Several (Politically Incorrect) Remarks on Europe’s Migration Crisis

15. 3. 2017

The right for asylum is an individual right, and it cannot be claimed en masse.

The year 2015 seems to become a crucial one for the United Europe—in at least two different senses. On the one hand, it was marked by a vast “Greek tragedy” that unfolded since late January until June, and happily ended by bringing that country to terms with reality. On the other hand, it was plagued by an incursion of “refugees” originating from countries as diverse as Syria, Eritrea, or Libya—and this crisis is far from over. In this short text I want to explore—in purely social and economic aspects, still without being too “politically correct”—the nature of this invasion, as well as its possible outcomes, and propose some political recommendations for Europe’s ruling elites.

I will begin with an obvious statement that for many centuries Europe was not a land that welcomed migrants in huge quantities (as opposed, for example, to the so-called European offshoots in the New World, to which hundreds of thousands of people flocked from different countries since the beginning of the 16th century). The real challenge came after the Second World War, and it originated from at least three different sources. First, there was a wave of those who came from Europe’s former colonies that gained independence—and where the populations wanted to exterminate those locals who collaborated with the European administrators (Dutch East Indies or French Indochina). Secondly, there were the citizens of European countries who till that time resided overseas (this was the famous case of Pieds-Noirs). And, finally, there were workers (presumably temporary) who arrived from countries like Turkey and Yugoslavia at time when Europe’s expanding economies needed a growing amount of low-qualified workforce.

I should note that it was not only a time of emerging globalization, but also a time when a new reality has been born, based on some “universal” rules and norms, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document stated (in articles 13 and 14) that “everyone has the right to leave any country, and to return to his country,” as well as that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” These humane principles became the foundations of the current migration processes, since the “right to leave” was at the same time interpreted as “the right to enter,” because no one can leave their own country without penetrating some other. For some time it was not considered a problem, since the migration to Europe was caused predominantly for economic reasons, and people used to leave after making some money. Nevertheless, more and more of the guest workers later begun to stay for a longer term, and more and more of their wives and relatives have come and joined them—so that at one point the Europeans realized, as the Swiss writer Max Frisch pointed out in 1971, that „we called for workers, but human beings came instead.” And in that moment the Europe made, from my point of view, the first of a series of crucial mistakes that resulted in the current tragedies and showdowns.

The problem, which occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, comes, as I see it, from the confusion of human rights with those of citizens’. Back in 1789, the French adopted a crucial document of their revolutionary times that was entitled “The Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen,” where rights and duties of a person were strictly attached to his/her legal status. But Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t even mention the word “citizenship” in any of its articles, while stating that “everyone has the right to the standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and also the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (article 25, # 1). I would also add that there are no obligations mentioned in the Declaration, and not once the word “work” or “labor” may be found there. So, for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be respected, the governments, on the one hand, are obliged to welcome the migrants, and, on the other, should secure some decent level of their well-being while not asking them for any services paid to the welcoming society. It sounds like a joke, but it is something that straightforwardly follows from the spirit and wording of the current human rights doctrine.

By the time the migrant problem in Europe began to rise, most of the European countries had already long possessed sophisticated social security systems. I may be wrong, but these systems were developed to benefit their citizens who, by the vast majority, served their communities and societies for decades—and were not designed for adding to “adequate standard of living” of the newcomers (not to say, it was quite unclear what the word “adequate” might be used for in these circumstances: something that is more than adequate for good life in Djibouti, would be considered a brink of misery even in the poorest suburbs of London). Therefore, I believe, it was and still is an enormous mistake to mix the migrant population with the citizens of Europe, and to allow them to be covered by the social security network.

