Generosity and sense are key to framing migrant response
Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30
A huge amount of EU time has been spent dealing with the Greek crisis. Rightly so. But much more time needs to be spent discussing how best to deal with the refugee crisis.
At the same time as it copes with an economic crisis, Greece, like Italy, finds itself on the frontline of the refugee crisis.
The number of illegal migrants arriving on Greece's shores, and specifically on its islands, is up five-fold compared with this time last year. Figures show that 156,726 would-be immigrants are now in Greece and the Greeks don't have the resources to cope.
If we were the Greeks, how would we feel about this? Would we resent having to cope with so many illegal migrants at the same time as having to cope with a huge economic crisis?
Wouldn't we be looking to the rest of the EU to help us? Of course we would.
In the period since January 2014, almost 300,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea and arrived in Italy. The Italian economy is also very fragile.
Many of the migrants know this and that is why they are headed for the likes of Germany and Britain as fast as they can. Germany has already received 180,000 asylum applications since the start of the year.
What are we to make of what's happening? Should we open the doors wide to the migrants, slam them shut or do something in between?
What are we to make of immigration itself? A new poll by IPSOS asked people in 24 countries (Ireland was not included) whether or not they believe immigration is good for the economy.
Surprising as it may seem - it was to me at any rate - Saudi Arabia tops the list with 52pc of Saudis agreeing that "immigration is good for our economy".
Mind you, when you think about it, Saudi Arabia has such a gigantic foreign workforce that they could hardly believe anything else.
The Saudis were followed by the Chinese and the Indians, neither of which country is exactly associated with immigration.
Less surprisingly, the Canadians and the Australians were next with 43pc and 41pc respectively having a positive view of the effects of immigration on their economies.
Thirty-eight percent of Britons agreed that immigration is good for their economy. The figure for the US was 30pc, for Germany it was 27pc and for France a mere 15pc. It's no wonder the National Front is doing so well there.
In terms of public opinion, a huge amount probably depends on where the immigrants are coming from. Are they coming from countries with a broadly similar culture to the host country? Are they well educated and willing to work? Do they want to learn the local language and integrate into their new country as best they can without completely losing their own identity?
If the answer to all these questions is 'yes' then there will probably be little enough local resistance to immigration. If the answer is 'no', then there will probably be lots, although probably less so in middle-class areas because middle-class areas tend not to have too many immigrants living in them.
In Ireland there is almost no debate to speak of about immigration. It barely features when politicians are debating with one another. It doesn't feature in our newspapers to anything like the same extent as in Britain.
In Britain a politician has to have a well worked out policy towards immigration, or at least the appearance of one, if he or she is to be at all credible.
Here, any discussion of immigration that takes place is really just a form of 'virtue signalling' which basically means showing off to your pals and the rest of the world how right-on you are. Lots of this takes place on social media. In fact, half of the purpose of Twitter seems to be to signal your 'virtue' to others, hence the constant outrage shown towards anyone deemed not virtuous enough.
Immigration 'debates' provide a fantastic opportunity to virtue signal. You can cheaply say that Ireland ought to open its doors to everyone crossing desert and sea to get to Europe and denounce as a 'racist' anyone who has any misgivings about such a policy.
Ireland is currently sending naval vessels to the Mediterranean to transfer migrants from the rickety boats the people traffickers have put them on, to the LÉ Niamh or the LE Eithne. But unless we are then willing to transfer all those people to Ireland to be processed here, instead of transporting them to Italy, we are basically being little better than hypocrites.
And aren't we lucky we don't have a Channel Tunnel or any direct land route from Italy or Greece to here.
What is to be done? We need to be both generous and sensible at the same time. Generous in taking our fair share of refugees, sensible in ensuring that we don't accept any more than we can reasonably be expected to accommodate.
That is why we need to have a properly worked out immigration policy that has been properly debated by the whole of society instead of being decided over our heads by policy apparatchiks.
We need a good system of distinguishing between genuine refugees and economic migrants trying to enter the country illegally. This is no easy thing.
But across the whole of Europe we need a systematic and well-resourced campaign against the people smugglers who are ruthlessly exploiting the desperation of the migrants.
These people smugglers exist at every part of the long trail connecting countries like Sudan and Syria with Germany and Britain.
The Italians have arrested 900 so far this year, but it is nowhere near enough and none of the 'kingpins', the equivalent of the drug barons, have been apprehended.
According to Italian Catholic newspaper 'Avvenire' one kingpin, Ethiopian Ermias Gharmiay, has made as much as $70m from chartering boats to smuggle people into Europe.
Closing down a lucrative trade like this completely will be impossible, but it can be curtailed and curtailing it will give Europe some hope of bringing down the current crisis to manageable proportions. This will be of benefit to everyone, including the illegal immigrants themselves, most of whom face the prospect of being sent back home having paid a fortune to the people smugglers to get to Europe in the first place.