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Migrant camp on the outskirts of Athens, Greece. Photo credit: Julie Ricard

Illegal migration chaos of 2015 could repeat itself

The Swedish politician Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, visited a migrant camp under construction on the Greek island of Lesbos recently. The facility is set to replace the warehouse, which was completely destroyed in a fire in September last year. It was set on fire by migrants who wanted to force their transfer to mainland Greece.

Published: April 5, 2021, 10:17 am

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    Two of the perpetrators, each aged 17, both rejected asylum seekers from Afghanistan, were recently sentenced to five years in prison. Four other accused are still on trial. Around 6 500 migrants are currently living temporarily in tents on Lesbos.

    Johansson, who belongs to the Workers’ Party in her home country Sweden, confirmed to the press that new “refugee” centres are to be built on five Aegean islands. The European Union is providing funds totalling 270 million euros for the project. At the same time, Johansson called on the member states to show solidarity on the migrant issue. “We have to ‘Europeanise’ the migration problem, support each other and not leave any member state or island alone. And I also have to say that I can understand that all patience has an end somewhere and I understand that this end is near,” said Johansson.

    However, she did not mean the Central European countries and above all Germany, which has accepted up to 60 percent of asylum seekers in EU Europe in recent years, but the Mediterranean countries, who under current European law, have to check the asylum applications that foreign nationals submit. At least that’s what it says on paper. In fact, in the past, many asylum seekers were simply waved through to Central Europe without registration by the authorities. Only after the closure of the Balkan route and the entry into force of the EU-Turkey Agreement in 2016 did the influx of migrants from south-east Europe slow down.

    During her visit, Johansson was met by hundreds of angry local residents, holding up banners proclaiming, “no to structures on the island” and chanting: “Neither in Lesbos, nor anywhere, we will not turn Greek islands into prisons.”

    Two weeks ago, the interior ministers of five EU Mediterranean countries had issued a joint declaration calling for the burden of irregular mass migration to Europe to be distributed more fairly. Cooperation with the most important countries of origin of the alleged asylum seekers in Africa and the Middle East should be improved. At the same time, other EU member states must now show more willingness to take newly arriving “refugees” from the Mediterranean states not at war. The ministers also advocated a centralized return mechanism at EU level in order to be able to deport rejected asylum seekers to their homes more quickly.

    The question arises as to what the Europeanization of migration policy called for by Johansson and the southern European governments will look like in the end. The EU has been practicing intensified cooperation with the countries of origin in order to combat the much-cited “causes of flight” for years. This policy, which above all includes more financial support to promote economic development in the recipient countries, was supposed to produce long-term success. Due to the consequences of the Corona pandemic, which also and especially hit underdeveloped countries in Africa and the Middle East, these efforts have however suffered a setback.

    The large-scale repatriation of rejected asylum seekers, centrally coordinated by the European Union, would certainly be the most sensible way to reduce the migratory pressure on Europe. The consistent deportation of foreigners who have no grounds for asylum but who have come to the EU for economic reasons, would deter many willing immigrants from even embarking on the dangerous journey. But it is unlikely that this will actually happen, especially since Johansson, as the EU Commissioner in charge, does not seem to be motivated to send illegal immigrants home in large numbers.

    The left-wing politician also emphasized that no pressure would be put on countries of origin that refuse to take back their citizens who have been expelled from the EU, because they are interested in good relations with these countries.

    But a sensible migration policy will not work without political pressure, including economic sanctions and the cancellation of aid funds. Countries benefit considerably from the emigration of their country’s citizens to Europe, especially through remittances from their citizens living abroad to family members who have stayed behind, which in total are significantly higher than the development aid paid by the EU. For this reason alone, the governments of the countries of origin have little interest in readmission agreements with Brussels, which are also extremely unpopular among their own people. With a more generous granting of visas and more economic development alone, which Johansson wants, any solution is still-born. The EU Commissioner should know that.

    That leaves only the third component of the required “Europeanization of the migration problem” which is the “fair” distribution of foreigners who have illegally entered the EU among the member states.

    It is precisely this “solution” that Brussels has been promoting for years. Therefore, according to the last “reform plans” of the Eurocrats, which were presented in autumn last year, the individual states should only be forced against their will to take in migrants in exceptional situations like the refugee crisis of 2015.

    This is called “compulsory solidarity” in the official EU language. But this concept also met with little approval and has therefore been shelved in the bottom drawer for the time being. Thus, the principle of voluntariness remains for the time being, which means that “model countries” like Germany or Sweden will continue to accept most of the migrants who come to Europe, regardless of whether they are in need of protection or not. And almost all of them will stay permanently, because rejected asylum seekers are almost never deported, especially not if those affected come from Africa or countries in the Middle East. Last year the German authorities only returned 7 847 people to their home countries, 63 percent less than in 2016.

    If the left parties and their “civil society” front-line organizations had their way, Germany would take on many more migrants from Greece and other Mediterranean countries, as well as from Balkan states, where thousands of illegal immigrants are stranded on their way to Central Europe.

    When the German Greens become the strongest force in the federal elections in autumn, which is almost a certainty in view of the continuing weakness of the Union parties in the polls, then Germany would have to prepare for a new wave of illegal migrants, similar to the rush seen at the US-Mexican border at the invitation of Joe Biden.

    There are already increasing signs that Europe could face a new migrant crisis. Greek communities, which are located in the border area of the neighbouring northern Macedonia, have reported recently intensified activities of smugglers and migrants on the so-called “Balkan route”. In addition to Syrians, it is above all Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and North Africans who are trying to get to Central Europe in this way. Most of them have economic motives, because they want to escape the economic misery in their home countries, which was exacerbated by the Corona pandemic.

    Germany is thus facing a precarious situation with the prospect of a Green party victory, since the migration chaos of 2015 could easily repeat itself.

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