Was there an alternative which may be considered both humane and rational? I think yes, there was. This is my proposition: when the Europeans welcomed the foreign workers in the 1960s and later, they should have secured their legal status and provided them with all the elements of personal security, just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires. In this case the guest worker, as he or she enters the country, gets a working and residence permit, which entitles them to legally work, while their employer should pay all the necessary taxes and social security payments. This money should be immediately divided into two funds—the first must guarantee a health insurance, making the worker eligible to receive medical services, and the other should become his “personal retirement account,” only of a special type. By doing this, the host countries do everything they should: the migrants are legally admitted to the new country, they are given the right and chance to work, they are protected by all the law-enforcing agencies of the state as legal residents, and possess a health coverage that guarantees a quality medical treatment. The residential status should be renewed every year or two only on the condition that the person continues to work. After a number of years he or she may decide what to do next—either to return to their homeland, or to stay in the new country. Choice of this kind should be purely economic: if a person believes the pension coverage they are entitled to may be sufficient for a decent living, they may stay, if it seems too small (which may easily happen, since the person might come to the country in the middle of their working life), they may decide to leave. In the latter case, at the border the worker can reclaim all the money his employers had channeled into the pension funds during all the years of his work—and so can come back to his native nation with a solid sum in cash for his retirement.

In any case, the welcoming country should not pay to such a guest worker any unemployment benefits (because these are the privilege of citizens), and not grant them any permanent residency (not to say citizenship). As employees, the migrants should not be discriminated—they must get an equal pay for an equal job, and they should get this job on the same basis as the locals—but as the members of the community they may (and should) be deprived of some rights of the citizens (e.g. of public school services, or of building places for worship). No one can prohibit them from sending their children to private schools, if they can pay for them, or from constructing mosques with their own funds, however, all these actions should not be funded by the state or community.

I believe that all this may be justified because of a simple fact—even if no one should prevent any people from moving from their own land into another, they should not expect that their host will sacrifice their way of living for the benefit of the aliens. The best way to settle such a contradiction is to draw a decisive line between the residents and the citizens, while underlying not only rights, but also duties, of the members of both groups. Constantly (and for a very long time) neglecting this crucial difference between human rights and the rights of the citizens, the European intellectuals and politicians jeopardized the “migration issue” that arose in the 1970s, turning it from a mere economic topic into a tremendous societal dilemma.

But this was not the end—later a new “humanitarian” dimension was added to the problem, elevating the issue to one of the most problematic in contemporary Europe. As I noted earlier, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right of seeking an asylum for those who are threatened by persecution. While I should say that it does not formalize any duty to grant such an asylum, it clearly states that asylum should be granted to those who are charged with political crimes (“this right may not be evoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes” [article 14, #2]). This sounds like a very crucial moment—the defense of human rights requires to stand for the people who are victimized for their political, religious, or other beliefs or views. It does not apply to those suffering from either famine or other economic hardships, or from civil war and brutal political regimes. In any case, the right for asylum is an individual right, and it cannot be claimed en masse, especially while—as it happens these days—the “asylum seekers” destroy their documents so as not to be deported from the first EU country they enter. I believe that everyone should admire Europe for what it did for many hundreds of political asylum-seekers, those being as diverse as Ayatollah Khomeini from Iran or Professor Cardoso from Brazil, who both later became their nations’ leaders—but these cases have nothing to do with the current wave of refugees storming the EU borders in Hungary or Croatia.

Another issue were and are such humane considerations as regroupement familial, or religious freedoms, or the principles of multiculturalism. Of course, every person has a right to build or to sustain a family and to raise children, he must also enjoy full freedom to execute some religious ceremonies or services. The only one question here is that everybody, who makes a hard choice to abandon his or her native country for whatever reason, does not underestimate the challenges originating from living in a diverse social and cultural environment. If one is coming in for work for a short term, he or she must evaluate whether it is possible to change their customary way of life for this particular term and whether the work pays enough for bringing the relatives and/or children, nobody should rely afterwards for the local social benefits designed for minors. When a Christian comes to work for an oil company to Saudi Arabia he does not expect the Saudis to immediately erect a chapel for his prayers—therefore no Muslim should hope Jews or Christians will do the same. Not only the newcomers have their right to perpetuate their sacred ceremonies, but the locals also possess the right to enjoy the way of life they developed for generations. And even though it should be agreed that all the cultures and beliefs deserve equal respect, no one of them should claim its rights within the different cultural community. The same Arabs, whose brothers are now moving in growing numbers to Europe, have invented a special system for welcoming guest workers in the UAE, where migrants—mainly from Pakistan and India—may live and work, but have no chance to get social benefits, not to say to acquire local citizenship. And, would I say, that system pays off since the UAE never witnessed ethnic or religious riots while experiencing an astonishing economic growth for decades.

