Dr. Muhydin Lazikani
Today’s world is in a constant state of flux, as it has been throughout history. However, the movement of this century differs not only in its scale but also because borders and visa regulations have become stricter, and the barriers between nations have grown taller. The primary factors contributing to these changes are the mistakes made by governments since World War II. These problems have culminated in severe economic crises and regional wars across multiple continents, including Europe. Europe remained relatively calm during the Cold War period from 1945 until the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the ongoing crisis has escalated, becoming more complex and affecting multiple continents.
Apart from the economic deterioration resulting from tyranny in third-world countries, the Middle East alone has witnessed three wars since the beginning of this century: in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. If we include Afghanistan, we can understand the enormous number of refugees from these conflict regions. While the Gulf countries have taken care of absorbing Yemeni immigrants, immigration from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to Europe has increased. However, did immigration from these countries not exist before these wars? It did. These countries have historically expelled their people during times of peace and war, much like any other country ruled by dictatorial regimes that destroy the economy and restrict freedoms, distributing opportunities based not on qualifications but on political loyalty. For example, in Syria, entire sectors exclusively employed Baathists from the ruling party, including crucial establishments such as those responsible for implementing laws and the judiciary.
I am well aware of this historical background, and I was reminded of them when an immigrant boat sank off the coast of Greece in mid-June 2023, resulting in the tragic death of over 500 immigrants. In response, I expressed my frustration on Twitter, highlighting why Western governments ignore dealing with the density of asylum requests and immigration to the European continent from Africa and the Middle East. At the time, I stated in that tweet:
“Dear civilized West, instead of hundreds and thousands of people drowning in the sea on their way to ‘invade’ you, allow me to guide you towards two ways to stop immigration and solve the refugee problem, most of which is your doing: 1) Stop supporting dictators. People flee despots and mass murderers and escape their countries. They will continue to run to the ends of the earth because they cannot remain where they are. 2) Direct development projects to independent organizations; stop sending humanitarian aid to corrupt governments that steal three-quarters of it.”
A third effective way is to revisit and reconsider how we deal with human rights in Europe and the world and to approach them more seriously to restore the credibility of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United Nations is supposed to oversee its implementation. Still, in recent years the UN has lost some credibility, enabling countries with authoritarian regimes to infiltrate the Human Rights Council and sometimes control or disrupt many of its decisions. Moreover, some countries exploit exceptional cases to impose new conditions in refugee agreements that do not align with international asylum laws. This theoretically contributes to perpetuating human trafficking, which international conventions have prohibited and deemed punishable by international law.
For example, Turkiye attempted to obtain preferential terms for its citizens in the refugee agreement signed with the European Union on March 18, 2016, in exchange for $6 billion to be delivered in two installments. At the time, Turkiye requested that Turkish citizens be exempted from entry visas to the European Union. However, when a dispute arose between the two parties due to delayed financial payments, Turkiye refused to take back the refugees who arrived in Europe through Turkish territory. The Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister at the time, Farouk Qaymakji, said, “We do not take back the migrants because the European Union does not fulfill its obligations contained in the agreement.” In response to the Turkish position, European interior ministers on 4th March 2021 rejected Turkiye’s attempt to use migrants for political purposes. Regardless of the subsequent disputes, this agreement has proven its effectiveness, as EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borell has admitted, and the number of refugees to Europe decreased from 856,000 when signing the Turkish-European agreement to only 10,000 in 2020. Yet many still see this agreement as a form of official involvement in human trafficking.
Europe was not alone in resorting to agreements alien to international law to limit immigration and asylum. Britain concluded an agreement with Rwanda in which the United Kingdom pays that African country one hundred million pounds annually in return for allowing Britain to send to Rwanda refugees who reach British shores by boat. According to government statistics, most are from Albania, not from the Middle East or Afghanistan. British lawyers stopped their government’s deportation of some refugees to Rwanda through cases they brought to the Supreme Court, and the matter is still pending. However, the British government says it will send the first deportees to Rwanda at the end of this year. Contrary to the government’s argument that Britain must be strict because it pays six million pounds daily to house the 137,000 refugees in hotels, human rights organizations say that the laws are flawed. If Britain allowed those refugees to work in the UK, it might save part of the government’s expense.
