It is tempting to dismiss the global refugee crisis as an “unsolvable” problem – a politically toxic but curiously immutable permacrisis that will continue to froth and bubble in dynamic equilibrium through endless political cycles. In fact, it is arguably escalating into a super-catastrophic risk to Western liberal democracy, akin to Putin’s Russia, the rise of China and global pandemics.
Because if there’s one volcanic problem that threatens to explode into a populist uprising that burns down Europe’s liberal tradition, it’s the “irresolvable” issue of illegal immigration. It is therefore strange that politicians on neither the left nor the right have come up with anything remotely resembling a serious solution.
On the one hand, liberals continue to stick their thumbs in their ears as they pompously proclaim the 1950s refugee law and lecture on the need for “compassion” in a “global world.” What’s even more disturbing is that the ruling class still hasn’t gotten the memo that liberal democracies are existentially threatened by the rise of simple, naughty problems.
Simple problems are so explosive because, on the one hand, solving them seems outrageously simple. Stop the boats. Send them back to France. Crush the smuggling rings. Exit the ECHR. Take back control.
On the other hand, solving simple problems is frustratingly complicated. But instead of rising to the challenge, over the years the elites have left these problems in the “unsolvable” section of their mailboxes. Until the recent economic downturn, they hoped they could take the sting out of anti-immigrant populism by deriving redistributive policies rather than coming up with a proper plan to hold back the boats.
This, in turn, bolstered suspicions of a conspiracy against democracy, with the ruling class refusing to implement popular and seemingly straightforward policies because they offend cosmopolitan sensibilities.
Now some conservatives have finally come to terms with the fact that the situation is politically unsustainable, and they are compounding a simple problem by jumping wildly from lazy pessimism to born-again utopianism, preaching to those who desperately want them to believe that the situation can be magically remedied overnight, perhaps by sending immigrants to Rwanda.
But as it stands, even if the UK pulls out of the ECHR and implements its Rwanda plan, those who cross the Channel have only a slim chance of being sent to the African country – hardly a deterrent.
That no one has a convincing plan is all the more alarming as the refugee crisis reaches a turning point. Today, the West is confronted with unprecedented flows of migrants. Covid’s legacy will be a lost decade for international development, plunging tens of millions back into extreme poverty.
Meanwhile, the rise in violence in Africa and the Middle East – a continuing trend since the drying up of Cold War military funding – is getting worse. The emergence of new regional hegemonies was supposed to keep things under control. For example, Nigeria was expected to become a stabilizing power, making African military coups and civil wars a thing of the past. Instead, Abuja has become an active exporter of instability as it fails to thwart its own peripheral insurgencies with a bare army in which it has been chronically uninvested.
It was also hoped that in the wake of America’s distance from the Middle East, the Gulf States would step in. But they have continued to blatantly shirk their responsibilities to Muslim refugees, while also proving powerless to prevent counter-hegemonic powers like Iran from fueling proxy conflicts.
Needless to say, as developing countries become more unstable, the West becomes more seductive. Thanks to the internet, it has become easier not only to see how people in wealthier countries live, but also to get in touch with traffickers who aggressively advertise their services on social media. Once a migrant has reached his destination in Berlin or London, it is very easy for a migrant to transfer money home and feed his entire village.
Fixing the mess won’t be easy. The entire refugee-legal-industrial complex needs to be gutted. Yes, the ECHR is an over-the-top judicial leviathan that seeks to micro-manage individual cases and push through a radically expansive interpretation of human rights. But unlike the EU, which, in its fascination with the natural laws of harmonization by design, is unreformable, the ECHR can and must be curbed with some leadership from Britain.
It is also time to give the UNHCR a sense of reality – a useless relic of the Cold War. Account must be taken for the fact that the Refugee Convention continues to pointlessly propagate a non-refoulement principle that might have made sense when the West was concerned about the return of refugees to communist-controlled areas. But today, in a world where we need the educated and skilled developing countries to run their own, it’s downright bizarre.
Moreover, it is time to face the inconvenient fact that the entire international refugee system has become morally deranged. Western resources are spent on highly mobile and relatively well-educated men who can afford to pay thousands of pounds to traffickers, rather than on the less fortunate, who hang around in permanent camps. Activists pretend granting citizenship to refugees is a sacred act – overlooking the brain drain that has made it impossible to rebuild and create opportunity in countries from Syria to Albania. Instead, we should change international law so that skilled migrants are required to return to their countries as soon as the conflicts abate.
All this is just the beginning. Western powers must also decide on a reasonably fair international quota system – and abide by it. The processing must take place in a safe area as close as possible to the country of origin of the refugees. International law needs to be changed so that those who try to shorten the queue by fleeing to Europe are automatically sent back to where they came from. We need a global campaign for Poverty Zero to match the call to end climate change. And we need to move from white savior humanitarianism to developmentalism of tough love.
But above all, the elites must agree with voters that illegal immigration is a simple problem – one that needs to be solved.