700 people recently drowned trying to get from North Africa into Europe. Politicians don’t want to let people drown, nor do they want an immigration problem. How might this be solved?
Looking from a humanitarian viewpoint, rescue boats are sometimes finding the refugee boats too late. If they were closer to the launch points they would find them earlier and fewer would drown. The boats are often inadequate too. People trafickers make huge profits extorted from the refugees. A humanitarian solution, and one that would also reduce incentives for traffickers, would be to offer free passage on safe boats for genuine conflict refugees, essentially a ferry service. This would need military protection due to the regional conflict they are fleeing. If safe free passage is on offer, numbers might increase, but read on.
For those that are not genuine refugees but criminals fleeing justice or terrorists wanting to enter Europe, no such passage should be provided.
There is another large group of refugees though – economic migrants. A billion people in Africa would be financially better off in Europe. They would not all want to come, but many would. So would hundreds of millions from other parts of the world if a better life is on offer. Europe cannot provide for all in the world who want a better life. Offering free passage and European citizenship to anyone that wants it is not possible. Even if those people risk their lives in order to win such passage, it still isn’t. Offering limited immigration, whether using lotteries or some sort of points system is feasible and politicians could debate acceptable numbers.
It is hard to check which people fit in which group, identifying those that are genuinely fleeing conflict or persecution and those who simply want a better life. This could be solved by using a staging post for processing just as many countries already do. In this crisis, Lampedusa is the closest European (Italian) Island to the source of many of the boats. Suppose it were used for camps for genuine conflict refugees. In this solution, entry into Europe would not be permitted but refugees could evacuate to there and return to Africa when the conflict allows.
Lampedusa is not very large though, only 20 square km. So perhaps other islands would be needed too. Or perhaps not. It may well be that very many of the refugees would choose instead to go to another African country, or to stay where they are rather than go to Lampedusa. With no entry to Europe on offer, economic migrants would not have any incentive to go there, nor would criminals or terrorists. Those needing safety would be able to get it and those just wanting a better life would have to face the same immigration rules as everyone else.
With fast processing of asylum requests at Lampedusa (obviously networking could allows them to be processed remotely from anywhere in Europe, spreading the asylum load), such a solution might work. Europe would still take some asylum seekers and the staging post population might remain manageable even without extra islands. The people otherwise drowning at sea would not use traffickers and their unsafe boats. Safe travel to a temporary safe haven means there is no need.
The traffickers would have nobody to traffic. Economic migrants might fill a few boats before it becomes clear that being sent to Lampedusa or returned to the African mainland are the only outcomes on offer. So they would soon give up.
This solution would end most of the drownings while still averting an unmanageable refugee crisis that spirals well beyond control. Temporary safe haven would be on offer to those that need it, on condition that the refugees return home when conditions permit. That surely is the least we can do. No drowning crisis, no refugee crisis, no immigration crisis. Surely even politicians could agree to that?