Let’s stop beating around the bush here: there are two massive forces at work with regard to Mediterranean immigration into the European Union. The first is that Europe offers a perceived better life than the poverty and chaos going on to our south and east. The second is that the average European does not want thousands of refugees becoming our problem, and is voting for parties advocating a hardline. Awkward? Yes. Racist? Possibly. But that’s the reality facing Europe’s leaders, and managing it means that we must confront that reality.
Europeans don’t want refugees dying in their thousands off our coasts. Nor do we want our navies opening fire on them to discourage them, even if such a thing were legal. But what is the option? Where do we put them? We can’t just let them drown. This is Europe, for Christ’s sake.
Many years ago, Tony Blair suggested the idea of paying a North African country to act as our control zone, where refugees could be landed, provided for, and processed. It would at least provide a safe zone, ideally run directly by the EU, probably with European troops and support staff, for refugees to be sent and receive shelter and care. Secondly, it would allow Europe breathing space, to work out how to manage the inflow without just dumping thousands on the Italians, French and Spanish.
There’d be huge resistance to such an idea. It wouldn’t be long before the phrase “concentration camp” or colony would be bandied about, and it would be a costly operation, and that assumes we can find a location.
There’s also the reality that such a place would almost certainly not be a temporary location, but would become a society in its own right, with its own tensions and conflicts and our soldiers and police in the middle of it. But, if it were run well enough, with some integration into the European single market, many may choose to live there as a home, especially if entering the continental EU illegally will result in immediate deportation back to “the zone”. As well as all that, there’s no doubt that such a place will be come a magnet for immigrants in its own right.
It’s not an ideal solution, but seeing the death rate in the Mediterranean, it must surely now be considered.