Acton Institute Powerblog

How EU immigration policy spiked human smuggling

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The trouble with modern politics is not merely that it is tribal. It is that the tunnel vision these tribal allegiances demand blind us to the permanent things.

In Europe, a rhetorical battle wages over Europeans’ self-image. One side supports Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy and EU migration quotas for member states. It sees itself as cosmopolitan, Europhile, and offering the only compassionate response to the refugee crisis. This view, dominant in Brussels and the centers of political and academic influence, portrays the other side – who tend to be Euroskeptics – as provincial, unenlightened, and possessing an indifference to the suffering of Middle Easterners motivated by racial and/or religious bigotry.

The problem, as Stephen Herreid points out in a new essay, is that this desire to solve the world’s problems through global governance has tragic, and sometimes deadly, unintended consequences. Among them is the explosion of human smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea corridor between Libya and Italy, and a rising death toll of the very people the policy was thought to relieve. 

In his latest article at Religion & Liberty Transatlantic, Herreid notes that “even the most Europhile of politicians” have begun to see that the open-door policy has become an economic incentive for human smugglers, leaving regions of northern Africa in chaos:

At a press conference before the G20 Summit in Hamburg, European Council President Donald Tusk described opaquely how recent EU policy has encouraged the abuse of human dignity.

The “organized business” of “migrant smuggling” generated “$1.6 billion in Libya alone” last year, Tusk said. “These profits allow the smugglers to control some parts of the country. They also cooperate with terrorists and further undermine the stabilization in Libya.”

But most importantly, this status quo leads to the loss of “innocent lives,” he said.

Like their spiritual forebears, the slave traders, human smugglers have no regard for the human dignity of their “cargo.” The number of would-be migrants who have died in the Mediterranean this year is 2,385, according to the United Nations. And, as Herreid reveals, charities and NGOs appear to be colluding with the pirates.

Herreid – who has written extensively on refugee issues for CatholicVote and The Stream – insightfully details the issue, including last week’s ruling from the European Court of Justice, which was a significant setback for the policy.

Devolving power to individual nations, rather than imposing an arithmetic formula of immigration and assimilation on each component part of an entire continent, would avoid such a widescale incentive to demean human dignity – and revive the lost virtue of subsidiarity:

When a centralized bureaucracy rules from on high and ignores subsidiarity, nobody wins but that central power itself – which is in no position to manage local conditions. In fact, it is often those they claim to help who suffer the worst unintended consequences.

When history books make their assessments of human misery in the early twenty-first century, those who spoke up for “the least of these” will be shown in the best light. For EU political institutions, truly protecting the suffering will mean reversing course from entrenched, remote, bureaucratic policymaking. Subsidiarity not only assures the sovereignty and influence of voters but, far more importantly, in this case it would prevent the unintended byproduct of compromising human dignity – whether European, Libyan, Egyptian, or Pakistani.

You can read his full essay here.

(Photo: Irish naval forces rescue migrants, transporting them to Lampedusa. Photo credit: Irish Defence Forces. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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