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Like U.S., immigration inflames Europe as countries deal with crush of refugees

The U.S. and Europe are each being hit hard by a wave of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. The crisis is polarizing residents on both sides of the Atlantic in their own distinct ways.

Published: September 28, 2023 11:04pm

A rift between European countries on immigration is showing no signs of narrowing after a key Italian lawmaker compared Germany’s refugee policies to that country’s actions leading to World War II.

The U.S. and Europe are each being hit hard by a wave of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, and the crisis is polarizing residents on both sides of the Atlantic in their own ways.

A new surge of immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border is testing the efficacy of border policies of President Joe Biden only months after they were put in place. But European countries appear to be struggling to come up with any policy at all.

With more than three months left in the year, around 200,000 immigrants have already crossed illegally into European Union states – more than in any full year since 2016. Around two-third of those arrivals have entered Europe through Italy, according to United Nations data

In both the U.S. and Europe, analysts say the number of refugees has swollen because of social collapse, poverty, conflict, a changing climate, and built-up demand from the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is an area where European integration is severely lacking,” Ferruccio Pastore, director of the International and European Immigration Research Forum, told Just the News. “As in the U.S., it’s become a kind of political question rather than a one of economic development or humanitarian assistance.”

That became clear after Germany announced it would help fund non-governmental groups carrying out search-and-rescue efforts in the Mediterranean. Those are efforts Italy wants to halt. In recent weeks, the term “naval blockade” has become commonplace in Italian news stories.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni – elected last year on a platform of curbing the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy’s shores – has repeatedly called for a united European policy that spreads the burden of patrolling Europe’s shores and for processing and settling new arrivals. But such a policy still appears far from reach. 

Andrea Crippa, a member of parliament and one of the leaders of The League, an anti-migrant party that is a senior partner in Meloni’s ruling coalition, accused Germany of using migrants to weaken its allies. Germany, Crippa declared, had “gone from invading other countries with its army … [to] using illegal immigrants to destabilize Italy,” The Guardian reported. 

On Thursday, European Ministers of the Interior met in Brussels to discuss the topic, and on Friday, the EU Med Group -- a group of nine EU countries most impacted by the migrant crisis -- will meet in Malta. Prospects for a comprehensive agreement on migration in the near-term remain slim.

The battle lines have been drawn ahead of time, with wealthy northern European countries distant from the waves of refugees, asylum seekers, and economic immigrants landing on the southern shores, and are  employing a wait-and-see strategy. Meanwhile, Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary, called the prospect of a pact allowing migrants to legally enter the EU “insane,” and vowing “We will not let it happen!”

Opinions in Europe range from those who say member countries have an obligation to help those in need to those who want to underwrite economic development in the parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia producing most of the refuges, to those who want to close Europe’s doors completely and let the countries of origin sort the problems out.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Britain’s immigration minister argued at a Tuesday speech before the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. that "international refugee rules must be rewritten to reduce the number of people entitled to protection", as the UK's Conservative government seeks international support for its tough stance on unauthorized migration. Although the UK is no longer an EU member, its policies may influence those nations who are members, and many of the refugees arriving in the UK transit through EU nations.

Heading into the back-to-back summits this week, Italy toughened its domestic policies, on Wednesday making it easier for the country to deport potentially risky arrivals and stripping some unaccompanied minors of asylum protections they were first granted in 2017.

Elections for the European Parliament are scheduled to take place in June of next year -- in the middle of primary season for the next U.S. presidential campaigns and five months before the national vote that will select the next president. The immigrant question is likely to be among the top priorities when voters in both polities go to the polls. 

“The migrant problem is a real one, but it also depends a great deal on our framing,” Pastore said. “It’s difficult for the different sides not to use inflammatory language. Opinions are becoming more polarized, not less.”


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