“Everything,” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is reputed to have said, “is connected to everything else.” Watching the rise of right wing populism in Europe, one could easily confirm the validity of that statement. It is hard to argue that Europe’s inability to control its own borders, who enters our union, is not the catalyst for so much of the ugliness that is threatening to engulf our continent. That failure triggers a loss of faith in European integration as a means of delivering for ordinary Europeans, and with that growing electoral support for the sort of parties we had hoped would never again be significant in our public life.
Illegal uncontrolled immigration is not the cause of all our problems. But it is such a huge factor that it cannot be ignored. We cannot fix Europe without fixing the issue of securing our borders.
Having said that, most Europeans, I believe, accept that we have a moral obligation to provide shelter and safety for those fleeing oppression, war and death.
With these two objectives in mind, I have long believed that the most logical means of delivering both is the creation of an EU-run refugee safezone, ideally somewhere in Northern Africa.
I do not rule out the sheer ambition, scale or cost of such a project. It would be the biggest operation ever engaged upon by European countries since the Second World War. We would have to find a nation in North Africa that would lease us a huge tranche of land, probably in the interior. We would have to build a port, roads, and then at its heart a de facto city state. A place where every illegal entrant into Europe from Italy, Greece or elsewhere could be transported for processing and housing, and then gradually, after screening, we could drip feed prepared refugees into the EU at our pace and according to our plans.
Let me be clear that I am not talking about some sort of Australian offshore prison, nor just a giant refugee camp. I’m talking about a functioning city with businesses, schools, hospitals, the sort of place that many refugees would be able to start a new life, under the protection of European security forces and run by an EU governor. A place where the children of refugees will attend EU schools, and learn our languages and values, be raised to be young Europeans with the opportunity to study and work in Europe. It could be party of the single market and the Eurozone. It would also allow us to screen for extremists.
Is it colonialist? Probably. But bear in mind that no one will ever be forced to stay there against their will. They may leave any time they wish. What they will not be able to do is enter Europe proper without permission. All those in the safezone will have been on their way to Europe: they can then hardly object to being in a safezone run by the EU to European values.
It would be incredibly expensive, and would probably need the creation of Eurobonds to fund it. It would need an EU security force to run it, an EU Navy to intercept and ship asylum seekers to it, and thousands of EU teachers, doctors, engineers, judges, administrators and others. But it would also become a focal point for other non-EU countries. I would be very surprised if Norway, Switzerland, Britain and others would not contribute, as would the UN and global charities.
Would it become a magnet for Africans. Almost certainly, and probably a target for Islamist terrorists too. But you know what? We live in the biggest magnet for both already.
Aside from its primary purpose providing shelter and safety, such a safezone would send a powerful message. To those who attempt to enter Europe illegally, they will know that all roads will lead to the safezone, even if they successfully make it illegally to Europe. It will also send a message to Europeans that we have secured control of our frontier, and that Europeans will decide who enters Europe.
*Note: I wrote a short novella, “A Little Piece of Europe” a few years ago. The reason I chose fiction was because it gave me scope to write about the concept in-depth, and its possible effect on individuals living there. You can download it for free here.