The EU is now fostering a new species of international crime. In all my years as a convinced Eurosceptic, I never expected to write that sentence. But here we are – with a flourishing network of mobsters, smugglers and armed gangs trafficking, not drugs, alcohol or weapons, but human beings. The mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, once said to have broken the grip of the Cosa Nostra in his city, suggests that the crisis has allowed a renewed mafia presence to establish itself in southern Italy, which is now running the illegal migration racket with its usual techniques of threats, bribery and violence.
This is not an Italian monopoly. In a filmed encounter last week, a Sky News television crew, attempting to interview a would-be migrant to the UK in France, was threatened by an armed trafficker with a British accent who appeared to think that the cameraman was competing for his business. Nobody else, he made alarmingly clear, was going to get a chance to handle this guy’s passage across the Channel. He sounded like a pimp whose girls were in danger of being poached.
Illegal migration is now big business. Not only are these displaced people being robbed, terrorised and sometimes killed by gangsters, they are also being preyed upon by political manipulators of a peculiarly warped kind. According to French police, British anarchists and anti-government activists are descending on Calais to incite mass incursions on the Channel Tunnel entrance. This claim rings true since the chanting of slogans (“Open the borders!”) and the staging of migrant sit-ins seem more like the tactics of a political demonstration than a spontaneous, desperate attempt to get past the security cordon.
The degree of collective irresponsibility is truly shocking. We seem to have become inured to the uselessness of EU institutions, and to the failure of our own and the French governments to cope with the lawless chaos that centres on one geographically tiny crossing point onto UK territory, but what is going on here is way, way beyond the limits of what should be acceptable to any enlightened society. By failing to agree on even the most basic principles for how this crisis could be confronted, the EU has pushed the whole phenomenon onto the black market: so the global underworld, and the purveyors of political nihilism, step in and fight over the franchise in a vacuum of legal or governmental supervision. Now that the underworld has taken charge, there is no likelihood of proper processing: we are losing the possibility of differentiating between the genuinely deserving refugee and the criminal or the potential terrorist.
Photo: Thibault Camus/AP
The EU’s laws have exacerbated this situation. The “open borders” policy, which is regarded as a sacred principle by the founding nations, is now shunting the problem from one country to another. Instead of having to deal with a mass influx onto its own territory, a state can simply encourage (or fail to prevent, which is tantamount to the same thing) the horde to move on to the next state. And each of those states, with some justification, can complain that they should not have to carry the burden of this invasion alone, especially when their economies – notably those of Greece and Italy – are in desperate straits. After all, what is the EU – that great supranational defender of democracy and human rights – supposed to exist for, if not to share the strain of precisely this kind of problem within its community of nations? But instead of the urgent meetings of EU heads of state to formulate a European strategy (which you might have been inclined to expect given the EU obsession with meetings and consensus), we get the odd phone conversation – apparently conducted in tones of utmost diplomatic courtesy – between David Cameron and François Hollande.
Rather than EU commissioners broaching joint solutions, there is open sniping and accusation between countries – as often as not being voiced by police and local officials rather than government leaders, who would prefer simply to go to ground. Brussels is offering virtually nothing by way of constructive proposals, or even coherent opinion, on this horrendous problem. Almost the only public pronouncements are coming from NGOs, self-appointed migrant advisory agencies or the UNHCR. Their implicit (and sometimes explicit) support for the migrant cause may well be adding to the confusion in the international response: it is almost certainly encouraging the belief among refugees that significant authorities in the West are sympathetic to their circumstances and will exercise influence on their behalf.
I’m sorry to say that – at least under the present circumstances – this is dangerously misleading. It is, again almost certainly, likely to be adding to the numbers of economic migrants who are emboldened to take life-threatening risks. The mayor of Palermo has put his condemnation in incendiary terms. He believes that the “selfishness” of the EU countries in refusing to accept more migrants is tantamount to genocide.
But this is not genocide: it is not the systematic, deliberate murder of people because of their race or ethnicity. Deaths are occurring because ruthless criminals are running an industry which exploits the desperation of a wide variety of peoples, some genuinely persecuted, others seeking a better life in a wealthier, more stable part of the world. Instead of examining and assessing those claims, or making an attempt to dismantle the ever-expanding network of malign interests prospering from its trade, European governments just push the hapless throngs onward – from the south of Europe to the north, from the less prosperous countries to the more prosperous – and then wash their hands.
It is sometimes said that this situation has arisen because Libya – from where most of the phenomenally dangerous boat trafficking originates – is now a failed state in which it is impossible to arrange any organised controls. It will not, therefore, be possible to get a grip on the migrant problem until Libya has had its stability and accountable government restored. That sounds like a very long project to me – perhaps a generation’s worth of slow nation-building. Surely the immediate crisis cannot wait that long for a remedy. And waves of people have been known to flee war-ravaged, ungovernable regions before. Mainland Europe is no stranger to refugee crises: even when they have coincided, as they often do, with economic hard times, some way has generally been found to protect those on the move from the exploitation of gangsters. In truth, the individual countries of Europe made a better fist of dealing with these things in the dark days of unashamed national self-determination than the idealised post-nationalist EU is making now. If anything, the existence of EU institutions seems to offer an excuse for inaction.
Just what is the EU leadership doing now? Has any serious investigation of the people-trafficking industry been conducted by properly constituted authorities? Does the boat relay out of Libya to Italy and Greece not have a European end to its organisation which could be pursued and prosecuted? Has the EU Commission consulted with, and debriefed, all those aid agencies whose ad hoc interventions often seem counter to the policy of the national governments most affected by the crisis? Is there any co-ordination between the security forces of Italy, France, and Greece, or any detailed plan for how this chaos might be resolved?
If the answer to all these questions is “no”, then what on earth is the EU for?