France announced bold plans for the illegal immigration problem. Perhaps they’re trying to take on the mantle that Germany quietly shrugged off. The problem has affected Malta for more than a decade now; is it going to get any better?
I – The situation in France
France has a large illegal immigration problem. The Economist reported earlier this year that 100 000 people applied for asylum in France in 2017. That’s a year-on-year increase of 17%. It used to be that illegal migrants headed for Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom. France was just a transit point to cross through whilst heading elsewhere. This has changed.
France experienced a year-on-year increase in migrants of 17%.
When campaigning, Mr Macron spoke about open borders and ‘a humane response to asylum-seeking.’ As president, Mr Macron states France “cannot welcome everybody.”
The thing is we’ve seen many of these sort of articles before. Illegal immigration, or how to handle it, is a key feature of every election campaign held in Europe over the past 20 years. When I read the Economist article, my first reaction was, ‘So what? All Mediterranean countries have an illegal immigration problem.’
Why should France be any different?
II – Illegal immigration
But it’s not just a matter of being different. The Times of London reported late last year on Mr Macron’s speech to students in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. He promised to support a new international drive to take migrants stranded and enslaved in Libya home.
“I will propose that Africa and Europe come to the rescue of the people trapped in Libya by bringing massive support to the evacuation of people in danger,” he said.
We remember the shocking scenes of slavery in Libya exposed by The Times, CNN and others. Traffickers were selling youths – selling – for as little as USD 400 (EUR 322). These are the people Mr Macron wants to help.
But this is part of an effort to improve France’s standing in Africa, especially with its former colonies. I can’t help but wonder if this is geo-political posturing. It sounds like Mr Macron wants to be the first name people think of when they play word association games with ‘immigration’.
III – Law of unintended consequences
To be clear, this is not a bad thing. I wish Mr Macron well.
But I do think the law of unintended consequences will kick in again, just as it did with previous attempts to handle the crisis. If France supports evacuating people from Libya, traffickers will still have a good reason to put people in Libya.
And that is not the problem we need to solve here.
The real problem is that people are coming to Europe illegally
The real problem is not that people want to come to Europe. People have always wanted to come to Europe and they always will. Maybe it is because they hear stories of how good life is here. Or maybe things are bad in their country. That wish to better oneself is part of the human condition and will never change.
The real problem is that people are coming to Europe illegally. I cannot stress that word enough because it encapsulates all that is wrong with the situation. That simple word – illegally – means:
- Someone saved enough money (about USD 10 000; or EUR 8 000) to pay a trafficker to take him to a Mediterranean port. Libya is the port du jour but it will change as it has in the past. (Remember all those people crossing from Turkey into Greece?)
- That person then found ways to get more money to pay a people trafficker to take him across the Mediterranean. According to a report in Time magazine, this is a further USD 1 000 (Approximately EUR 800). Where did someone who has already spent his life savings get more money? Family members, ransom notes, slavery, prostitution, jihad, criminality – take your pick.
- The people trafficker trousers a hefty sum of money to put these desperate people in a rickety boat and push them into the water. The traffickers don’t care if these people die, or even manage to make it to Europe or not. They’ve already got their money.
Why don’t we go after the people traffickers in the first place?
As long as people traffickers can make money out of the situation, they will take advantage of desperate people. Why don’t we go after these people traffickers in the first place?
IV – Proposed solution
Mediterranean countries haven’t fallen over themselves to target these people trafficking rings. Maybe it is difficult to track these criminals in places like Libya. I don’t know how easy it is, and neither do you.
What I do know is that you don’t need to catch the criminal to make his business model irrelevant.
So here’s my idea. The European aviation industry is one of the most cut-throat industries on Earth. It has gone through turbulent times in recent years. Alitalia went into administration. Air Malta posted huge losses. Greece sold its flag carrier, Olympic Air, following major losses. One of the main complaints in the aviation industry is that Gulf carriers can compete in ways European airlines cannot. Gulf carriers are state-funded. European airlines can’t get state funding because that would be unfair competition.
We can address the real causes of the problem instead of working around it
So why don’t the Mediterranean countries start a new advertising campaign? Instead of paying EUR 8 800 to a people trafficker who will beat and abuse you, buy a first-class ticket on our carrier for EUR 8 800. We will fly you out in comfort. You’ll still be an asylum seeker and we’ll still house you in a reception centre. We’ll still send you back if your claim is invalid.
But you won’t die on the way here.
And our aviation industries will have a financial boost.
I’ve written about problems in the aviation industry caused by Brexit. That’s not the only problem the industry faces.
The USD 7,000,000,000 industry (about EUR 5,700,000,000) that is people trafficking will have to change.
And the countries in the Gulf that fund their airlines will have to think twice when they want to ignore the refugee crisis in the future.
V – Solutions not workarounds
In his New Year address, Mr Macron stated that “we cannot welcome everybody.” This is true, there is a limit.
But we can address the real causes of the problem instead of working around it.
Do you think stopping people trafficking will change things? Share your opinion below
- Emmanuel Macron is tightening immigration rules; The Economist; 2018-01-10
- Macron’s new drive to send migrants home from Libya; Bremner, Charles; The Times; 2017-11-29
- Migrants’ tales: ‘I feel for those who were with me. They got asylum in the sea’; Rice-Oxley, Mark et al; The Guardian; 2014-10-20
- One Migrant’s Harrowing Journey From Senegal to Italy; Walt, Vivienne; Time; 2015-04-21
- Alitalia slides into administration; BBC News; 2017-05-02
- Unlikely that year-end deadline for Air Malta agreements will be met; Camilleri, Ivan; The Times of Malta; 2017-12-27
- Aegean strikes deal to acquire Olympic Air; Moores, Victoria; Air Transport World Online; 2012-10-22
All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.
Written by: Antoine P Borg
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