Saturday, June 11, 2016

The View from Austria, Part III

bewareThis is the third and final part of the extended email exchange between me and one of our members, Lilibellt, an Austrian native who now lives in Vienna. For those of you who missed it, in the first part we discussed why she recently voted for Norbert Hofer of Austria’s Freedom party (FPÖ), and what the obviously controversial party now stands for. In the second part, we discussed Europe’s migration crisis, which we continue to discuss today.
To put this in context: Last Tuesday, the European Commission presented its latest plan for stemming migration to Europe. The EU intends to seal agreements with African and Middle Eastern countries making development aid and trade ties with certain countries conditional on their cooperation to “persuade” refugees to stay home:
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told lawmakers that the new partnership agreements would combine funds to strengthen border control, accelerate asylum procedures and to enhance counter-smuggling capacities, in addition to promoting development, investment and trade.
“We propose to use a mix of positive and negative incentives to reward those third countries willing to cooperate effectively with us, and to ensure that there are consequences for those who do not. This includes using our development of trade policies to create leverage.”
The plan envisages spending $9 billion in development aid and other assistance over the next five years.
The EU Migration Commissioner has said project funding could eventually reach 62 billion Euros, or roughly $70 billion dollars.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the EU made a similar deal with Turkey recently, offering a large aid package and the (vague) promise of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in exchange for Turkey’s readmission of rejected migrants and its efforts to stop refugees and migrants, most of them from Syria, from sailing to Greece.
Part of the new plan sounds very reasonable. The EU says it will prioritize agreements with Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia. Cutting deals like this with Sudan and Eritrea, however, doesn’t seem quite so common-sensical. The Eritrean regime stops people fleeing the country by means of a shoot-to-kill policy on its borders. (After Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis, Eritreans are the largest group of people trying to reach Europe.) Sudan, of course, is led by Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide in Darfur. And the United States believes his regime sponsors terrorism. Nevertheless, Spiegel reports,
documents relating to the project indicate that Europe wants to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. …
A general with Sudan’s Interior Ministry told SPIEGEL and ARD that technology would not just be used to register refugees, but also all Sudanese. The regime’s goal appears to be the absolute surveillance of its people.
A spat between Austria and Hungary is now growing because Hungary is refusing to take back any of the thousands of migrants that Austria says should be returned under EU rules. And the FPÖ has challenged “irregularities” in the recent Austrian election. So Austria remains at the center of things.
Claire: In our last discussion, I pointed out that the total number of asylum-seekers and migrants, so far, amounted to no more than a thousandth of Europe’s population. You replied, and the point is well-taken, that first, the refugees and migrants are disproportionately young and male; second, the EU plan for refugee quotas probably will never go into effect; and third, most of the refugees are either already in, or want to go, to Germany, Austria and Sweden, so it’s only realistic to assume that those countries will have to deal with the majority of asylum-seekers. But that could be construed as an argument in favor of keeping Europe’s internal borders open — because, as you point out, if they’re open, the idea of “quotas” and “migrants per country” is a nonsense. The problem is that they’re not a nonsense. Europe is now in a netherworld where no one is sure whether its borders are real.
Lillibellt: Exactly. Sadly, there is nothing more to add, except that the European mismanagement of this crisis doesn’t end there. If we look at Eurostat data, we see that in 2015, out of a total of 1,321,600 asylum seekers, there were only 366,785 females. And 652,279 were males between 14 and 34 years of age. Why?
Claire: For one thing, families send the males to make what’s obviously a highly perilous and difficult journey in the expectation that he can then send for his wife and kids, who can come in a safer way, for example, by plane. Also, many Syrian refugees are fleeing conscription into Assad’s army or being forced to fight for ISIS or another militia. It may be that women are in less immediate danger than the men because of that. I’d guess they’re probably also afraid to bring children along on such a dangerous trip. It makes much more sense to leave the mother behind if the children are small and send the strongest member of the family. But you’re right: Whatever the reason, having so many young men around without their wives to civilize them is a recipe for crime and antisocial behavior. To me, that suggests it’s urgent to allow any refugee given asylum to send at once for his wife.
Lilibellt: I have to insert here that being called up for military service is no ground for asylum according to the Geneva Convention–
Claire: –that’s an exceedingly technical objection. The convention defines a refugee as, “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” To be “called up for military service” in Syria is to assent to committing massive war crimes against your fellow citizens, including gassing them with chemical weapons. It’s fair to say that objection to this is a “political opinion,” and that refusing to be conscripted would result in a very well-founded fear of persecution. (See, e.g., Syrian men conscripted in Bashar Assad’s army choose escape over ‘Kill or be killed.”)–
Lilibellt: —I also assume that leaving your wife and children to take a long and perilous journey may not be very agreeable, but it suggests you’re in a reasonably secure place. I don’t want to sound cynical: Living in a refugee camp in Lebanon as a woman, alone with your children, and without the help and protection of your husband, is awful. And very likely dangerous. But it’s not life-threatening, and thus no ground for asylum–
Claire: –Almost certainly, among those who arrive are many people with no strong case for asylum. But to assume refugees are necessarily safe and in no danger of refoulement in countries like Turkey is ungrounded.