I understand that the readers may accuse me of 19th century type of thinking, yet I would ask not to distribute labels, only to analyze without fear and prejudice what I am talking about— since I am sure that Europeans are now building a world in which everybody has their rights, but the people of Europe possess only duties and obligations. I argue that such an approach has no reasonable justification and represents in itself a cruel violation of human rights.

Now we return to the events of August and September of 2015 when “the migration crisis” came to its apex in Southeast Europe. I readily agree that the life in many countries from where the refugees originated was full of dangers and hardships. Nonetheless, we first have to answer a few very important questions.

First, the most straightforward question is why these people should be allowed to enter. I reiterate: the problems inside any neighboring countries cannot serve as an excuse for a person to abandon their own state. Any country that receives a refugee should have a right to investigate his or her identity, as well as the cause that forced the person to leave. If such conditions are present that force whole nations to take off, the global community should either topple the tyrant who allows such humanitarian disaster to happen, or to organize a massive help for the refugees inside their own countries or regions (e.g. by building refugee camps, providing nutrition and care, etc.). By allowing hundreds of thousands to flee, we are not only provoking ethnic and religious contradictions in the host countries, but we are also depriving their homelands of active people who might be able to counter the cruel regime and become the future of their nations.

Second, the civilized countries should help the poor and needy, but on the basis of two conditions. The main prerequisite must be the presumption of legality and good will—that expresses itself in formal application for the asylum and in due behavior while entering the European Union. If the “refugee” choses to enter by force or by deceit, they should be fingerprinted, deported, and banned from entering Europe for life. What we saw at the EU borders this autumn was not a cry for help but a full scale intrusion that was to be suppressed by force. The second condition is that no alien should have a hope of staying inside any host country while doing nothing. Everyone, who is granted the right to reside, should sign some form of contract that authorizes the local powers to revoke their refugee status and to deport them if they refuse to take the job they are being offered by the authorities. To receive the right to stay in the new country the migrants should appear both law-abiding and useful.

Third, the newcomers should never be admitted to the citizenship status, since they will otherwise determine the political agenda of the European states quite soon. I would reiterate that I do not distinguish these migrants on the basis of either religion or ethnicity—the very same principle should apply to everybody. To have a society which consists on both citizens and residents is not a problem at all—I will cite as an example the case of post-Soviet states of Estonia or Latvia, where the huge numbers of ethnic Russians or Ukrainians, resettled to these regions during the Communist times, were not granted citizenship rights after the restoration of independence. Interesting to note is that the share of Russians in Latvia, which stood at around 31 percent in 1991, has not decreased ever since, while in Kazakhstan (where everybody automatically acquired Kazakh citizenship in 1992) it went down from 44 to 21 percent. Therefore I insist that in the country where basic liberties and rights are secured, the question of the citizen/ non-citizen divide may be neglected.

I want to stress once again that the Europeans made a huge mistake when they took the doctrine of human rights as a guidance for a political and economic action while sacrificing the rights of their citizens. Such a move would be rational only if a global state, a global citizenship, and a global social security network were already in place. I believe it will come into existence sometime, and all the people of good will should do their best to make this time come closer. Meanwhile, we all should try to expand the space of justice and order, and not allow it to shrink under the pressure of the new hordes. Any other choice will become an inexcusable betrayal of both Europe and its values.

Vladislav Inozemtsev

Professor of Economics, Chair of the Department of International Economy at Moscow State University’s School of Public Governance.

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