Tag Archives: migrant crisis

Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

My latest article in the “Populism is Dangerous” series, just published on Impakter:

In the photo: Migrants: Germany to accept 50 rescued migrants after Italy’s plea July 15, 2018 Source:Reuters article

Populism is dangerous and puts public health and the economy at risk. But it is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. Particularly the so-called “migrant crisis”.

Italy is a harbinger of things to come in liberal democracies. It is where political change often happens first. The largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union was in Italy; yet it was the first to go after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlusconi, a showy media tycoon who came to power in 1994 was a proto-Trump.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here) and the public health crisis (here). Now we look at the false “migrant crisis” fabricated by populists. Yet  there is a real migrant crisis caused by the lack of assimilation of migrants already in Europe. Because the issue is not correctly diagnosed, no European country, or for that matter the U.S., has yet developed a set of policies to address it – with the exception of Sweden with its pro-active labor policies and Italy with its “Riace model”.

There is a migrant crisis for sure, but it’s not the one described by populists.

Exhibit ABrexit. The UK voted to leave the European Union, panicked by the imagined threat of a migrant invasion and is now facing economic disaster.


In the photo: Brexit poster used by UKIP  

Exhibit B: Trump, with his assault on migrants and Muslims. In view of the midterm elections, he’s upped the ante in an exceptional op-ed he wrote for USA Today on 12 October and a few days later, he re-opened his “caravan” scare on Twitter.

In the photo: Note how they move from right to left, just as in the UKIP Brexit poster, but there are children here.  These are Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., during a leg of their travel in Chiquimula , Guatemala October 16, 2018.  Source: REUTERS/Edgard Carrido Reuters article and video

In a string of tweets, he threatened to cut off funding to the countries from where immigrants fled (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and demanded that Mexico put a stop to it. If it can’t, he announced he would use the military to shut the southern border. The most striking tweet is this one:

It encapsulates his favorite accusation against the opposition (“All Democrats fault for weak laws!”) but it puts forward an astonishing new notion: His trade wars, he says, are less important to him, even the newly achieved NAFTA that now goes by the name USMCA, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (it still awaits ratification). That’s remarkable, considering that he could claim USMCA as an achievement.

Like any good populist strategy, such technical considerations are set aside: the point is to divert public attention to fabricated issues – like “caravans” – that readily stir up emotions. Nothing is better than the true and tried recipe of evoking migrant invasions – just as was done by Brexit supporters. By comparison, trade is profoundly dull.  To whip emotions to a frenzy, there’s nothing like spreading fake news:  “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up to try and get to the border by Election Day,” Trump declared, without any evidence for this.

He immediately got support from the Republican party. U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. border security was a key election issue: “We have to secure that border once and for all,” he told Fox News in an interview.

The False Migrant Crisis

Trump tweets of “criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in”, a vivid, scary image. But how bad is it really to allow migrants to enter the country?

Historically, America has been a beacon for migrants because of its “values”. Which is exactly what Europe also offers. And Italy in particular, a Catholic country that hosts the Leader of the Universal Church, the Pope.  What values are they exactly? A respect for human rights and human dignity. And for political refugees in particular, the protection provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of host countries.

However that welcoming environment changed in Italy well before the populists came to power in March 2018, as this PBS video makes clear:

The ground was laid out for the arrival of the populists. What we need to realize is that the austerity policies imposed on Europe since the Greek debt crisis exploded in 2010 are the root cause of the problem.

Countries that are impoverished by austerity policies  – Greece lost half its GDP, Italy is stagnant and its youth suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe  – are easy prey to populist anti-immigration policies. Blaming foreigners for one’s woes is far easier and more satisfactory than trying to sort out the problem and come to a constructive solution.

Europeans have very negative views of migrants, and the countries with the most negative views (for example, Hungary) are those that close their borders, build walls and refuse to cooperate with European Union members:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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War on Migrants: Is Europe the Loser?

