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The European Migration Crisis


There is no denying that many Europeans believe they are undergoing a

migration crisis. Indeed, tens of thousands of Africans and Middle Easterners
have fled their regions seeking more secure futures in Europe. Even though a
good proportion of them never made it to Europe instead drowning in the
Mediterranean Sea in no insignificant part due to European sea safety budget
cuts, they keep coming.
It is easy to see how Europeans are scared. Europe has to date accepted a
fraction of the refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East. Many times more,
the lions share of migrants, have fled to countries that are closer to home in the
Middle East and Africa.
In Africa, South Africa and Sudan, host hundreds of thousands of economic and
political refugees from surrounding countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Eritrea,
and Ethiopia, just to name a few neighbours. In the Middle East, Lebanon,
Tunisia, and Turkey, host hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq,
and Afghanistan.
For these African and Middle East countries huge influxes of refugees are not
the exception, but the norm in recent years. At the same time, but the countries
in Africa and Middle East receive little assistance from Europe or the United
States to deal with the huge migrant influxes with which they are regularly
Why should African and the Middle East countries expect support? Why should
Europeans not be so surprised that they are receiving so many migrants fleeing
death and destruction or exploitation at home? The answer lies in
understanding the cause of the so-called European migration crisis.
In almost every case, the African and Middle East migrants are fleeing wars,
violence, or exploitation caused by Europeans, Americans and their allies.
The United States initiated wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan,
which are sustained with NATO and sometimes regional allied support, are
responsible for a recently estimated slaughter of as many as four million people
since they started. In addition, there are countless maimed and wounded
civilians crowding hospitals around the region.
The so-called evil regimes in these countries could not have killed and maimed
as many people as the United States, NATO, and its allies killed in a hundred

years. Nevertheless, the lesson from this senseless bloodshed has not been
Instead of recognizing the erred ways of their violent actions these same
countries have been involved in new acts of aggression against the people of
Syria, Libya, and once again Iraq. It is not by coincidence that Syria, Libya, and
Iraq were once the most developed countries in the Middle East and North
Africa. They not only provided their own people free and high level health care
and education, they drew migrant workers from around Africa, the Middle East
and further abroad.
The migrant workers who came to Syria, Libya, and Iraq were not basket cases
who had lost everything and who are often too traumatized to be able to
contribute to society in which they eventually land after fleeing. The migrants
that came to Syria, Libya, and Iraq were often workers, skilled and unskilled
that contributed to society. They helped to build the societies in which they
worked and their remittances back home often sustained their families and
helped their own national economies.
Libya was the richest country in Africa and on-track to achieve all the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Syria was a centre of Arab and Islamic
learning where more books were translated into Arabic from other languages
than anywhere else in the world. And Iraq had been on the verge of becoming an
industrialised developed country with under-one and under-five child mortality
rates that rivalled Western European countries and the United States.
After Europe and the United States intervened, today, Libya is a failed-State.
Libyas wealth has dried up or been syphoned into private pockets. Today, after
the NAO intervention Libya will not achieve not a single MDG. In Syria its
people have been forced to turn their attention to defending their sovereignty
from multiple foreign-led aggressions, while watching the United States and
NATO allies bomb what is left of war-torn towns into the rubble. And Iraq, after
two US and allied wars killed an estimated as many a one million Iraqi children
and scared many whole generations to come, Iraq is a State that is incapable of
sustaining itself where insecurity is rabid.
Policy makers in Europe, the United States, and at NATO headquarters in
Brussels, Belgium, appear to have given little or no thought to the decades of
social upheaval that they were causing by instigating violence in Africa and
Middle East. Instead they appear to have acted based on selfish near-term
interests. They did not even observe the international law that they, themselves,
predominately wrote. Instead they flaunted this law with impunity to secure
their short-sighted goals.

