The European Migration Crisis

There is no denying that many Europeans believe they are undergoing a migration crisis. Indeed, tens of thousands of Africans and Middle Easterners have fled their regions seeking more secure futures in Europe. Even though a good proportion of them never made it to Europe instead drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in no insignificant part due to European sea safety budget cuts, they keep coming.

It is easy to see how Europeans are scared. Europe has to date accepted a fraction of the refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East. Many times more, the lion’s share of migrants, have fled to countries that are closer to home in the Middle East and Africa.

In Africa, South Africa and Sudan, host hundreds of thousands of economic and political refugees from surrounding countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, just to name a few neighbours. In the Middle East, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey, host hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

For these African and Middle East countries huge influxes of refugees are not the exception, but the norm in recent years. At the same time, but the countries in Africa and Middle East receive little assistance from Europe or the United States to deal with the huge migrant influxes with which they are regularly faced.

Why should African and the Middle East countries expect support? Why should Europeans not be so surprised that they are receiving so many migrants fleeing death and destruction or exploitation at home? The answer lies in understanding the cause of the so-called ‘European migration crisis’.

In almost every case, the African and Middle East migrants are fleeing wars, violence, or exploitation caused by Europeans, Americans and their allies.

The United States’ initiated wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, which are sustained with NATO and sometimes regional allied support, are responsible for a recently estimated slaughter of as many as four million people since they started. In addition, there are countless maimed and wounded civilians crowding hospitals around the region.

The so-called ‘evil regimes’ in these countries could not have killed and maimed as many people as the United States, NATO, and its allies killed in a hundred years. Nevertheless, the lesson from this senseless bloodshed has not been learned.

Instead of recognizing the erred ways of their violent actions these same countries have been involved in new acts of aggression against the people of Syria, Libya, and once again Iraq. It is not by coincidence that Syria, Libya, and Iraq were once the most developed countries in the Middle East and North Africa. They not only provided their own people free and high level health care and education, they drew migrant workers from around Africa, the Middle East and further abroad.

The migrant workers who came to Syria, Libya, and Iraq were not basket cases who had lost everything and who are often too traumatized to be able to contribute to society in which they eventually land after fleeing. The migrants that came to Syria, Libya, and Iraq were often workers, skilled and unskilled that contributed to society. They helped to build the societies in which they worked and their remittances back home often sustained their families and helped their own national economies.

Libya was the richest country in Africa and on-track to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Syria was a centre of Arab and Islamic learning where more books were translated into Arabic from other languages than anywhere else in the world. And Iraq had been on the verge of becoming an industrialised developed country with under-one and under-five child mortality rates that rivalled Western European countries and the United States.

After Europe and the United States intervened, today, Libya is a failed-State. Libya’s wealth has dried up or been syphoned into private pockets. Today, after the NAO intervention Libya will not achieve not a single MDG. In Syria its people have been forced to turn their attention to defending their sovereignty from multiple foreign-led aggressions, while watching the United States and NATO allies bomb what is left of war-torn towns into the rubble. And Iraq, after two US and allied wars killed an estimated as many a one million Iraqi children and scared many whole generations to come, Iraq is a State that is incapable of sustaining itself where insecurity is rabid.

Policy makers in Europe, the United States, and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, appear to have given little or no thought to the decades of social upheaval that they were causing by instigating violence in Africa and Middle East. Instead they appear to have acted based on selfish near-term interests. They did not even observe the international law that they, themselves, predominately wrote. Instead they flaunted this law with impunity to secure their short-sighted goals.

To date few, and no senior, American or European has been prosecuted for the terror they caused in the region. Yet, the actions of these senior American or European leaders far outweighs the horrors perpetrated even by the likes of Al-Qaeda, ISIL, ISIS, or Boko Haram. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to note that these Middle Eastern and African non-State entities are following in the foot-steps set in the sand by the United States and the European States.

The cause of Sub-Saharan migration might be more complex, but is no less traceable to Europe and the United States. Instead of recent wars and the relatively quick destruction of rapidly developing States, Africans have been subjected to long, sustained torture and slow deaths.

The exploitation of Africa goes back centuries starting with the subjugation of millions of Africans to slavery and colonization mainly by Europeans and Americans. Much of Europe and the United States of America was build with the blood and sweat of African slaves and the fruits of European colonization.

Slavery and colonization are international crimes and States that carry out such actions are responsible for their internationally wrongful acts, including the consequences of compensation. Nevertheless, to date no compensation has been paid to African countries by the European or Americans who profited from slavery and colonization.

This is not for want of claims. Claims are regularly made for reparations or compensation in international forums, but they are ignored or to put aside with trivial and often inconsistent excuses. Europeans and Americans claims Arabs or Africans themselves were often responsible for the slave trade, minimizing their own much more significant responsibility. On the other hand, they then sometimes reply to claims of reparations by claiming they, Europeans and Americans, have already suffered enough from the indignity of having conducted the slave trade.