Lilibellt: Also, don’t forget that only 50 percent of the asylum seekers are Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans. The next largest group are Albanians, followed by people from Kosovo. If we conclude that broadly 30-40 percent are not actual refugees, but migrants trying to escape their poor living conditions at home and using the refugee crisis to enter the northern European countries, then a spike in male applicants makes even more sense.
Claire: I’d guess that figure is roughly correct.
Lilibellt: Of course, this is only theoretical and extrapolated from the data available, because I couldn’t find information about the ratio of males and females among the different ethnic groups of asylum-seekers–
Claire: I couldn’t either, but UN data on registered Syrian refugees shows an even ratio of men and women. (This doesn’t at all obviate your point that many may be safe enough to meet the Geneva Convention provisions in the camps where they were registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; I just add the information in case anyone is curious.)
Lilibellt: Shouldn’t it be essential for politicians and opinion leaders to give at least some thought to the social stability within the receiving countries and, in this context, to the fact that last year’s refugee influx in Germany alone has lead to an five percent increase in the young (16-40) male population? For how many years can this go on?
Claire: Just to be clear, last year’s influx in Germany is unlikely to be repeated, because the routes to northern Europe have been sealed. It’s southern Europe, Greece and Italy in particular, that’s apt to end up bearing a vastly disproportionate burden. Those borders are maritime, and obviously not as easy to seal.
Lillibellt: Germany expects 500,000 requests for family reunification among asylum-seekers who registered last year, and we can safely assume that most of the women are married (because of the dangers of coming here unaccompanied). That leaves us with 50 percent of the males between the age of 18 and 40 unmarried. And we haven’t even touched the cultural problems with underaged wives or polygamy.
Claire: I think your demographic concerns are well-founded. It’s common sense: Young, single men are the most criminogenic cohort everywhere, even under the best of circumstances, and even when the gender ratio is equal. When you add “massively traumatized” and “from a culture where women are treated as second-class,” you have a recipe for — no, you will have, guaranteed — a new alienated and criminal underclass. And it’s one that could become more so, quickly, owing to a ratchet effect: If any member of the group commit crimes, people will develop a negative view of the whole group and will be less eager to invite them over, or help them, or hire them. So they’ll quickly encounter stares, insults, hostility in their daily lives, and become fearful of their host country. If they get a reputation for harassing or (God forbid) raping women, it’s very unlikely the local girls will want to date them or marry them. And even if this doesn’t turn them into criminals, they’ll be isolated, lonely, resentful, and sexually frustrated. To me, again, this suggests the urgency of family reunification and the importance of establishing a gender-based quota system.
Lillibellt: To the extent that quotas are feasible in reality, I am with you on your second point. But regarding family reunification, we disagree profoundly: Yes, there must be a realistic prospect of family reunification depending on the asylum-seeker’s efforts to integrate and economic success. But asylum is granted for period of time; it is not a relocation program–
Claire: –in reality, Syrian refugees will need to be relocated permanently. The war could easily last another hundred years. Syria has been destroyed, physically and socially; there is nothing for them to return to. Be practical: Is there a realistic prospect of them returning?
Lillibellt: Only if the asylum-seeker ceases to be dependant on the welfare system should he be eligible for family reunification. For these reasons:
  1. If he’s successful, there is no point in sending him back home when the cause for his asylum no longer exists. (In Europe, there is already talk about changing Geneva Convention. You will see, this point will be raised in the near future! – and I don’t like that);
  2. You would give up the best way there is to find out who is really a refugee and who’s not (without quotas, bureaucracy, or lawyers). If you’re a migrant who is not persecuted for your religion, sexual orientation, or political opinions, and the economic prospects in your home country are dire, you want – understandably — a better future for yourself and your children, one without the threat of violent unrest and war. But your work skills won’t be sufficient to find you work in Europe any time soon, so you should think twice and be aware that family reunification is unlikely. (This should apply as well to any possible future wife from his homeland.)
