September 14, 2015
The phony European refugee crisis
It's not that refugees from Syria, Iraq, Libya, or even further south in African are phonies in person, or their reasons for leaving their old countries are phony.
It's arguable that part of the grudging European acceptance of the refugees — a grudgingness most notable in the UK and David Cameron — is the phoniness.
(That sets aside the issue, as shown in this piece about Germany taking temporary border measures to try to force the hand of other E.U. states, how "Europe" ultimately remains a concept more than anything else.)
Hundreds of thousands of refugees are hitting Europe, yes. That said, before the Great Recession made opportunities here in the U.S. less attractive, millions of migrants — some whom might well be identifiable as refugees — hit American lands from Mexico, and increasingly, from points further south. (Mexico itself is near zero population growth by birthrate, like the U.S.)
And, while we've had our share of clamor about the largely Hispanic influx of illegal immigration, it's arguably nothing like that of Europe.
Let's start with some additional context. Europe is about the same geographic size as the U.S. minus Alaska, per this site, which talks about making fair, geographic-based comparisons between Europe and America in other ways. Even if we throw out Russia and other countries of the old Soviet Union, the rest of Europe is as big as the US west of the Mississippi.
With half again as much population as the whole U.S.
And, without even going into the issue of legal vs. illegal immigration, as for actual, documented, United Nations-referred refugees? The U.S. has taken 70 percent of the world's share in the last five years. (To be fair, I should note that, as the Chronicle fails to note, our invasion of Iraq created a lot of those refugees.)
Now, some Europeans might argue that means they have no room. On the contrary, Europe has no deserts, no semi-deserts like the Western high plans, and while it does have the Alps and their extensions, the US has both the Rockies and the Sierras, among other things. And, if we're throwing out Russia, Europe has no North Dakota, eastern Montana or northern Minnesota in terms of winters, either.
To put this in terms of population densities, Hungary, a mainly flatland Central European country, might be taken as "representative." Ohio, a mainly flatland state in the non-mountainous, non-desert part of the U.S., not the most dense, and fighting Sunbelt migration, might be compared.
And, the have almost equal population densities at around 110 people per square kilometer. (So does France, with a mix of densely urban areas and the densely-rural-like Central Massif.)
In short, Europe can handle the refugee "flood." It can do so at least as easily as the United States. U.S. states like Minnesota, with less high-density use land than Hungary, have in the past taken significant numbers of Hmong and Somali refugees.
Or think Texas, since a lot of Hispanic immigrants come here. Yes, the entire state has a density of just 40 people per square kilometer. But, from the Hill Country east to Louisiana, it's 80 people per square kilometer or more, about the same as North Carolina or Virginia. Or, about the same as Romania, to put it in European terms.
But, see, maybe a lot of Europeans, despite claims to have learned from the Holocaust, or have learned from Bosnia, or whatever ...
Maybe a lot of Europeans, even liberalish ones, don't want to handle the refugees. This despite the fact that many European countries have a negative growth rate, or at a minimum, a negative birth rate, meaning negative growth outside of immigration. The continent as a whole has the lowest birth rate of any, and is expected to lose population by 2050.
In other words, not only can Europe handle a mass of refugees, it needs at least some of them to stay.
And, as for numbers? Europe may be on pace for 500,000 immigrants, whether officially refugees or not, this year. That's a significant jump of about 285,000 last year.
Whether a significant percentage of them are refugees or not, year after year, the U.S. gets 500,000 or more illegal immigrants.
So, what's with this issue?
Well, in reality, Europe is pretty insular in many ways.
To riff on that first link, oh, sure, within itself, Europe isn't insular at all. But, here's another way of looking at it. Vast Russia still protects non-Russian portions of Europe from a lot of non-European immigration. And, until now, the Mediterranean, the Sahara below the southern Mediterranean littoral, and, to the east, the ruggedness of Turkey backed by Arab deserts, have provided a "wall" against Middle Eastern and African migrants more than the walls we've built here against Mexicans and other Hispanics.
Until the pressures — war, terrorism, climate change — became so great to burst that dam, that wall. (Why do you think Britain, with its extra bit of "wall" at the Channel, is taking a more grudging line on immigrants? This doesn't count that it's one of the few European countries with a growing population, and not just by tidbits.)
From the point of view of people who are, or could be, certifiable refugees under international law, the percentage of "illegal" immigrants fitting that status in Europe is likely higher than among the percentage of "illegal" immigrants to the U.S. Nonetheless, on the perspective that, in one sense, a migrant is a migrant, period, the U.S. has been dealing with this far longer than Europe, without plunging so much into the deep end
At the same time, even setting aside the massiveness of the conflict in Syria, the U.S. hasn't been dealing with "this."
Countries of the Middle East are on average, despite Arab petrodollars, poorer not only than the U.S. or Europe, by far, but poorer than Mexico. Poorer than at least some states of Central America.
And, more fecund.
Mexico's fertility rate (used instead of birth rate as I more quickly found a graphic ranking) is not much above zero population growth. Guatemala's is high (highest in the Western Hemisphere), and Honduras is high enough. But, a number of Middle Eastern states top them.
Basically, it's sub-Saharan African, almost en toto, then the most fecund parts of the Middle East, then the most fecund portions of Latin America and Southeast Asia mixing with the middle levels of the Middle East.
This is aggravated by life spans in the Middle East generally being higher than sub-Saharan Africa, and in the same range as Central America.
While the U.S. needs to take a tougher line with Israel on Palestinian issues, to remove one domino that keeps Arab leaders from focusing on their own nations, there's no guarantee that removing that domino will cause the "homeland" one to fall. And, the West's desire to move to a more post-oil economy may make things worse in some ways.
That said, Europe, in a kinder, gentler way, has been in bed with petrosheiks for as long as the U.S. But it's now finding that its natural born walls don't work as well as believed, when the need to surmount them becomes strong enough.
To the degree that climate change is driving this, the solution is simple, and it's NOT the E.U.'s carbon cap and trade system. Rather, it's a domestic carbon tax plus a tariff on imports, the same scenario I've suggested for the U.S. for nearly a decade.
If the E.U., like the U.S., is too afraid, too carbon-addicted, too China-addicted, or whatever, to do that, then it needs to look in the mirror before talking further about a refugee crisis.