The latest data on the socio-economic factors behind international migration confirms one key fact: Western Europe’s asylum-seeking numbers have plummeted — across the board. The European Union’s estimate that fewer than 4 percent of asylum seekers entering the EU last year were EU citizens was correct, as confirmed in the latest data released last week by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
This reduction is a stark reminder of how enormous and sustained the pressure placed on European immigration policy is likely to be in the coming years. It also illustrates the futility of Brussels’ reliance on a strategy of closing borders and hope for the best.
The debate over immigration in Europe has been on an upswing in recent years. Many, in fact, now feel this debate is overblown and irrelevant, that it distracts us from longer-term strategic issues facing Europe. The debate about migration is an all-too-familiar refrain in European politics, largely a throwback to Margaret Thatcher’s saying, “There is no such thing as society” — a post-Cold War relic from her time as chancellor and prime minister.
What we should be focusing on, as a nation of immigrants and a global civilization with a young citizenry, is strengthening the fabric of our community.
As the aforementioned data make clear, we should be doing this right now by welcoming refugees into our country and into our shores. Uncontrolled immigration and backdoor processing of refugees, no matter how highly regarded they may be by Europe’s governing elites, are leading to a fall in domestic economic growth, increasing poverty and exposing European countries to economic collapse in the coming years.
The refugee crisis also created a competitive advantage for Russia by undermining the security and geopolitical interests of both the Western Alliance and the international community in general. As the European Union grapples with economic stagnation, chronic unemployment and low growth of about 1 percent, its fear of ISIS terrorism is being fanned by its inner and outer circles and triggered migration policy on a scale few ever imagined.
This is creating a very real human cost of Europe’s faltering economic and political policies. According to the latest data, the number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe has been decreasing for several years now. More recent data show the same trend continuing, and the 4.8 percent figure reflects the decrease of 3.4 percent in 2017 and 1.5 percent decrease in 2016.
The refugee crisis was a short-term panic move that gave reason for some voters to reject Europe’s shared values. We should be focusing on strengthening the fabric of our community, rather than merely on fighting it. The fear of refugees has already caused friction between Eastern and Western Europe, and the EU’s internal divisions on refugees have no doubt encouraged more Russian influence in the EU.
The refugee crisis created much hand-wringing among people at the top of Europe’s governments, but it was mostly useful to spur populist anti-immigrant candidates, like France’s Marine Le Pen and the UK’s Nigel Farage, who benefitted from this intervention to play on people’s fears. Anti-immigration rhetoric has been a fundamental feature of Western democratic discourse since French writer Charles de Gaulle brought it back to the table in the 1950s.
The problem is that such pandemic politics is ultimately an expectations game. People who are widely perceived as being vulnerable in a very real sense get stuck with their easily inflamed fears at the expense of people who are better off financially, otherwise. How can we answer them, and collectively, yet still get a handle on growing internal migration rates and building European unity and resilience?
Europe’s immigration policy failures are not surprising. What we should be focusing on, as a nation of immigrants and a global civilization with a young citizenry, is strengthening the fabric of our community.
Mark Lacy is professor of criminology and criminal justice and CEO of The Center for Security Studies.