  3. One of the biggest mistakes Europe made in the past was failing to make a concerted effort to prevent the establishment of “parallel societies.” This situation is the worst now in countries where obtaining family reunification was the easiest. If your family’s future depends on integrating, your chances are much better if you’re in the workforce and have to deal with Austrians, Germans, French, and so forth on a daily basis. It also would lead to the discussion we most need to have, about opening the labor market to refugees. (It can’t be the new normal for refugees to work for a Euro an hour; this is a disgrace and robs companies of their contracts; this is a social time bomb.)
Claire: This is anecdotal, but might provide a clue about why the asylum-seekers are predominantly male:
Lillibellt: This is my point. It’s hard to distinguish between asylum-seekers and migrants (sometimes they are both), but you have to do it. Otherwise, I say it again, you are creating a social time bomb.
Claire: I agree. But as you can see from that video, this will require Europe to coordinate its policies.
Lilibellt: You also have to consider the incentives of the European welfare systems (especially in Austria, Germany, and Sweden). In Austria, everybody, including recognised refugees, who has “no sufficient financial protection by other means” is eligible for the guaranteed minimum income (800 Euros a month for a single man or woman; each child, another 210 Euros.) Recently, the media reported the case of an Afghan family who receives 5,600 Euros a month.
Claire: That “minimum income” in conjunction with Austria not being a deadly war zone is going to continue to attract people — how could it not? Hell, reading that makes me want to move to Austria, I’d quite like a guaranteed minimum income that high! Speaking of economic incentives, this is a natural place to introduce the problem of the economic incentives to human trafficking, which are massive. And busting the traffickers is an incredibly complex transnational problem, about as apt to be successful as the war on drugs. I’ve heard rumors — ones that would obviously be very significant if true — that Russian organized crime has been acting as human traffickers, at least in Greece. Have you seen or heard anything to suggest this is a rumor worth my pursuing?
Lilibellt: No, sorry, I am not even aware of the rumors you mentioned. If, as you said and I agree, this conflict will go on for ten years or longer, there is no way European population will accept peacefully an influx of millions of migrants on their welfare rolls each year, no way. At this point — it is hard to convince the public, but I feel it is still do-able — the only peaceful solution is for Europe to accept only real refugees (women, children, Christians, members of Muslim sects, politically-persecuted people, etc.) and to offer family reunification, in the case of relatives who aren’t persecuted, only after the refugee qualifies for a resident permit and fulfills the economic requirements. Austria took in people after the Yugoslavian war, the Prague spring, and the Hungarian uprising without much complaining (at least, nothing like we are seeing today). I still think that most Europeans are more than willing to help. But if politicians, media outlets, and NGOs keep playing fast and loose with what’s left of Europe’s compassion, I don’t want to imagine what will happen.
Claire: Here’s another situation you don’t want to imagine: There are 4,843,344 Syrian refugees — not economic migrants — in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and North Africa. A whole generation has been brutalized, is going without any education that would allow them to function in a modern economy, and many are living in squalid camps with absolutely no hope for the future. What happens to children who grow up under these circumstances? Will there even be governments with which the EU can make deals? By the way, did you see that Sebastian Kurz (Austria’s foreign minister) argued for the “Australian model” in dealing with migration?
Lillibellt: I was just translating this interview for you, so it saves me the trouble that you found it too. Yes, really — well — interesting times, when I have to agree with a 29-year old rookie politician instead of the 61-year old “pro” who’s experienced in world politics and head of the leading European nation. I feel uneasy about it. Maybe my take on the refugee crisis is completely wrong after all. I surely hope so.
Claire: The obvious practical objection is that Australia can do this because it’s a single country (and an island). No country in Europe will be willing to commit its sovereign territory to this project, I guarantee it. If you look at this discussion thread, for example where people of different European nationalities are talking about this proposal, you can see immediately what every country’s reaction will be: Use someone else’s island. So even if the case can be made that this is the only way to prevent migrants from drowning, it’s not going to happen.
Lillibellt: That’s a question of leverage. What about a temporary solution where Greece agrees to “rent out” an island for a period of time without losing any territory permanently, and renegotiations are scheduled in advance? Could you see this happening? I honestly don’t see any other way. If anyone has a better idea, be my guest: I’ll listen to it. But it pains me to say, you must stop the refugees and migrants from entering European soil to save them from drowning or putting their lives in danger, and to preserve an EU with open borders. Without free trade and free movement of persons, without open borders, the idea of the EU is soon to be a memory of the past.
Claire: I think if I were Greek, I’d be enraged with what seem to me de facto plans to turn Greece into the EU’s massive refugee camp.
Lillibellt: Yes, if I was Greek I would resent Germany more by the day. I wonder if Merkel is even aware what she has created with the illegal bailout of Greece and now this illegal refugee-welcome party. If the European Union falls apart or slides into an even deeper crisis, she’s to blame.
