Why the solutions to Europe's migration problems won't come out of Africa

Both the UK and Germany are slowly realising how complicated the process of deportation is

A 'never again 1933' poster is held up in Frankfurt at a protest against the AfD party and right-wing extremism on Saturday. AP
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It was the week that Europe’s fixation with Africa as the provider of solutions to its migration challenges fell apart.

The eruption of a protest movement on German streets calling for a ban on the AfD party draws something of a line in the sand against anti-migrant rhetoric. Thousands took to the streets of Berlin on Sunday to back the ban after far-right groups met to plot “remigration” of people living in Germany to North Africa. The plotting drew comparisons with the 1930s meetings that preceded the Nazi takeover and clearly struck a historical chord of revulsion.

Germany is looking at ways to increase deportations but it has not yet gone down the British route of targeting a specific African drop-off point.

The tortuous saga of the British effort to set up a Rwanda scheme suffered successive blows last week. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda signalled that his patience with the wrangling was running out and said he would refund London the £140 million ($178 million) his country has received so far under the stalled plans.

A senior member of the British Conservative party added to its woes last week when she pointed out the scale of deportations could not possibly meet the ambitions of its architects.

Ruth Davidson, its former leader in Scotland, said the UK had tied itself in knots chasing an illusion. “This thing about putting people on planes to Rwanda. I mean, there are dogs in the street that know that, one, it is probably never going to happen and two, if it does, it is going to be a number so small that it makes very little difference to the bottom line,” she said.

The tortuous saga of the British effort to set up a Rwanda scheme suffered successive blows last week

Even British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s favourite Peloton instructor got in on the act. On hearing of the project, Cody Rigsby reportedly exclaimed: “How does that even work?” The short answer is it doesn’t but that doesn’t mean that it is out of the headlines.

Later in the day, Mr Sunak was on the phone to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. According to the Downing Street readout, the pair agreed to work together on the priority of migration, especially at G7 level. Italy is the current G7 president and Mr Sunak has been keen to unite with Rome to support the effort to tackle the flow of migrants, especially towards Europe.

Mr Scholz’s so-called traffic-light governing coalition last week passed a bravely liberal citizenship bill that eases the path to becoming a German to five years and allows people, such as the large numbers of Turkish origin, to keep their original nationality. On the other hand, the coalition is also toughening up deportations – an estimated 600 will be forcibly returned in the current project – but in a tentative way.

The uproar over the AfD meeting with other extremists, including Identitarians, has shown the Germans the dangers of going too far down the road of expulsions.

To the extremists, remigration means pushing large numbers of people of foreign origin out of the country – forcibly if it is needed – which is a far cry from the fast track to citizenship that Mr Scholz is offering. With protests already taking pace in Berlin and Cologne and growing crowds likely to turn out in the coming weeks, a ban on the AfD is the main demand on the placards.

Some politicians in Mr Scholz’s Social Democratic Party are warning the country’s history of Nazism means it should be bold in acting now. That’s even though the AfD is currently polling second in nationwide support. “Nobody can sit back and wait for developments,” Lars Klingbeil declared last week. “This willingness to fight is the clear expectation that I set for everyone.”

At a time of economic gloom in Germany, a study by the Stiftung Marktwirtschaft (Market Economy Foundation) gives an account of why the right wing has gained traction in recent years. It projected financial losses for the government and the economy primarily due to “uncontrolled and irregular migration”. In fact, taking the current contribution of people struggling to re-establish their lives and including young children plus the old is highly misleading.

The study says migrants are a particularly big loss-maker for the German state because they have, on average, less income than established residents and therefore pay less taxes. The author compared the state’s expenditure – pensions, education and child benefit – with the tax and social security contributions over the lifetime of the people already paying in.

Children and young people were deemed a huge financial loss for the state because they don’t work and don’t pay taxes, while the education system and other provisions cost a huge amount. It concedes that working adults are financially worthwhile for the state but this is also offset by migrant pensioners in turn costing the state much more money in net pension and health care than they bring in in taxes.

Lost in the mire of the current turmoil is the essential benefit for the economy in the long term. The reality is that German companies would not be able to survive and all would experience significant cuts in their prosperity.

Mr Sunak and Mr Scholz may be able to work together to tackle the worst aspects of migrants fleeing into Europe in 2024. Increasingly, though, it looks like the solutions will not be out of Africa.

Published: January 22, 2024, 4:00 AM
Updated: January 23, 2024, 8:48 AM