Jarosław OBREMSKI: Migrants. And what next?  The European Union is today an accomplice in human trafficking

Migrants. And what next?
The European Union is today an accomplice in human trafficking

Photo of Jarosław OBREMSKI


Senator, former deputy mayor of Wrocław

Ryc.: Fabien Clairefond

other articles by this author

Let’s try to look at the issue of migrants-refugees not from the immediate and Polish perspective, but as European citizens taking responsibility for the shape of our European home in 20 years – suggests Jarosław OBREMSKI

The economic and demographic forecasts for Black Africa and the poorest Asian Muslim countries (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen) suggest that a new wave numbering tens of millions is expected to storm Europe in a dozen or so years. It is going to be a cultural and economic tsunami. When talking about migration in 2017, including Islamic one (unfortunately, you always need to ponder on whether this or that will be true for Allah’s followers) in 2017, you have to consider the results this may produce in the future. Unfortunately, the EU’s action is short-termed, and the problem will only keep building up.

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.What’s the picture today? In early May, I was in a hotspot for migrants in Sicily, along with the heads of EU parliamentary committees from all over the continent. This has been a major people smuggling corridor since the closing of the Balkan route for which Turkey was promised EUR 6 billion. In the first four months of this year, the number of illegal incomers increased by 20,000, of which 70 percent are men aged 20-30, 20 percent are under 20 years of age, or at least so they state, 10 percent are women. Most of them, almost 30 percent, come from Bangladesh, then also from Nigeria, Egypt, Gambia, and Guinea. Only less than 1 percent come from Syria and 0.5 percent from Eritrea.

The custodians of the Sicily hotspot told me that they had not seen a single incomer who would have had an identity document over the last months. 

90 percent of incomers apply for political asylum, although few have good grounds for this. Symptomatic was the confession of a Togo citizen who wanted to earn some money after he had his house burned down, and who, for language reasons, would flee to France and evidently seek political asylum there. He knows he can tell us the truth, because the court will look at the official papers anyway. Most probably, the court procedure and the subsequent appeal will last up to a year and a half. During that time, the well-behaved guys will work illegally near the refugee centre, others will melt in the EU, but if they get caught, we will be able to tell by fingerprints which way they came to Europe. Even if they are not granted asylum and sent back to Bangladesh, they will still make a good deal, bringing home a year-and-a-half’s earnings.

Immediately after being picked up at sea and sheltered, refugees-migrants are given a cell phone. They can thus calm their parents, but at the same time, they use this opportunity to inform them about the route permeability and the credibility of smugglers. The phone is one of the so-called pull factors, or factors that increase demand for “expeditions to the EU”. The caretakers from the Sicily hotspot complain that incomers often fail to break contact with smugglers who even fix up work involving drugs or prostitution for some of them. As a result, many escape the refugee centre, for this gives a chance to make more money and a longer “stay”, sometimes extended to prison.

Interpreters of African languages and connoisseurs of Arabic dialects are there to prevent asylum seekers from making false citizenship declarations. The most effective deceit patterns are those of the Egyptian Muslims pretending to be Copts, and Ethiopians from near the border with Eritrea pretending to be Eritreans.

The belief that a failed state, like Libya, should be treated as a normal country and that equipping Libya’s border guards in patrol boats will circumvent human trafficking proved to be naive, only increasing the number of people and bodies who get paid for turning blind eye. On the other hand, the focus on saving people from drowning leads some NGOs to take refugees out of the Libyan beaches. With the permission of human traffickers, as I understand.

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.My conclusions. If you believe in good will of all those looking after the followers of this dangerous route, you should remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For many incomers, the EU turns out to be hell, not paradise. If European values call for saving the miserable people from drowning, then all the pull factors must be significantly reduced. We are doing the opposite. Pictures of drowned people washed up on shore do not leave us indifferent, but our sensitivity should be extended to those who perish during the 4,000-km journey from Bangladesh or the Sahara. Rescuing life is about breaking route permeability rather than ad hoc actions.

Secondly, checking the influx of illegal migrants to Europe is relatively easy to achieve. It requires a change of rules: taking a decision to return boats to Libya (as did Spain in the Canary Islands with Gambian incomers in the late 1990s), and creating mechanisms that would make legal migration to EU more effective than smuggling. Today, the EU is an accomplice in human traffickers.

Thirdly, in anticipation of the ruling stating who has the political and humanitarian grounds to enter the EU, hotspots should be moved to the territories of third countries – Libya, Mali, Chad… They must exist because we must keep our borders and hearts open for those who really need help and for whom escape is a life saver from death or imprisonment. Their maintenance costs should be apportioned between the member states on an equal basis.