Just published this article about the (depressing) results of Swedish elections – once again, the extreme neo-nazi right has scored a win – and here’s why we should worry. The article opens on the results of the elections and goes on to explore the consequences for  liberal democracies in Europe and America:

This Sunday 9 September, all eyes were on Sweden, where elections for a new parliament were taking place and where populists, playing on widespread and rising hostility to migrants, seemed set to win a decisive victory. And they did. Almost one in five Swedish people voted for the Swedish Democrats (SD), the neo-nazi, anti-immigration party, giving it 17.6% of the votes:

Why has Sweden become the battlefield to watch? One of the world’s richest economies, it has drawn proportionately more migrants than most countries in Europe, along with Germany, when in 2015 Chancellor Merkel famously opened the doors to a “million immigrants”. And, in spite of an excellent “model” for integrating migrants in its economy  and statistical “proof” that migrants have contributed actively to the rise in Swedish GNP – more about this below – people in Sweden have nevertheless been drawn to the siren songs of the populists. Just as they have in America, with Trump’s fight against immigration.

While the anti-immigration SD did not gain the 20 to 25 percent predicted by some polls before the elections, it is still a sizeable win that spells gridlock in Swedish politics.

Though early news indicate that the Swedish system of two blocks (left and right, each with around 40% of the votes) that has dominated Swedish politics over decades could be coming to an end. The outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lovfen indicated that he would keep governing and would open to the center-right block. His party the Social Democrats, while losing some ground (it’s the worst result since 1908) still came out first at 28.3%. The problem is that the center-right leader Ulf Kristersson strongly feels he should be the one forming the new government.

Can this gridlock be resolved by the SD? The SD leader Jimmie Åkesson sees himself as a kingmaker. But other parties see him as definitely dangerous and don’t want to talk to him. Small wonder: SD has proposed a “Swexit” referendum to take Sweden out of the European Union and has vowed to end Sweden’s asylum policies.

The SD’s policies resonate in Swedish society, shaken by the flows of migrants that have strained housing, health care and welfare services. Public services came under pressure in 2015 when 163,000 asylum seekers were let in, proportionately the highest number in Europe in relation to the population. And the SD call resonates particularly in rural areas where industries and public services have been cut back. The party has repeatedly tried to link a rise in violence to immigrants, although official figures show no link.

In the photo: Comment made by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on LBC radio on Monday 20 February, when he discussed the recent comments by US President Donald Trump about terrorism in SwedenSourceBBC

Malmo, in spite of Nigel Farage’s claims, is not the rape capital of Europe. Rate of reported rapes are high in Sweden because of the way Swedish law is applied; but the rate in Malmo, and other urban centers, has not dramatically risen in recent years and has in fact declined from its peak in 2010, before the recent large increases in refugees. In short, there is not way to link

But the problem is bigger than Sweden. While such a win certainly signals another tightening of the screw on migrant inflows, more importantly, it threatens Europe’s future and the liberal values it stands for. In short, it marks a further rise in xenophobic populism.

Xenophobia is Back in Europe

It is back in Europe with a vengeance. Because that is the right term for this type of populism, rooted in the hatred of the other. The term, derived from Greek, has deep roots in History. Indeed, the ancient Greeks were the first to give it a name. They called foreigners with the derogatory term “barbarian” and saw them as only fit to be slaves.

This formula – ascribing a rise in violence and a decrease in public services to immigrants –  is exactly the policy of all populists across Europe, from Italy’s Matteo Salvini, Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Hungary’s Viktor Orban – spurred on by Steve Bannon who’s working hard to pull together all the European populists for a big win at the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019.

The populists’ aim is simple enough: kick the foreigners out. They won’t hear of managing the situation and integrating whoever can prove that they are able to work and contribute to national wealth. Integration is a dirty word, something they won’t even discuss.

The Swedish elections are a litmus test for liberal, democratic values, a test that is causing fear across Europe and should equally worry Americans. Because a strong win for populists in Sweden does two things:

  1. Confirm Trump and populist leaders like him around the world and not only in Europe, that populism rooted in anti-migrant sentiments is a winning card and that they should keep playing it;
  2. Lead to a rise in euro-skepticism and nationalism across Europe – or what used to be called chauvinism because you cannot grace this new phenomenon with the hallowed term of patriotism (although they do – but populists are masters at manipulating people’s emotions with the “right words” and spreading fake news).

The term “migrants wars” is bandied about as if flows of migrants were still on the rise, while they have in fact sharply fallen since the high in 2015. And that is the biggest piece of fake news that populists bank on.

A quick look at the facts is needed to dispel any doubts that migrant flows are rising.

The Migrant Crisis that Doesn’t Exist

Consider this diagram showing immigrants arrivals to Europe in 2018 (UN data)…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here

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