benefits in nature. When you see the storm coming - als je de storm ziet aankomen, it’s possible also to create escape routes and even encourage people to leave - veilige routes creëren en mensen eventueel aanmoedigen te vertrekken, Shah suggests.  

As it happens, Trouw’s columnist also read the paper’s interview with Shah. Ephimenco finds her optimism unworldly - wereldvreemde. Tell that to our neighbours! He is provoked by home-grown liberals too. Take the latest policy drafts from D66 (where else?). It’s easy to condone a clause on halting new investment in wood-burning power stations. Ditto for another pledge to launch six thousand windmills in the sea, he suggests. But where is the paragraph on limiting population growth - een paragraaf over het beperken van de bevolkingstoename?

This Ephimenco holds to be the root of many problems in the Netherlands - die in druk Nederland aan de basis van vele problemen ligt. But on this question it turns out that the election materials from D66 include a (relatively) bold proposal: the party wants to increase the quota for asylum seekers by a factor of 10. For context, that’s from 500 to 5,000. Far from deterring new arrivals, they’ve promised free child care too.