Is there any European and American legal jurisdiction that absolves criminals from responsibility for their crimes based on their claim that the act of committing a crime is demeaning? Of course committing a crime is demeaning for the perpetrator, but it is even more so for the victim. That is exactly why the law punishes criminals or establishes systems aimed at rehabilitating them.

In the case of Europe and the United States it would appear that rehabilitation has not worked as despite well-endowed universities and formally functioning electoral and political systems, these countries have not learned to respect the rule of international law. Reflecting this widespread view Western-schooled, United States’ ally Ms Tzipi Livni, at the time the Justice Minister of Israel, reportedly stated that “I am against law, international law in particular.” This statement today reflects the way both executive and often judicial authorities act in many European and American legal jurisdictions.

But as if centuries of slavery were not enough hardship for Africans, they have been followed by economic exploitation that is ongoing to this day. After having been pressured to ignore their own proposals for a New International Economic Order, which the United Nations adopted in numerous resolutions in the 1970s, developing countries, especially Africans and Middle East countries, have been coerced into accepting an economic order that is unfair to them.

While this economic order has a development model inbedded into to it created by Europeans and Americans the so-called donor countries. The development model has been an abject failure. This is attested to by the small number of States that have graduated from developing to developed States even using the UN low threshold over the last fifty years.

At the same time the gap between developed and developing States has increased. The rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer. By many standards there is less equity and equality in the world today than there has been during the lifetime of anybody alive today.

Still Europeans and Americans object to efforts aimed towards ensuring equity. In climate change talks they ignore the legal obligations of financing, capacity building, and technology access they have unanimously agreed to more than twenty years ago in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They even challenge the principle established in this treaty that lends itself most to achieving equity, arguing that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is outdated despite the persistence of gross inequalities.

In the negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals that will shape them, European countries and the United States reject any language placing the blame on them for the inequalities in the world.

With a blind eye for reality it is no wonder that the United Kingdom’s British Broadcasting Corporation, more widely known as the BBC, reports with such ignorance about the so-called ‘European migration crisis’. A recent BBC broadcast completely failed to mentioned a single root cause. When a commentator from Save the Children indirectly hinted at root causes she was abruptly cut off by the BBC news presenter because time was up. The BBC then cut to the holiday weather, hardly a time sensitive subject that needed to be broadcast without a fifteen or thirty second delay that could have allowed for at least an illusion to the root causes of the so-called ‘European migration crisis’.

The BBC’s treatment of the ‘European migration crisis’ was echoed by European leaders a few days later when they met in Brussels. The Italian Prime Minister sought a sharing solution linked with yet more violence. The violence was to be aimed at destroying the ships on which migrants are being transported. This near-sighted proposal may however merely lead to migrants coming on less-sea worthy boats.

Other European States proposed dealing with North African authorities, but this mere empowers often undemocratic governments that came to power at the barrel of a gun and under which human rights abuses are rife.

Fixes for the ‘European migration crisis’, especially those involving the use of force, are merely likely to take more lives rather than save them. The correct response demands much deeper consideration. Until European States and the United States and their allies look at the root causes of migration and adequately address them, the ‘European migration crisis’ will merely intensify. The current strategy of building barriers to migrants will only stimulate the creativity migrants and traffickers use to circumvent the obstacles they face.

If Europe and the United States really want to deal with the so-called ‘European migration crisis’ they will need to start by admitting to themselves, and the world, that they are the cause of it. Europeans and Americans will have to sit with their African and Middle East counterparts. They will have to break out of their huddles that are protective of their narrow national interests. The will have to engage in an open and transparent manner with the aim of achieving cooperation to address the root causes of the crisis, not merely the temporary manifestations.

This in turn will ultimately require Europe and the United States to share the benefits of their lengthy exploitation of the Middle East and Africa in a much more equitable manner. It will also require Europe and the United States to provide reparations to Africans and the people of the Middle East for the violence and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of Europeans and the Americans.

Do Europeans and Americans have the courage and integrity to act to address the root causes of the ‘European migration crisis’? Millions of migrants from the Middle East and Africa didn’t think so to date. There are however another almost 2 billion people in the Middle East and Africa who are still willing to give the Europeans and Americans the benefit of the doubt, but only time will tell if they will be forced to act as have their compatriots.

Dr. Curtis Doebbler is an international lawyer and professor of international law.


Curtis FJ Doebbler is a visiting professor of international law at the University of Makeni, Webster University (Geneva) and the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is attending the climate talks in Paris on behalf of International-Lawyers.Org, an UN ECOSOC accredited NGO.