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MIGRATION AND POLITICS IN 2018 TRAGEDY AND COMEDY

If the past few years have told us anything, it’s that dealing with global migration flows is far from easy. After several years of mass migration from the Middle East and Africa to European countries, the pressure has continued unabated in 2018.

In 2018, the Americas have experienced an unprecedented movement of people from developing countries in South America to the north – particularly those from bankrupt Venezuela, whose economic collapse has left millions in abject poverty. Venezuela’s destroyed economy has driven hundreds of thousands of people northwards up through Mexico towards the United States, leaving Mexico with security challenges and Donald Trump a major social and political headache.

In Europe, the flow of recent years has continued, albeit at a slower pace. However, towards the end of the year, a growing number of mainly Iranian migrants have crossed from the safe confines of France to the UK across the English Channel, which is the busiest shipping route in the world. With 500 – 600 ships traversing the narrow strait every day, the journey is fraught with danger. Time will tell if the issue becomes a crisis. So far, since November 2018, the UK has spent £44.5m on border security as part of the new French-English Sandhurst Treaty. The money that the UK is spending as part of the treaty is paid to the French government to stop migrants trying to reach British shores. So far, the French appear to have failed to honour their commitments.

Social attitudes

Socially, the matter of immigration has become increasingly toxic both in the USA and the EU. The sheer scale of migration to countries such as Sweden and Germany led to considerable social conflict in 2018. Sweden has taken more refugees per head of population than any other nation in the EU – consequently, it has seen the rise of anti-immigrant political forces. The reasons include security, social integration, employment and violence towards women. A town called Malmo in Sweden has been cited as the rape capital of Europe, with the state broadcaster reporting that in cases where the victim did not know the attacker, the proportion of foreign-born offenders was more than 80%.

These social challenges have caused significant political upheaval. Sweden has been without a government since its General Election on 9th September, with the anti-immigration party holding the balance of power. A Party labeled as ‘far-right’ has won seats in the German parliament for the first time in half a century, in an election that saw Angela Merkel returned as Chancellor for the fourth contest in a row. However, in the face of all-time-low poll ratings, Merkel ended the year by announcing her intention to step down as the leader of her Party.

A stone’s throw away in Austria, the newly elected Chancellor Sebastian Kurz formed a government that includes the country’s most notorious ‘far-right’ Party as coalition partners. Further afield, Poland has dug in its heels, refusing to take in Brussels-mandated migrant quota’s and Denmark has announced plans to place ‘unwanted migrants’ on a small island.

These developments reflect a significant change in social attitudes that can arguably be placed at the feet of Angela Merkel following her unilateral decision to open Europe’s border: a move that added to Italy and Greece’s economic woes; and the deaths of hundreds of migrants leaving the safe haven of Turkey in search of a better life in Europe.

The British Farce
The seismic shifts that have taken place across the world in 2018 can perhaps (rather comfortingly) be set against the ongoing British farce called Brexit, which has culminated in a full-on constitutional crisis. The British have been lampooned, laughed at and parodied throughout 2018. In September, Donald Tusk rejected the Prime Minister’s doomed ‘Chequers Proposal’, which he then followed up with a now-infamous tweet of himself offering Theresa May a slice of cake, ‘Sorry, no cherries.’

Since then the PM has flown back and forth between London, Brussels, and Ireland to attempt to patch up her new (and equally doomed) withdrawal deal, which led to her canceling a definitive ‘meaningful vote’ in Parliament. As Christmas looms, the UK Prime Minister is on her third Brexit Minister and has had a public row with the EU Commission’s President about his choice of the word ‘nebulous’ to describe the British Parliament’s attitude. However, despite the confusion, the UK Prime Minister reaffirmed her commitment to EU nationals living in the UK during testy Prime Minister’s Question’s, stating that those who are living and working in the country will be able to stay and apply for settlement status irrespective of the outcome of the torturous Brexit negotiations.

While the rest of Europe and wider developed world seem to be falling apart under the stresses and strains of immigration-related challenges, it’s perhaps ironic that even in the midst of a farcical Brexit, the UK offers immigrants a comparatively coherent immigration policy. You know where you are with the British, whatever the weather!

Let’s see how that pans out in 2019…

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