The cargo ship recklessly headed towards the coast of Italy. The crew had abandoned ship and the Italian coast guard scrambled to intervene. After regaining control of the ship the coast guard discovered a troubling reality: 800 illegal immigrants were hiding in the hull of the ship. These men, women, and children—most of them coming from Africa—were exhausted and terrified by the ordeal. Later that day—December 31, 2014—the ship was brought safely to the Italian harbor of Gallipoli where the migrants got off.
Scenes like this play out almost on a daily basis. Two days later, the same scenario occurred with another cargo ship that was carrying roughly 450 illegal immigrants. Illegal migrants from Africa, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq are desperately trying to cross the sea to reach Europe.
There is a lot at stake for everyone involved and 2014 saw record numbers of immigrants. On January 13, 2015, the European Union Commission (EUC) released a statement that said in 2014 “more than 276,000 migrants illegally entered the EU, which represents an increase of 155 percent compared to 2013.”
The smugglers use two main routes, both crossing about 300 miles of sea. The Central Mediterranean route goes to the south of Italy and is most often used. In 2013, 45,298 immigrants illegally entered Europe using this route. In 2014, there were 170,816, which is an astounding 277 percent increase.
The second route, known as the Eastern Mediterranean route, goes to Greece, Cyprus, and Italy. In 2013, 23,299 immigrants illegally entered Europe through this path. In 2014, there were 50,561, a 117 percent increase.
The exponential growth of illegal migration began around the collapse and destabilization of Arab dictatorial regimes in 2011. The former authoritarian regimes stopped migrants by securing their own borders and their fall has had dramatic consequences on migration. The EUC notes that “over the last years, flows from the Central Mediterranean have increased substantially, first following the Arab Spring in 2011 and more recently, due to the difficult situation of political instability and civil war, in Libya. Many smugglers today carry out their criminal activities from Libya, where government control is very limited.” The Arab Spring and the collapse of the Libyan state have opened the gates for massive migration towards Europe.
Not only is this an immigration issue, it is also a huge business. The EUC reported that “it appears that the people on board have paid, in most cases, between $5,000 and $7,000 per person for the trip, and in some cases children travelled for free.” The cargo ship in the incident above, with 800 immigrants, would have yielded around $4 million. And be sure that part of the money, if not all, goes to radical Islamist movements.
While smugglers are making money, Europe is losing control of its borders and it is getting harder by the day to stop this movement. The coast guards are not large enough to prevent every smuggler and by the time they are found the immigrants on board are in such poor health that there is no other choice than to bring them to Europe and take care of them.
Once on the soil of the European Union it is near impossible to deport the migrants. In a lot of cases, the illegal immigrants’ ID documents have been destroyed either intentionally or by accident. Because of this they will then become asylum seekers, stay in Europe, and even wander throughout the different countries of the Schengen Area since borders no longer exist between them.
One of the consequences of uncontrolled migration is the creation of refugee camps. The most important is in Calais, a harbor of northern France, which faces England a mere 25 miles away. It is estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 illegal immigrants in Calais will at some point attempt to enter England. While waiting, they create tensions with the locals. As of today, the authorities are struggling desperately to deal with the migrants. This struggle gives the appearance that not only is France, Germany, Italy, Cyprus and Greece powerless against this massive migration, but so is the entire European Union.
Uncertainty in the Middle East and in some parts of Africa is pushing more and more people out of their countries. Europe looks like a haven to them, especially with generous welfare systems like they currently have in France. The problem is that Europe did not expect this migration to happen. Now that it is happening, it may very well destabilize European society as a whole. The destabilization comes in the form of bloated European welfare systems that are already overtaxed and bankrupt as well as the likelihood of increased numbers of radical Islamists who pose a threat to European society.
Americans believe they have a border problem, but many are unaware of the serious border problems that we have here in Europe.
Dr. Sylvain Charat is a graduate from the University of the Sorbonne, Paris, was chief of staff for a former French Minister of Finance in the French National Assembly, and is now a public affairs consultant, specializing in the welfare system. He is also a contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.