Unemployment and immigrants haunt the EU; who can offer relief?

Deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) at the land border between Greece and Turkey. On 24 October, the Greek authorities called for help from their partners to face an influx of illegal immigrants. The objective of the new patrol of Frontex (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU), which consists of 175 people, is to assist Greek border-control authorities in securing the land border with Turkey from a heavy influx of irregular migration. (EC Audiovisual Services, Date: 04/11/2010 , Location: Orestiada, Greece).

Deployment of Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT) at the land border between Greece and Turkey. On 24 October, the Greek authorities called for help from their partners to face an influx of illegal immigrants. The objective of the new patrol of Frontex (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU), which consists of 175 people, is to assist Greek border-control authorities in securing the land border with Turkey from a heavy influx of irregular migration. (EC Audiovisual Services, Date: 04/11/2010, Location: Orestiada, Greece).

On Tuesday 1st December, Eurostat the EU statistical service reminded us all that in the euro area the October unemployment rate still remained in the double digit region with 10.7%. Understandably, this is the official percentage of people without a job, while the real unemployment rate may be double that, as this newspaper has proved, on the basis of a landmark Eurostat survey.

At the same time though, Europe is about to receive during this year alone, one million of refugees or immigrants looking for job and a better place to live. However, the harsh reality is that according to Eurostat estimates “22.497 million men and women in the EU28, of whom 17.240 million were in the euro area, were unemployed in October 2015”. If this contradiction is not a sign of a complete failure of the long term political planning of the EU, then words have lost their meaning.

Unemployment and neo-colonialism

Not much strategic thinking was needed to foresee that the EU was to pay a dear price for cooperating with the Americans in the neo-colonialism of this millennium. Their common action led to the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Eritrea, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Mali and many other countries. In this way the US and the EU helped engender an unseen before flow of immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The map clearly shows that the US is located many thousand miles away and can safely intrude in this region, without having to confront the social, economic and human questions as Europe is obliged to do now.

Who pays the price?

Then again, the main culpable EU countries for this upheaval, Britain and France have remained rather untouched from the unbelievable human flood into Europe. The EU’s south is now paying the dearest price. Of course the terror effect is directly related to all that, but still France and Britain are not noticeably burdened by the immigrant tsunami.

Inappropriately it is Italy and Greece, the two Eurozone countries that suffer embarrassingly high unemployment rates and economic recession, which received the vast majority of this one million of refugees and immigrants at their shores. According to UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards, a round number of 860,000 refugees and immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have crossed the EU borders so far this year by sea, while 3,600 have died or are missing (International Organization for Migration – IOM data). Against this huge flow of people just 148 immigrants have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU countries under an unfortunate EU Commission plan – endorsed by EU leaders in September – which foresees the transfer of 160,000 persons.

Everybody for himself

Quite blatantly and callously most of the other EU or non EU south east European countries have blocked the passage of the new potential workers through their soil, by erecting walls and installing barbed wire fences (Hungary, Serbia, FYROM, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia). And this, despite the fact that the vast majority of refugees and immigrants wouldn’t have stayed in the south since they aspire to reach Germany and the other affluent north EU member states.

The problem is however that Germany and, to a much lesser degree Sweden, the two countries that have accepted hundreds of thousands of mainly Syrian refugees, have now also closed their borders. As a result, the dire internal political reality drove the EU to pay Turkey €3 billion in order for this country to offer shelter to 2 million immigrants, under an agreement signed on Saturday 28 November. It appears that the political landscape of Europe cannot stand any more immigrants.

Can Turkey offer relief?

Encouragingly though, after the EU-Turkey agreement, the flow of people disembarking in the Greek islands has markedly being reduced. There is information that the Turkish authorities have finally decided to do their job and block the so far completely unhindered if not encouraged ‘death’ trips to Lesbos. Other sources say that the reduction of numbers during this past week would be reversed soon and will reach summer records depending on the weather.

Whatever the prospects after the EU-Turkey agreement in stemming the immigrant flows, the truth remains that Greece and Italy suffer from unemployment rates reaching 24.6% and 11.5% respectively. It’s not only that though. Those in employment in both countries have lost large parts of their income during the last five years. The same demoralizing social and economic circumstances prevail in Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and the other euro area countries badly hit by the financial crisis of 2008-2010. It’s inconceivable thus that those member states could offer employment opportunities to any immigrants.

More problems

Yet the European Commission has asked Greece and Italy to offer shelter to tens of thousands of immigrants, despite the fact they do not want to settle in those two countries. At the same time, it is politically impossible for Germany and Sweden to accept more immigrants. The populist xenophobic extreme right political parties have definitively poisoned the atmosphere in those member states.

As things stand now, the Balkan corridor leading to the affluent EU north is blocked for at least the non Syrian immigrants. Consequently, tens of thousands of non Syrian immigrants are now blocked in Greece, against their will and without hope of finding a job there. This situation has created some points of alarming frictions. For example some thousands of non Syrian immigrants (Iraqis, Iranians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Africans) had blocked the main rail line in the Greek- FYROM border connecting Greece with the rest of Europe. This rail line is an integral part of the ‘silk road’ transporting Chinese exports to central Europe, being used by multinational giants like Hewlett Packard.

Increased public spending

In view of that, the Brussels bureaucracy is now trying to confront the new deadlocks. For one thing, the Commission proposed the exclusion of the government spending related to the immigrant issue from the allowed public deficits of up to 3% of the GDP. Secondly, Brussels tries to convince Turkey to establish centers of immigrant identification and selection on its soil. The EU will pay for the air transportation of the eligible ones to go to Europe and Turkey will be obliged to return the rest of the immigrants to their point of entry in its eastern borders.

All in all, the employment and the political conditions in almost all EU member states is presently so precarious that it is politically and socially impossible to take in more immigrants. Hence it’s only Turkey that can offer a solution to Europe’s problems, by creating large shelter facilities in its south eastern provinces.

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