Syrian refugees are removed from the back of a truck in Varna, Bulgaria. One man was shot dead while trying to enter the country from Turkey. Photograph: REX Shutterstock
A refugee shot dead at a border by a European police officer is a very distressing piece of news, even if it results from the law of (ever so foreseeable) “unintended consequences”. It is to the credit of Europeans that this hasn’t happened before.
But let’s be honest: this is only an addition to the heavy death toll that has resulted from prohibition policies preventing migrants to access the EU and thus pushing them to use smuggling rings and clandestine routes. This death has happened because anti-immigration nationalist populist rhetoric is allowed to dominate the public debate in most EU countries and because closure and repression are announced as the ultimate collective goals of the EU, as exemplified by the recent EU-Turkey agreement.
Unfortunately, this “serious incident” is bound to repeat itself if European politicians do not change their policy objectives and their repressive practices at borders.
A group of migrants making their way over a meadow after crossing the border between Austria and Germany in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany. Photograph: Matthias Schrader/Associated Press.
Closing the borders in Europe would be precisely the wrong reaction. It would not prevent migrants from coming, and would further drive them underground. It would thus entrench smuggling rings, and would lead to further restrictive measures, which would be costly and mostly useless. Such closure would exacerbate social and political tensions between States and within societies, continue to maintain chaos at borders, and would lead to validating the inflammatory anti-immigration discourse of the nationalist populist movements.
The only way forward is to accept mobility, to regulate it, to offer mobility solutions to those who need it: resettlement programmes for refugees, visas to come and look for work for the others. This means that smugglers would be mostly ousted from the mobility market and that States would reclaim an effective control of the border. Effective control of the border means that States actually know who comes into and who leaves their territory, which they don’t at present, since smugglers are the ones deciding who crosses the border, and which they won’t if they go down the closure path.
Two million migrants are estimated to be in Turkey, many trying to reach the European Union from its shores. Photo: AFP
It is quite extraordinary to see that European authorities are still doggedly pursuing an agenda of externalisation of migration controls, that is, trying to push neighbouring countries to do the “dirty job” of detecting, detaining and deporting irregular migrants before they reach European external borders and thus become a “European problem”.
This objective has, with a few exceptions (such as Morocco), repeatedly failed to materialise in the past 20 years, in good part for lack of incentives in favour of such transit countries, but also because it has been proven that irregular migration is not deterred by harsh treatment in transit or destination countries. At most, it is sometimes slowed or rerouted.
Migrants and refugees wait for buses after crossing the border between Hungary and Austria in Nickelsdorf, Austria. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Over the past decade, Canada has been notably absent from the world stage in leading humanitarian initiatives, such as during the recent refugee crisis. With more than 11 million Syrians displaced thus far, Canada can and must do more. While Syrian refugees are fleeing unimaginable violence, global responses have ranged from indifference, to building walls and closing borders, to practices of detainment or “push back”. Migration is mostly portrayed by receiving nations as a calamity, to be dreaded and prevented at any cost. The coming election is an opportune time to change this and to hold politicians directly accountable, making the refugee crisis a priority campaign issue. Party leaders must respond to the call for action and commit to the following.
Canada must first resettle greater numbers of refugees annually. Considering its annual immigration intake, Canada has the capacity to welcome 30,000 refugees per year. The government could initiate a “matching system”, sponsoring one refugee for every refugee sponsored by a private organization, as was done for the Indochinese forty years ago.
A pro-immigration demonstration in Los Angeles on May 1. Sandy Huffaker - Getty Images
All over the world, cities have been much less fearful about migration. Since cities haven’t had walls for several centuries and because they had to absorb the 20th century rural exodus, thus growing to be multiple times as big as they were, cities have learned to cope with migration, to adapt to change, and to benefit from the influx of energy, ideas, creativity and wealth that migration produces.