When German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last August that her government would allow unregistered refugees to come to Germany, she set off the biggest migrant wave since the Second World War.
Despite the negative effects this huge influx of people has had on the German economy and society, such as the mass sexual molestation and rape of hundreds of women last New Year’s Eve in Cologne, increased crime and concerns for personal safety among native Germans, supporters of Merkel’s action believe it was nevertheless justified by the humanitarian emergency and the need to save lives.
But in an exclusive and revealing interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, an internationally recognised migration and Third World expert, Paul Collier, author of the book Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World, convincingly debunks this myth. Collier, a former director of the World Bank who currently holds an economics professorship at Oxford University, believes Merkel’s open-doors decision “…did not save a single Syrian from death.”
“Despite best intentions, Germany has, instead, dead people on its conscience,” Collier told Die Welt. “Many people understood Merkel’s words as an invitation and only after that did they actually set out on the dangerous journey, sacrifice their savings and entrust their lives to dubious smugglers.”
Meant as a humanitarian gesture, Collier maintains Merkel’s announcement had the opposite effect in regard to migrants’ safety and well-being. The refugees, he said, were already in safe, third states, such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and did not come to Germany directly from “war and crisis countries.” But it was this “invitation” that caused them to leave these relatively safe havens, where most lived in tolerable conditions, and risk their lives on the arduous trip to Germany.
“With her communication,” Collier said, “she (Merkel) made migrants out of refugees.”
And for some, the journey was deadly. Three-year-old Alan Kurdi was the most famous child/refugee death that occurred after Merkel’s “invitation.” Along with his mother and a sibling, he drowned trying the smuggler’s route of reaching Europe, travelling by boat with his family from the Turkish coast to a nearby Greek island. A picture of him lying dead on a Turkish beach where his little body washed up flashed around the world, generating deep concern and much sympathy for the migrants. One report stated his father had paid smugglers more than $5,000.
While there is no exact figure regarding how many unfortunates have lost their lives on the trek to and through Europe, drowning deaths have increased in recent months. It is believed more than 250 people perished last month alone trying to reach a Greek island. And many of those who drowned were also children like Kurdi. They obviously would be the least able to fend for themselves in an emergency.
And even if the migrants reach the Promised Land, the “affluence heaven” of Germany, their suffering often does not end there. In fact, for some, this may constitute the worst part of their ordeal. In the refugee asylums the Germans hastily erected, life can be very dangerous. As is now well known, violence between young men of different ethnic groups is rampant, and the police’s ability to control it is minimal. But even worse, it is the women and children in these cramped accommodations who are most often victims of sexual assault.
In his Die Welt interview, Collier expressed a special interest in potential African migrants, especially the 100 million people living south of the equator. He cites a former World Bank economist, Serge Mikhailov, who holds that this region is “the next Afghanistan.” And it is this mass of humanity that could pose Europe’s next huge migrant crisis.
“The chaos in Africa is definitely increasing,” he said. “… above all, the situation in Mali and Niger is already very unstable. And then the German chancellor comes along and announces that Europe’s doors are open. Simply consider for a moment how that catches on with these people.”
When one speaks of Syrian refugees, Collier says this concerns 14 million. But hundreds of millions more living in poor countries “are setting out for the rich, western world."
“A colossal mass, which, when it is once set in motion, is scarcely still controllable,” he said.
To avoid such a frightening prospect and human tragedy, Collier states that “a radical swing” in communication has to be made.
“Europe must clearly state that economic migrants should not even bother to set out on the journey at all,” he said.
And while Collier believes it is essential for Europe to help genuine refugees, those who fled their countries for reasons of “sheer survival,” this should be done in the secure, neighbouring countries of the conflict regions. These neighbouring nations are the ones legally obligated under international treaties for accepting them. They are also much easier and much safer to reach than Europe for those fleeing war. Besides, even genuine refugees have “no claim to a place” in Europe. And Collier can’t understand why this claim is even being discussed, calling it a “false debate.”
“Under international law, the European Union is not responsible for the acceptance of refugees,” he said. “It is however responsible for securing its own borders, either together or, when that is not possible, then just every state on its own.”
European aid to genuine refugees, Collier says, should take the form of helping the safe, third countries bear the costs of hosting the refugees. This is the policy Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States follow. The United Arab Emirates, for example, financially supports a camp in Jordan that houses thousands of refugees.
Collier would also like to see the European Union help create jobs for the refugees in these third countries. It is this lack of “prospects,” he says, that cause many to set out on the dangerous trip to Europe to seek their fortune there. Collier agrees with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble’s proposal for a Marshall Plan for refugees in the countries bordering the Syrian conflict.
The recent, mass influx of migrants will, in the end, benefit neither Syria nor Germany, Collier believes. Regarding Syria, educated and qualified Syrian migrants will want to set down roots in Germany. But these are exactly the people Syria will need to rebuild once the fighting stops.
As for Germany, the arrival of such large numbers of migrants will make integration “difficult.” And the more that arrive, the more challenging the integration task will become.
“For then the necessity to really open oneself language-wise and culturally to the host country sinks,” he said. “In future, difficult to control parallel societies will come into being.”
Collier says he cannot understand “even until today” why Merkel took the action that she did last August. Until last year, refugees were “no great theme” for Europeans. The Oxford professor blames the German chancellor for the refugee crisis, telling Die Welt: “Who else?”
“With that, she has definitely burdened Germany and Europe with a colossal problem, which no longer can be so simply solved.”