Claire: What if no one’s to blame? Or no one in Europe, anyway.
Lillibellt: What I do know is that the underlying cause of so many unresolved problems today, not only the refugee crisis, is false compassion. Europe, at least the leader of its most influential country, in concert with EU officials and the media, seems to have decided that compassionate policy, not efficient Realpolitik, is the right way to go. Someone should commend to them the words of Stefan Zweig:
There are two kinds of pity. One, the weak and sentimental kind, which is really no more than the heart’s impatience to be rid as quickly as possible of the painful emotion aroused by the sight of another’s unhappiness … ; and the other, the only kind that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond.
Claire: I don’t know what an unsentimental but creative policy would look like, in the case of the EU. Sending surveillance equipment to al-Bashir is, I suppose, unsentimental.
Lillibellt: I think the main problem is that the present generation of politicians inherited a fairly good, organised Europe (from Mitterrand, Chirac, and Kohl), with clear objectives and rules (like the Maastricht treaty, which anticipated exactly the problems we are having now). But they lack the competence and gravitas of their predecessors. They have the mentality of bureaucrats, and perhaps it isn’t even their fault, because — as Kafka perfectly described it – bureaucracy is a beast of its own. Merkel even looks like some character out of his books (I know, I know you’re not supposed to make fun of people’s looks, but I couldn’t resist). Why is it that Putin, Orban, or even Erdoğan for that matter — he is not shy about declaring his objectives, you must give him that — can formulate their political goals and philosophies so much more coherently than European politicians, or worse, EU officials? (I am not talking about their actual policies.)
Claire: The beauty of authoritarianism. It’s easy to be clear when you’ve crushed your domestic opposition and you don’t mind alienating the rest of the world.
Lillibellt: Then again, maybe you’re right and the bureaucracy is only a symptom of history repeating itself. Before the First World War, the Habsburg empire was known for having the best civil service administration in the world (like the EU bureaucracy). At the same time, Franz Josef II is said to have had little interest in the military and matters of national defense (like all the EU members, with maybe the exception of the former Eastern bloc countries). And nationalism arose everywhere in the Empire (like everywhere in the EU). You yourself drew comparisons to the Austro-Hungarian Empirein the comment section of our first exchange. Perhaps we have to take another look at nationalism and learn how to make it a force for good (more in the spirit of Dvorak and Liszt) rather than suppressing it. I don’t know.
Claire: I’m not sure how even the healthiest of nationalisms would solve, practically, the problems at hand. That reminds me: Russia. Are you concerned about the alleged links between the FPÖ (the party for which she recently voted) and Putin?
Lilibellt: Yes, I am, or at a minimum I don’t feel too comfortable about it. Admittedly, I haven’t paid much attention to the FPÖ’s connection to Russia or Serbia in the past. If I remember correctly, a former FPÖ party member and now an FPÖ arch-enemy, Ewald Stadler, was an election observer in Ukraine and ruled that everything was okay. The name the most associated with Russia among the FPÖ’s ranks is the party’s vice-leader,Johann Gudenus, who spent time in Russia during his legal studies and is thus fluent in Russian. He was an election observer during the Crimean “independence” referendum, after which the FPÖ supported Russia. Remember you asked my opinion about Hofer’s statement that Kosovo is part of Serbia? Neither the FPÖ nor Hofer released further comment, and there was no follow-up in the press, just that one headline. I still doubt it has much to do with pandering to potential voters, but it does make sense in light of the FPÖ’s engagement with Russia. Overall, I’m not really sure what to make of this apparent alliance between the right parties of Europe (the National Front in France, the AfD in Germany, the FPÖ in Austria) with Russia.
Claire: Is there resentment of Russia in Austria, generally [for worsening the Syrian crisis and generating more refugees], or is Russia seen to be playing a useful role?
Lillibellt: I’m not aware of it. Generally I don’t think, too many people are familiar with the details of the Syrian war and the political players involved.
Claire: What about the US? Is there resentment that the US hasn’t played a more active role or accepted more refugees?
Via NBC news.
Lillibellt: There is no resentment towards the US because of its lack of activity; far more often Austrians blame America for destabilizing the Middle East in the first place, starting with Bush.
Claire I’m honestly feeling hopeless. I look in every direction and see no rational solution that would be widely accepted in Europe. It’s a classic tragedy of the commons.
Meanwhile in Syria, mere hours after the first food rations in four years were delivered to Daraya, which has been under siege by Assad and starving, Assad began pounding the city with barrel bombs.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said he was “outraged beyond words.”
 Thank you for any help you can give me toward defraying the costs of writing this book.

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