Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Refugees: Evening Discussion @Imperial

I’m speaking tonight at a student-led evening on Refugees at Imperial. To prepare, I read “Refuge” by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier.  Here are some thoughts.

1.       The book differentiates refugees from economic migrants. It argues we owe a duty of rescue to refugees, but not economic migrants.
2.       A lot of focus is on Syrian refugees.  Despite all the huffing and puffing, almost all of them are in countries very close to Syria and very few are in Northern Europe (p.viii, amost 50% in Turkey, 11% in Jordan, 18% in Syria: contrast with 0.2% in France, same for the UK, Spain, honourable mention to Sweden with 1.9%, Germany 7.9%). 
3.       Should refugees have a right to come to, say the UK?  The fact is that N Europe has a well developed welfare state.  To the extent that refugees put strain on it, their rights clash with current residents’ rights.  So not clear.
4.       There is a terrifying chapter explaining the nightmare around the Schengen agreement.  Here’s my take.
a.       The architects of Schengen realised that the agreement was only as strong as its weakest border.  There is no border force, the EU volunteer Frontex is useless (p.66 on Christmas they all go home and leave the border unguarded).
b.      So for example countries like Portugal, Malta and Hungary, who sell passports in return for investment promises can undermine the system (Hungary, 360K Euro).
c.       So came the Dublin Regulation: an asylum-seeker has to be either sent back or given haven in the first country in the Schengen where they arrive (p.64).  This solves the weak link problem: you accept ‘em, you keep ‘em.
d.      All this did was promote lack of registration: refugees would arrive, not be processed by country A and sent on their way to country B. Where would they like to go?  The UK with a free labour market is very attractive, hence the Jungle.
e.      In August 2015, Mrs. Merkel decided to let refugees into Germany. This turned everyone into a economic migrant and simply encouraged other countries to pass refugees through to Germany. 
f.        When that fell apart due to political worries, the Germans simply paid the Turks to keep them and promised visa free travel.

5.       P.188 sets out the four big ideas in the book
a.       Ethical duty to rescue displaced
b.      Best place for them is where they can get to easily, which is basically near to their past homes.  If that is a relatively poor country, rich countries should help out financially.
c.       In those areas, refugees currently live in camps and often cannot work, this must be changed so they can contribute
d.      If they work they can then, if they return to their original homes, bring skills and experience to help recovery.