Monday, 27 April 2015

Europe's Boat People

The Economist’s cover story this week is titled “Europe’s Boat People: A Moral and Political Disgrace”. The Economist thinks, as do I, it is awful that several hundred refugees from war-torn Arab countries have drowned in the Mediterranean this year. The Economist thinks, as I do not, that those refugees and all who follow should be welcomed with open arms, and that the 500 million rich people in Europe can easily afford to feed and house them for as long as it takes their homelands to become safe again. The Economist points out that no matter where you are, the boat people won’t stop coming, and the most hostile policy towards keeping them off a country’s shore, which is Australia’s, costs £2bn a year.

Actually, the most hostile policy costs a lot less. That would be sinking the boats and leaving the refugees to drown. But nobody is going to do that.

Under Article 14 of the UN UDHR, "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution… [but] this right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.”

It’s hard to see how I have a right to seek and enjoy in another country asylum from persecution, unless at least one other country is under an obligation to provide me with asylum. Article 14 is unique in the Declaration: all the others lay obligations on the State in which the citizen is currently residing. Article 14 lays obligations on States towards people who are not citizens of those States, and have never paid taxes nor made contributions to the economy, culture or society of those States. It’s not actually clear that, in this world, Article 14 would make it out of the starting gate.

Article 14 talks about “persecution”, and the in the context of the Declaration that persecutor must be a State. Not another tribe, ganglord, drug dealer, preacher, village, evil relative or neighbour. So States are not obliged by Article 14 to take in people fleeing from tribal warfare, or religious warfare, unless one side has the backing of the State. Nor are States obliged to take in people whose lives are being made awful by overt gang lords or covert gangsters dressed in religious ideology. Most of the violence that people are fleeing is perpetrated by gangs-by-other-names, most of which are funded by blackmail, extortion, drug-running and supply, theft of oil, diamonds and other resources, and mis-appropriation of Western aid money. This is no different - one circumstance excepted - from the medieval times in Europe when Swiss mercenaries would prosecute what were actually economic wars for miscellaneous princes (of all ranks).

What the victims of such violence are supposed to do is fight back. That’s what they did in the medieval times, when the Swiss mercenaries had swords and daggers, and the peasants had pitchforks. Today the bad guys have Kalashnikovs and the good guys still have pitchforks. Nobody is going to stay and fight when they will be slaughtered from twenty yards away. I don’t have an answer for that, but I am pretty sure that letting every good guy into the banliues isn’t the answer.

Governments have a duty to protect the borders of their countries and the interests of their current citizens. This precedes all the other duties. Western governments must therefore ask if it is in the interests of their current citizens that a steady stream of refugees should take up residence in their countries. This is why The Economist talked about "500 million wealthy europeans”, so as to make it seem like a minor inconvenience. But in fact, there may be 500 million Europeans, only about 150 million of them work, and many of the younger ones work for salaries which make it impossible for them to afford a roof of their own over their heads, at least in the UK. These “wealthy” people are living in economies with huge current-account deficits, and national debts so large that were interest rates ever to rise to 5% again, their Governments would have severe problems paying their interest charges. The simple truth is that Europe cannot afford to train and employ all of those current citizens who want or are capable of working. Most European countries now have large underclasses of people who do not speak the native language and belong to cultures which do not encourage education even for the men. Bluntly, Europe is full, and has been for a long time. Governments who let in more refugees who will be sheltered and fed from already-overstretched taxes are simply failing in their prime duty.

Why does The Economist takes the view that it does? I’m guessing it’s pretty much moral posturing. Or youthful idealism. Or white middle-class self-hate. Or all of the above and more. Such posturing prevents a serious discussion of what the West needs to do, and focussing on the few who are prepared to break laws and pay gangsters to put them on unsafe boats, simply distracts us from the real issue, which is what the “international community” does to stop the current round of tribal and gang wars, and then police those countries to prevent more. If indeed, in a world where ten-year old boys take up Kalashnikovs, such policing would be even possible.

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