Yesterday’s horrific discovery of 61 dead Syrians in a lorry on an Austrian motorway, abandoned on its way from Hungary, has surcharged emotionally the whole problem of migrants trying to make their way to the . . . European Union. On the same day, 400 migrants in two boats setting out from Libya drowned in the Mediterranean.
Nevertheless, the ‘hyper-tragedies’ of yesterday don’t change the basic problem of what is now building up to be one of the largest migrations in history. It’s a twin problem actually, the migrants being composed of a mixture of people fleeing persecution or civil war and those, generally young men, who are economic migrants — though also coming from the same disturbed countries. In the lorry case, there were eight women, four children and 59 men. This suggests that there were two to four families but well over 50 men who were single economic migrants.
But how to deal with it? In the EU, the debate is between highly articulate people — generally middle-class staff in large charities or the United Nations or media journalists — who say we will have to welcome all the migrants whatever their motivations and, at the other extreme, inarticulate working-class people who are worried about their jobs and local cultures who can only express their opposition inadequately via opinion polls. This subject is now right at the top of polls in the UK, and probably elsewhere in other EU countries. The media tend to reflect the former while politicians are much more sensitive about the sheer size of the working-class part of their electorates.
The whole problem is heart-rending, but how many more are going to come from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Nigeria — the main sources at present? Now that the traffickers are advertising on Facebook, and smartphones are now everywhere, how many more will start coming from central Asia, Middle East and the other countries of Africa? We don’t know but the odds very heavily are that even greater numbers will be setting out shortly
It’s only a matter of time before politicians all over the EU will decide that they’ll have to be brutal and shut the door firmly, and for all migrants, or else they and their political parties will never be elected again. In history, economic migrations are generally unstoppable but in this case it is likely that the EU (and America with its own migrant problem also) will create a new precedent. In pre-history, this was the territorial affirmative.