Immigration: Deterrence or blocking strategies are generally useless despite populists’ illusions

An interview with Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst.

How do you see the current wave of immigration, some people even claim that this is a new big period in the history of human migration? Do you agree or not, and why?

As Europeans, we tend to look at ourselves and our neighborhood as if it is the centre of the world for everything. This makes us think that everything that happens to us/near us is “epic”. This could be the case at times (the creation of Daesh/Islamic State is certainly a thing of worldwide relevance both for its characteristics and its implications) but sometimes we need to look at things with the proper perspective. According to some estimates, around 50 million people migrate every year around the world, most in nearby areas, or just seasonally, due to economic, social or conflict reasons. Just think at Chinese or Indian internal “migration” from rural to urban areas. Only a small fraction of these is heading towards Europe.

But it’s true that the current wave of immigration towards Europe is larger and more relevant than anything Europe has seen in the last 70 years (since end of 2nd World War) and we can’t deny they come from conflicts both in the MENA region and Sahel that are peculiar to this historical moment (often due to historical drivers that have reached a critical situation in recent years).

For us, the real problem is that we’re facing a considerable migration wave from different cultures at a time of strong sectarian conflict in the MENA area (of which public opinion understands very little) with very little preparation, very few ideas on how to deal with it, and no political cohesion (both intra- and inter-state). What does this mean? That we see this migration wave, which is effectively relevant, and we don’t know what to do. And this scares us even more because we feel we’re not in control of this. Migration hits us psychologically more than it does in practical terms (which are relevant too, of course). In other words, we see this as critical also because we have no clear idea on what to do, or we know it but can’t do it alone.

In general, what are pros and cons of immigration? Does this wave have a potential to change European society, maybe even the political systems?, Eu

With an aging Europe, migration brings fresh blood, brain and manpower that our economy will need to be able to sustain our aging population. It allows us to cope with a very complex globalized world where understating outside points of view is critical to understand how to go on, how to deal with neighbors, how to react with crises, etc… But, of course, it has to be governed: people need to be able to integrate in the society they’re coming in, adapting their lifestyle to the hosting society while bringing their richness in. There shouldn’t be a competition between “us” and “them”, which is something the political system has to deal with to avoid it. If the hosting population sees migrants as a threat, for any reason (security, jobs, religion,… or a combination of them), any positive potential will be hard to exploit. Fear kills integration and this fuels internal conflict – which doesn’t help a country’s development. In time, migrants (legal and illegal) who can’t integrate because of this opposition can radicalize and social struggles could become major (see France’s banlieues for an example).

This is how European society can change: ungoverned (or badly governed) migration and lack of adequate policies will make receiving societies build more social “walls” that will reduce integration even more and fuel unrest and conflict, and promote ghettoization of migrant communities – which, in turn, fuels a “us vs them” mindset in them too, even if it didn’t exist at start. It’s a downward spiral.

This can change society and political systems in various, not-always-foreseeable ways, from pushing to extremist governments to serious civil unrest, etc…. This is a key point, in my opinion, because numbers alone wouldn’t be enough to change society. Italy received 170,000 migrants last year, possibly 200,000 this year. It’s 0.3% of Italian population. In ten years at this rate, it will build up to roughly 3% – hardly something that can change a country’s equilibrium – and yet, people feel it’s “an invasion”, which influences how politics deals with it.

Would you say that current situation may have a profound impact on Europe’s neighborhood, that it will change how Europe’s neighborhood perceives Europe?

In my opinion no. Countries in Europe’s neighborhood won’t change their view. But we may change how we see our neighborhood – not as a source of potential additional enlargement/stability anymore, but as a source of threats and instability.

I know it is probably almost impossible to make a general comment on this, but who are the people who are desperately trying to reach Europe?

Lots of different people, with lots of different personal drivers. It usually depends on where they come from. An Eritrean will try to escape a brutal regime that effectively puts young people in the army using them as slaves for indefinite times… A Syrian tries to escape from the war, same for someone from South Sudan or Northeast Nigeria… From other countries it’s an issue of economic underdevelopment or desire to get something better. In all cases there’s a hugely strong desire to “get a better life” even if they don’t really know what they will get – but they are sure it will be better than what is left behind, leaving all deterrence/blocking strategies generally useless despite populists’ illusions.

Do you see any real security risks of migration, e. g. like the terrorist organization sending people to the West, establishing sleeper cells? Or similar kinds of scenarios are probably more of a fantasy?

Yes and no. Some terror groups can use migration to move their operatives, but it’s easier for them to just use traditional means (a tourist visa is just enough to get inside Europe and less risky for the terrorist than using a shaky boat that risks sinking every minute). Most sleeper cells originated directly here or moved in other ways. The threat of this is therefore possible but usually overinflated. There’s another, more real risk however: migrants who can’t integrate tend to remain isolated, sometimes communities ghettoize themselves. It’s not uncommon for these people to become disaffected, disillusioned, and embrace extremism and terrorism. Sleeper and terror cells are often born this way. In other words, the best weapon to avoid terror from creating from our peripheries is having good integration policies – which means countries have to invest funds in this (curiously the opposite those who are more scared usually want – “we can’t spend money for them”)

What do you think of the EU response until now, where we get it right and where we get it wrong?

Personally, I find it hard to find any “good”. We’re just reacting, and erratically. We don’t have a single policy, every state does its own interests. And we’re looking that the wrong things. Distributing migrants over the various countries is ok but isn’t a policy. We need better integration policies and better economic policies so that people doesn’t have to fear our money is used for migrants and not for them and that migrants aren’t a security issue – but this can’t be just a “desire”, it has to be worked upon with proper measures, it doesn’t just happen by itself. And we often ignore (or pretend to ignore) that migration can’t be stopped in the Mediterranean. Its root causes are both in the MENA region and Sahel and Subsaharan Africa. No improvement there and the flows will just continue. This means more effort, more money, more far-looking cohesive foreign policy. The last one is the one that drives everything, and is also the one that Europe lacks most.

 

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