To date few, and no senior, American or European has been prosecuted for the
terror they caused in the region. Yet, the actions of these senior American or
European leaders far outweighs the horrors perpetrated even by the likes of AlQaeda, ISIL, ISIS, or Boko Haram. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to
note that these Middle Eastern and African non-State entities are following in
the foot-steps set in the sand by the United States and the European States.
The cause of Sub-Saharan migration might be more complex, but is no less
traceable to Europe and the United States. Instead of recent wars and the
relatively quick destruction of rapidly developing States, Africans have been
subjected to long, sustained torture and slow deaths.
The exploitation of Africa goes back centuries starting with the subjugation of
millions of Africans to slavery and colonization mainly by Europeans and
Americans. Much of Europe and the United States of America was build with
the blood and sweat of African slaves and the fruits of European colonization.
Slavery and colonization are international crimes and States that carry out such
actions are responsible for their internationally wrongful acts, including the
consequences of compensation. Nevertheless, to date no compensation has been
paid to African countries by the European or Americans who profited from
slavery and colonization.
This is not for want of claims. Claims are regularly made for reparations or
compensation in international forums, but they are ignored or to put aside with
trivial and often inconsistent excuses. Europeans and Americans claims Arabs
or Africans themselves were often responsible for the slave trade, minimizing
their own much more significant responsibility. On the other hand, they then
sometimes reply to claims of reparations by claiming they, Europeans and
Americans, have already suffered enough from the indignity of having
conducted the slave trade.
Is there any European and American legal jurisdiction that absolves criminals
from responsibility for their crimes based on their claim that the act of
committing a crime is demeaning? Of course committing a crime is demeaning
for the perpetrator, but it is even more so for the victim. That is exactly why the
law punishes criminals or establishes systems aimed at rehabilitating them.
In the case of Europe and the United States it would appear that rehabilitation
has not worked as despite well-endowed universities and formally functioning
electoral and political systems, these countries have not learned to respect the
rule of international law. Reflecting this widespread view Western-schooled,
United States ally Ms Tzipi Livni, at the time the Justice Minister of Israel,
reportedly stated that I am against law, international law in particular. This

statement today reflects the way both executive and often judicial authorities act
in many European and American legal jurisdictions.
But as if centuries of slavery were not enough hardship for Africans, they have
been followed by economic exploitation that is ongoing to this day. After having
been pressured to ignore their own proposals for a New International Economic
Order, which the United Nations adopted in numerous resolutions in the 1970s,
developing countries, especially Africans and Middle East countries, have been
coerced into accepting an economic order that is unfair to them.
While this economic order has a development model inbedded into to it created
by Europeans and Americans the so-called donor countries. The development
model has been an abject failure. This is attested to by the small number of
States that have graduated from developing to developed States even using the
UN low threshold over the last fifty years.
At the same time the gap between developed and developing States has
increased. The rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer. By many
standards there is less equity and equality in the world today than there has
been during the lifetime of anybody alive today.
Still Europeans and Americans object to efforts aimed towards ensuring equity.
In climate change talks they ignore the legal obligations of financing, capacity
building, and technology access they have unanimously agreed to more than
twenty years ago in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They
even challenge the principle established in this treaty that lends itself most to
achieving equity, arguing that the principle of common but differentiated
responsibilities is outdated despite the persistence of gross inequalities.
In the negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable
Development Goals that will shape them, European countries and the United
States reject any language placing the blame on them for the inequalities in the
With a blind eye for reality it is no wonder that the United Kingdoms British
Broadcasting Corporation, more widely known as the BBC, reports with such
ignorance about the so-called European migration crisis. A recent BBC
broadcast completely failed to mentioned a single root cause. When a
commentator from Save the Children indirectly hinted at root causes she was
abruptly cut off by the BBC news presenter because time was up. The BBC then
cut to the holiday weather, hardly a time sensitive subject that needed to be
broadcast without a fifteen or thirty second delay that could have allowed for at
least an illusion to the root causes of the so-called European migration crisis.
The BBCs treatment of the European migration crisis was echoed by European
leaders a few days later when they met in Brussels. The Italian Prime Minister

sought a sharing solution linked with yet more violence. The violence was to be
aimed at destroying the ships on which migrants are being transported. This
near-sighted proposal may however merely lead to migrants coming on less-sea
worthy boats.
Other European States proposed dealing with North African authorities, but this
mere empowers often undemocratic governments that came to power at the
barrel of a gun and under which human rights abuses are rife.
Fixes for the European migration crisis, especially those involving the use of
force, are merely likely to take more lives rather than save them. The correct
response demands much deeper consideration. Until European States and the
United States and their allies look at the root causes of migration and
adequately address them, the European migration crisis will merely intensify.
The current strategy of building barriers to migrants will only stimulate the
creativity migrants and traffickers use to circumvent the obstacles they face.
If Europe and the United States really want to deal with the so-called European
migration crisis they will need to start by admitting to themselves, and the
world, that they are the cause of it. Europeans and Americans will have to sit
with their African and Middle East counterparts. They will have to break out of
their huddles that are protective of their narrow national interests. The will have
to engage in an open and transparent manner with the aim of achieving
cooperation to address the root causes of the crisis, not merely the temporary
This in turn will ultimately require Europe and the United States to share the
benefits of their lengthy exploitation of the Middle East and Africa in a much
more equitable manner. It will also require Europe and the United States to
provide reparations to Africans and the people of the Middle East for the
violence and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of Europeans and the
Do Europeans and Americans have the courage and integrity to act to address
the root causes of the European migration crisis? Millions of migrants from the
Middle East and Africa didnt think so to date. There are however another
almost 2 billion people in the Middle East and Africa who are still willing to give
the Europeans and Americans the benefit of the doubt, but only time will tell if
they will be forced to act as have their compatriots.
Dr. Curtis Doebbler is an international lawyer and professor of
international law.