No one would say that the issue of asylum is not thorny and complicated. It is undoubtedly so, but the insistence on addressing the problem as a non-political humanitarian issue exacerbates its complexity. Politics is at the heart of this thorny issue, whether in countries of corruption and tyranny that send waves of refugees or in the West. The West, which receives a small percentage of them, at the same time supports the regimes that abandon them and sends aid to those same regimes, knowing that they are corrupt, whether in the countries of origin or the countries of transit.
The most recent example of the continued disregard of the political factor in the issue of asylum is what Europe is currently doing in terms of concluding agreements and offering billions to the Tunisian dictator who imprisons journalists and politicians, suspends articles of the constitution, carries out a purge of the judicial system, and dismisses 57 judges, not to mention other violations. Europe has ignored these developments. The President of the European Union visited Tunisia in mid-June with the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands, and they had a package of financial incentives to assign Tunisia to prevent immigration boats from heading to Europe. It was clear that there is a European consensus that supports this ambiguous and opportunistic approach in dealing with asylum issues, as announced by the Italian Prime Minister Meloni and the British Prime Minister during their meeting with the French President on 20th June 2023, where Meloni emphasized that immigration is a collective challenge that requires a European response to crush the network of human traffickers and prevent them from entering Europe through smugglers. This enthusiastic tone in dealing with the issue of asylum is the same one that prevented ships of civil society organizations from rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean on the pretext that this disturbs the governments’ plans to deal with the issue.
Those who refuse to deal with the issue of immigration as a political crisis, in the first place, forget that behind every intense migration crisis is a political decision: Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans. And the cause may also be a grave political mistake on the scale of a crime, as was the case in Obama’s famous decision to back down from his “red line” after the bombing of Eastern Ghouta in Syria with chemical weapons in 2013. That was a grave mistake if we do not say a crime, and former French President Hollande acknowledged this. Syrians’ intense migration and displacement began from that date, and it reached its climax after the Russian invasion and the destruction of half of the city of Aleppo. Obama watched Assad bombarding his people with chemical weapons and Putin as he invaded Crimea and annexed it in 2014 without doing anything to deter either of them from continuing their series of crimes. Crimea and the invasion of Syria are a grave political mistake at the root of the invasion of Ukraine, which in its first year caused nearly five million Ukrainians to flee elsewhere in Europe. Ukrainian immigration continues and increases with the prolongation of the war and the loss of the basics people need in times of war.
I made it clear when I said during the sinking of the refugee boat in front of the Greek city of Kalamata that the refugee crisis is primarily political before it is economic. The West can limit the refugee crisis by stopping its implicit and sometimes overt support for dictatorial regimes worldwide and stop sending aid to be stolen by the authorities of corruption and tyranny before it reaches those who deserve it. The closest historical example is the seizure by the Assad gang that rules Syria of most of the aid sent to those affected by the recent February 2023 earthquake.
We are told that European Union leaders will sign a new immigration charter at their meeting at the end of this month, 28-29th June 2023, and a new asylum bill is being prepared in the British Parliament. But all of these legislative and legal measures may fail to solve the accumulated refugee problems unless decision-makers and legislators are aware that forced asylum caused by dictatorships and wars is fundamentally a political problem resulting from an accumulation of political mistakes that must be recognized and their damages repaired. Then must come a consideration of the nature of aid—development projects or cash—and specifying who receives it. To this can be added, as I mentioned, a restoration of seriousness to the issue of human rights, which most countries have been violating when it comes to immigration and asylum.
When those three elements—stopping support for despots, controlling who receives aid, and restoring human rights and their credibility—are given attention by politicians and lawmakers, then we can say that the number of refugees will decrease no matter how hard smugglers and human traffickers try to raise it again. Those traffickers are no more than criminal tools that have found a profitable market thanks to the dictatorial regimes under which everyday living cannot be sustained because, on top of their crimes, their torture, and prisons crowded with innocent people, they try to control everything, big and small, in the destinies of the people they are ruling.