You could tell that the plan European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced on September 9 for distributing 160,000 refugees around the European Union was slapdash. You could tell by the number of times Juncker felt he had to browbeat his listeners about their Nazi past. “We Europeans should know and should never forget why giving refuge . . . is so important,” he said. Of course giving refuge is important. So is democratic accountability. Right now Europe’s politicians owe their citizens an explanation, not a scolding.
About half a million migrants—as best we can count—have arrived on European soil this year. No one has a clear idea of what to do with them. They are landing at the rate of 1,000 or 2,000 a day on the Greek island of Lesbos and rioting outside the Budapest train station. Hungary alone has stopped 172,000 of them. Last week Denmark sealed its border to trains from Germany, and Austria stopped rail traffic from the east. Broadly speaking, these migrants are of three types:
- The first group are refugees fleeing the violence and destruction of the ISIS-controlled zones of Syria and Iraq, traveling overland on an artery that runs, generally, through Turkey, Greece, Serbia, and Hungary. They are mostly heading for three target countries: Germany, Sweden, and Britain. The first two have made public statements of welcome, German chancellor Angela Merkel even anticipating 800,000 migrants this year. Britain, meanwhile, has a reputation as a strong economy, and nearly all young people can speak at least a bit of its language.
- The second group of migrants are Africans for whom the anarchy in Libya has suddenly opened a corridor from the most destitute and violent societies in the world to the (for now) richest and safest. These travelers tend to move by boat across the Mediterranean, making landfall in Italy or Greece and proceeding north, sometimes after having applied formally for asylum.
With regard to these first two groups, over three-quarters of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea have their claims approved, and those whose claims are rejected are rarely sent back.
- The third group in the present wave are opportunists from all over the world—Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, you name it—who are following a well-established migrant route.
And it is this third group of economic migrants that is key. There now exists a major smuggling route, an economy of people-moving that responds to forces of supply and demand, an efficient Ricardian trade system connecting countries that lack food to countries that lack both labor and political will. With guides and mafias charging somewhere around $2,000 a head, this is a billion-dollar business, and it could well run into the tens of billions if nothing is done to stop it.
Almost all European leaders hopelessly confuse the two phenomena—the humanitarian emergency in the ISIS “caliphate” and the huge economic migration. The former is the business of nuns and doctors, the latter of regulators and border guards. Yet the humanitarian emergency is being used to squelch any public misgivings about the economic migration. An atmosphere of propaganda prevails. Daimler’s CEO, Dieter Zetsche, told London’s Financial Times that young, well-educated refugees are “just the sort of people we’re looking for.” These are the wretched of the earth when it comes to their claims on the European conscience, but the cream of the crop when their advocates are describing their effect on the European economy. Of Western European governments, only David Cameron’s appears to understand the distinction between refugees and migrants. Britain is welcoming 20,000 people from refugee camps in the Middle East—the truly needy, not those already on the European continent.