Finally – and it is the task for today – put an end to the life loss spiral. I want to stress it once more: not only in the Mediterranean, but all over the route. If one has seen modern slavery imposed on the incomers from the Indian Peninsula in the UAE, they can imagine what the young Bengalis are going through. These are the ad hoc actions, but they will yield result in the coming years when a new wave sets off. In order to subside it, civilise it, or delay it, it is necessary to:

1) Allow only legal migration, without inflating political asylum. We must not give a signal that violation of law, cheating on EU officials is effective. After all, Europe is governed by the rule of law, and this applies not only to its citizens, but also to those knocking at the Community’s door. This means conceding the point to Viktor Orbán in his dispute with Angela Merkel, not least in legal terms, in the autumn of 2015.

2) Eliminate areas where individual EU countries exercise power only theoretically, the so-called no-go zones. It is imperative to obey the law and to ensure free access for officials and police officers to districts inhabited by assimilation-resistant populations. If this fails to be done, the arrival of a great wave of migrants will inevitably turn these districts into the seedbeds of anarchy, marking the gradual loss of state’s power over them. A future France must not resemble Yemen. This means falling afoul of some mosques and imams on the territory of the EU, perhaps even riots, the only alternative being the acceptance for extraterritoriality.

3) Avoid lumping together all religions, more than that, stop drifting away from the Christian or Judeo-Christian heritage, which stands as a founding pillar of our continent. It is a combination of Athenian democracy, Roman law and the Christian concept of human dignity that constitutes our civilisation. I have respect for consistent atheism, but it is, too, possible based on the concepts of dignity and freedom, thus again not in every civilisation. I am afraid that, in most cases, irreligion or tepid religion lead to gnosis (superstitions without philosophical foundation i.e., shallow, easy-to-change views), or may result in submission to real or symbolic violence e.g., as Michel Houellebecq described it in “Submission”. When confronted with otherness, we will get culturally enriched only if we are aware of our own cultural heritage, identity and values. Otherwise, we are at risk of being culturally swamped. After Mrs. Merkel’s last May statement, “It is better if churches intervene in public affairs than if they always abstain from it. (…) One who seeks to realise their values and roots looks at the world boldly and moves to action with a great deal of trust in God,” it seems that this problem is already being noticed.

4) Discard the concept of multiculti. Point 3 above was about religion, now let’s focus on social and cultural aspects. I will quote a study by Tomasz Otłowski from the Aleksander Kwaśniewski Amicus Europae Foundation: “The European multiculturalism has failed all along the line, regardless of the model: Scandinavian, German or British. It is clear that Muslim communities do not want to integrate and assimilate on the conditions imposed on them by secular, liberal Western governments.” We need to find an answer to why children and grandchildren of migrants become terrorists. Otherwise, we will be afraid to get out of our homes in 20 years. We must demonstrate empathy not only for those who have come from afar and who are facing cultural alienation, but also for the ‘natives’ whose streets and districts become strange to them. Mr Otłowski continues: “In Germany, the arrival of more than a million ‘refugees’ over the past two years has severely undermined the sensitive social fabric in many, especially small, agglomerations, and stirred serious social tensions, carefully swept under the carpet of the all-powerful political correctness and multiculturalism.” Freedom of expression, unrestrained by political correctness, is not only a pre-condition for finding the answers, but also a way to stop the mounting support for movements that I would call nationalist and populist in simplifying terms. Should they ever win elections, this may mean the end of the EU, and even worse things.

5) Significantly increase aid to refugee hubs in Jordan and Lebanon. People there are really in need. Support for assimilation dispensed in the form of relief allowances will help these people get back on their feet and continue to live within their cultural circles, while keeping open their way back to homeland once peace is restored. Also, migrants from there can be recruited to Europe – so that temporary camps do not become permanent – as Arab countries did, for political reasons, with Palestinian camps. In other countries generating high migration pressure, but spared the misfortune of war, you need to come up with a legal vent allowing for migration into EU, for example a visa lottery.

6) Consider the cultural and linguistic context of migration policy. I do not believe in experiments where someone who comes from Senegal and wants to go to France is sent to Finland and expected to assimilate. It is a recipe for disaster and additional frustration. As a result of a long-term cultural presence, former colonial powers will continue to attract the descendants of those they had once exploited. France and England can have these hardships sweetened by the richness of architecture, infrastructure and museum collections acquired in the process of colonisation. We do not have that. Poland, in turn, is culturally and linguistically closer to Ukrainians. Oh, yes, Ukrainians are not refugees. Why? Because it was defined otherwise. I would argue that it is a semantic violence serving the interests of the EU’s strongest members. Syrians – yes, Ukrainians – not. Are people killed in war here and there different? True, most of the Ukrainian incomers are not from the Donbass and the Crimea, but just as many Syrians are coming from war-free areas, and not from Aleppo. Syrians need extra spending, Ukrainians do not. True again, but the only conclusion is that perhaps we need to share costs rather than people who, by the way, do not even want to come to Poland (as I understand, the EU’s view is that one migrant from the south weighs more than 300 Ukrainians). So perhaps it is about sharing the risk of letting in further terrorists-agents, but this argument can be confuted as well, for it is difficult to imagine Russia not taking advantage of a two-million-strong Ukrainian presence in Poland for its purposes.

