With conflicts in Africa and the Middle East showing no signs of letting up, hundreds of desperate people, regardless of the risk posed to their lives, board the boats and head through stormy seas to Europe hoping for a better life and safety there. Do they find what they hope for and who’s to blame for their plight? Tune in to hear what Glyn Ford, a former MEP and the leader of the anti-Nazi league has to say…
Does that mean that the crisis will deepen further, or there is a way of dealing with it?
What is your perception of the situation?
Glyn Ford: We have an increasing number of refugees from both North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, and along with that from Syria, leaving their own countries and trying to get into the EU, where, they believe, the situation in the medium and long term will be much better. They go through a very painful process of getting here and, as we are well aware, hundred thousands of them actually lose their lives in the very risky crossings across the Mediterranean to Italy and elsewhere. But until we resolve the problems they are facing in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, I think their numbers will continue to increase.
But Europe itself is now not in a very good shape economically and otherwise, and it cannot just take in everyone who needs help.
Glyn Ford: It is a problem, no one is suggesting it isn’t. The trouble is that there is not very much burden-sharing. The countries like Malta or southern Italy, and southern Spain actually face the difficulties to an extent that is not true elsewhere in the EU. One of the first things we can do, is to try and use a common foreign and security policy, and actually try and resolve some of the problems in these countries. People don’t leave their homelands likely, it is only when they feel they’ve got no alternative.
And they are also becoming victims to smugglers who charge a lot of money.
Glyn Ford: Of course, people are massively exploited. There is an industry now and some people make vast sums of money, while others risk and lose their lives. One of the areas that we need is some control over the smugglers. But when you’ve got the failed state, like Libya at the moment, which is on the verge of a civil war, it is hardly realistic to imagine that the authorities there, whatever remained, are going to spend their time focusing on smuggling operations of sub-Saharan Africans and Libyans fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Having arrived, most of the time these people are left unattended. They don’t have any means to support themselves, they cannot receive a status of an asylum seeker, because, apparently it takes a while…
Glyn Ford: And let’s be frank, there certainly are people who meet the criteria of asylum seekers, but many of the people who come from the sub-Saharan Africa in the large majority of those cases are economic migrants.
Immigration has also become a political topic, partly because there are anti-immigration attitudes and politicians have to adjust to them. Do you think this is the reason why things are not addressed as promptly, as they should be? Because integrating immigrants into the economy will be tough for the European countries at the moment.
Glyn Ford: There is a recognition that were we to improve the conditions, that would lead to an increase in the numbers of people who wanted to come. There was a rather ridiculous suggestion some years ago that we should be putting up signs in north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, saying how bad the European economy is and how little people earned. And the point I made at that time was that they are earning ten or fifteen times more what they are earning back home, and that is going to only encourage people. So, we do need to find some way of dealing with the problem, both in terms of accepting those that are asylum seekers, and dealing with the illegal economic migrants who need to be sent back from where they come from. But, of course, it is easier said than done.
What do you make of the situation with immigrants in the light of xenophobic moods which are on the rise in some of the countries?
Glyn Ford: Yes, we’ve seen the growth of racism and xenophobia across the EU. But they are not all dealing with the same problem. The problem in the UK is Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles, all of whom are perfectly legally allowed to move around the EU. It is a very different problem in southern Italy and Malta, where the people we are talking about now – Africans and sub-Saharan Africans – come on boats across the Mediterranean. Very few of those make their way to the UK. And that is one of the arguments that is being raised by the Maltese and the Italians – this is a European problem, but they are being left to face it alone.
Immigrants from Africa have different cultural and religious backgrounds and they need to be integrated into the new cultures, and that is where problems arise. Very often, if nothing is done to help them, they end up in criminal activity.
Glyn Ford: It is slightly mythical. Allowing for economic and social position, there is no higher crime rate amongst the immigrants than there is amongst the normal population. But, yes, there is a very strong perception that they bring crime and disorder. No, it is poverty that brings crime and disorder. And the problem is that they bring poverty with them. It is not that they are inherently criminal, it is just that they are poor and disadvantaged. And the more poor and disadvantaged you make them, i.e. treating them in an inferior way, the more you are creating a problem rather than resolving it.
But one of the things we need to do is to actually spend some time trying to improve the conditions back home. And that means we need sensible foreign policy in terms of addressing the situations. We weren’t getting Libyan migrants under Col Gaddafi. I've got no support for Col Gaddafi, but we have to say we need to be careful with how we intervene, because we don’t bear the consequences.