Why is there a refugee crises right now?

We have a migration crisis because Africa and Asia have become richer and more developed.

This sounds counter-intuitive. Most people seem to think that we have a migration crisis because Asia and Africa are becoming poorer and more violent and because there is so much war. But they are wrong.  I'll explain.

None of us are spared from the pictures of drowned children in Turkey and furious crowds of migrants at European train stations demanding that they are let to Germany. We've heard the reasons for the great migration of our times - war, repression, economic inequality. But one question is not really handled in the discussion: why did this crisis come up now; why has it only appeared in the recent years and reached a new summit this year, not in the decades before?

Why did no crowds from Biafra apply asylum in Europe at the end of 1960's, though the famine and persecution of Igbo people were killing millions? Why did we not have thousands and millions of people trying to reach Europe, when there was civil war in Lebanon and a huge famine in Ethiopia in 1980's? Why not when there was a bloody civil war in Yugoslavia, war in Iraq, and conflict in Chechnya, and mass murder by machete in Rwanda in the 1990's?

And why are so many of the migrants not just persecuted Christian families from war-torn Syria, but young men from Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone? The iconic pictures, of course, throw dead and suffering children at us, because such pictures  make good material for business. There's no business like show business. And they also make great Internet memes that allow people to play Pharisee and feel better than those who are not as enthusiastic about uncontrolled migration.

But most migrants are not families with children. They are young men who have been sent by their families to seek out opportunities for themselves and for the extended family. Wouldn't I do what they do if I were in their position? Of course I would. But does this make the current European policy good? No, it doesn't.

These young men now come from far away: Eritrea, Bangladesh, and the parts of Nigeria that 50 years ago would be Biafra. Out of 4121 asylum applicants until end of July this year in Finland, only 119 came from Syria, even though the horrible mess with Assad, Daesh and various ethnic parties is prominently displayed as a reason for migration. So why is it that these men who are trying to get to Germany and Britain?

The huge migration that we have today crossing Mediterranean is only possible because the source countries of this migration have developed so rapidly in recent years. 

This development is due to globalization, free market and improved, liberalized communication, and the waning of the long conflicts caused by colonization and the Cold War. Syria and other current wars are merely a small artifact in the great pattern of migration. In fact, wars and violence are on the decline. To some extent, the rise of migration from some previously very poor countries  is also due to development aid, training and education provided by rich countries. But mostly it is because these countries are now better able to access world markets. They are no longer tied down to two camps of the Cold War. They are connected to the world, via Internet, via global banking, via globally reachable phone network. And one part of that is that now they supply migrants, as people seek out improvement into their lives - improvement of which they previously did not know, or could only dream of, not actually try to implement.

The countries in Asia and Africa are now richer and they have better communications facilities than ever. World hunger is now lowest since the time UN started following up  (in proportion to population, and the number of starving people has also been shrinking in absolute numbers for quite some time now). Many diseases that ravaged poor countries have been eliminated: smallpox is extinct, except for laboratory retention, and polio is almost eradicated. Internet connectivity is no longer a luxury.

A blog post describes the tendencies of emigration very well: we have entered an era where more people than ever are aware of what life is like in rich countries. Even in poor countries, people have Internet, they have smartphones, they even have credit cards.

In most countries, the wealthier the people, the less likely they are going to migrate in search of a better life. In Africa and Asia, the opposite is true: the likelihood of plans to emigrate are positively correlated with wealth. So, as wealth and availability of information regarding "pull factors" in Europe increases, more and more people want to migrate.

This means that the current crises is only a beginning. Something would need to change to a much, much more unpleasant direction in Europe before this changes.

When Biafrans or Ethiopians were starving, the furthest they could get was where they had the strength to walk. That strength did not enable them to get very far, particularly with the famine. They did not come to change our lives in Europe in any way, except by allowing Bono to arrange concerts to make everyone feel they've been up to something good.

So, shouldn't we be happy that formerly poor countries have now entered the world stage, even if that shows up as a migration of people that we see as a problem?

Yes, we should, but we now also see the other major impact of this development, i.e. deterioration of European welfare states. You cannot have both open borders for migration - unrestricted right of residence - and a welfare state where right to social security and monetary transfers is based on residence. Since European nations seem to have no intention to enforce border controls and stop the misuse of asylum process, only one outcome is possible. That is that the welfare states will need to change to a model where the government-supplied welfare is much, much more basic than it is today. Income equality will need to rise tremendously to make it possible for migrants to be employed. This means also African-like levels of income for so-called "original" inhabitants in Europe.

For the well-to-do, this will mean opportunities. For the currently unemployed Europeans, times will be hard, as Louis C. K. so eloquently tells us.

But in the developing world, things are not that bad. They are actually getting a little better all the time. This is very well presented by this Hans Rosling TED talk.

Of course, there are alternative models considered.  Egyptian billionaire Naguid Sawiris offers to buy a Greek island for the refugees to settle.  Admirable, but shall Europe  accept this proxy nation? Hardly not. So the migration will continue.


PS. It seems that while I was writing this, some journalists came up with the same ideas, e.g. in Telegraph.

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