Yesterday news came that the French have blocked the border with Italy to impede the progress of illegal economic migrants. This is against the Shengen rules they signed up to. Italy demands “burden sharing”, seeking a system of quotas for all EU states to share the migrants she lets in to her country. The UK has exercised its opt out from any such measure, having in the past stood apart from Shengen common frontiers.
The problem with the burden sharing policy is it acts as an open invitation to hundreds of thousands of potential migrants to come to the EU. Is it a helpful policy policy to offer a better life to all the brightest, best and most energetic people in poorer countries, as it will make the growth and greater prosperity of those places that much more difficult to achieve?
I heard a difficult question recently about the issue of the UK’s role in the Mediterranean. Why we did not ask the navy ships to go to the ports in Libya where the people traffickers operate and offer free passage to economic migrants to spare them getting on to the dangerous boats and subsequently needing rescue? The first response someone else offered to the question was for him not to suggest such a bad policy. The UK after all does not welcome illegal economic migrants into the EU, so would not wish to offer them free passage in naval vessels. The person pursued his case. He said that surely it was similar to what the government is doing, but with the added advantage that the people we are trying to save from the waters of the sea out of their dangerous boats would no longer be at risk if we transported them all the way.
The question revealed the tension at the heart of current policy. The UK is a decent country so it does not wish to stand by and watch as people drown when we and others like us can help save lives. The navy is doing good and has stopped people losing their lives. We have a great humanitarian impulse. The UK also has a policy of not encouraging illegal economic migrants. If we pick people up at sea and deliver them to the very place they wished to go illegally, we could b e offsetting the policy of refusing illegals entry into the EU. If Italy grants these migrants EU permission to stay and work in the EU they can then travel to the UK as legal migrants.
There are many ways that the UK could bring its humanitarian instincts into line with its opposition to illegal economic migrants arriving in the EU. It could do more with the world community to stabilise and encourage a prosperous peace in the countries people are fleeing. It could do more with the local authorities in the ports where they operate and with the world community to stamp out people trafficking. It could if all else fails continue to help save people in distress at sea, but take them back to their port of departure. The ports of departure surely should be made more responsible for their fate, as those ports fail to root out the people traffickers and allow unseaworthy boats to attempt the Mediterranean crossing. They allow the cruelty of the traffickers.