And let’s not forget that, for Poland, Russia poses a greater threat than Islamic terrorism. I believe that while waiting for a the next migrant wave, EU countries should consider strengthening their demographic potential with people promising the best chances of assimilation in a specific community. For example, it would be much harder for the Senegalese to find their way in Poland than in France. Moreover, the idea that in 10-20 years the assimilation of southern migrants in Poland will be more effective than in Belgium and France, without each road intersection being necessarily watched by a soldier with a machine gun as is the case there, smacks to me of Polish nationalism, even if somewhat leftist.

7) Share our wealth, work out a scheme for transfers to the poorest countries of the world to reduce the migration pressure. It may be necessary to decide a tax, certainly not a low one, for the benefit of the Third World, for example from bank transactions. Perhaps, in the long run, we will have to do away with the European agricultural policy to create outlets for African agriculture, or rethink our aid policies, as these often cure our remorse rather than really help.

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.Is Polish politics right? Substantially and prospectively, we are right, but our voice is not heard enough, we have lost the ability to speak the language, or perhaps we have never actually had it, the ‘old’ EU wants to hear. There has been no solidarity in EU’s politics for the last 10 years: everyone looks after their own business, under the cloak of acting for the common good. The resistance to taking in the 6,000 refugees only deepens the European conviction of Poland’s ingratitude, selfishness and a missed opportunity to keep quiet. On the other hand, everyone in Europe knows that it is not about these 6,000, but about a continuation that will inevitably occur. An algorithm once successfully tried out will be rolled out again in the future. All prominent politicians are well aware that EU’s factual decision-makers apply a mere symptomatic treatment, make strategic mistakes and, moreover, try to share the burden or dump it on the weaker. This was experienced by Estonians on whom Italians sought to palm off the most recalcitrant, trouble-making migrants.

But the biggest mistake of the Polish government is not its bad selling of the reasons for our resistance. In Europe, we all increasingly realise that refugees are not aided properly. No one will concede a point to Mr Orbán, but everyone, including Mrs. Merkel, slowly begins to talk like him.

What I think deserves criticism is the Polish government’s bad communication about migrants with the public. We must not wake up demons. 

Firstly, the statement that the absence of terrorist attacks is a simple function of the absence of migrants will only be valid up to that first time and seems, so far, due to the fact that possible attacks in Poland would not be as spectacular as in Paris and London. At the same time, it should be remembered, and the government does, as much as Barrack Obama did when talking to Mrs. Merkel, that the foremost duty of Polish state authorities is ensuring the safety of Polish citizens. After all, the lessons flowing from Europe’s largest capitals are not very reliable so far.

Secondly, you must not peddle fear of Muslims. You must see in them people who need help because they are poor, because they have lost everything, because they desperately seek hope and a safe future for their children. Security is not a sufficient excuse for civil idleness. If we do not agree with European solutions, we must better argue our case, but also show our generosity, so to be able to take pride in our hospitality towards Ukrainians and our empathy for Syrians. Just as we are proud of every Pole who has been awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. Never mind if there happens to be some egoism in it. If we do not teach our children empathy and willingness to help other people, even ‘very other’, we cannot expect our children to demonstrate such feelings towards us. With how it communicates with the public, namely using simplifications, the government is putting up walls in our pockets and hearts. It is a mistake and a sin.

In claiming that the European system of values is worth adhering to, Oriana Fallaci invoked not least the right to drink wine and the right of girls to wear short skirts, but also the right to freedom of scientific research, media pluralism, atheism, separation between secular and ecclesiastical spheres, forgiveness and self-mockery. Of course, no civilisation will last forever. New peoples, new generations will build something else. Nevertheless, with all due respect for other civilisations, their beauty and depth – the European one, despite complaining, is the best because mine. So let’s not give up and openly discuss how to make it attractive to strangers, not only economically. Then all will win – them and us.

Jarosław Obremski

This content is protected by copyright. Any further distribution without the authors permission is forbidden. 02/06/2017
Translation: Grażyna Śleszyńska