European Leaders Fear Economic Impact of Coronavirus Will Fuel Migration
European officials fear the coronavirus pandemic will spark eventually another massive migration wave from Africa and the Middle East. “The social and economic consequences of COVID are going to get worse and that will mean more people deciding to search for a better life,” Malta’s foreign minister warned last week. Evarist Bartolo is urging European countries to invest more in African countries to help boost their economies to generate wealth and jobs so people are less likely to migrate.FILE – Malta’s Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio wear protective masks as they talk to each other during the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 27, 2020. (Kay Nietfeld/Pool via Reuters)He points out that about two-thirds of asylum-seekers are economic migrants, not war refugees. Pandemic-shattered economies in sub-Sahara Africa will fuel migration in the future, he fears. The coronavirus pandemic is acting currently as a dampener on migration, analysts say. The U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, IOM, reports approximately 50,000 migrants have arrived this year so far to Europe, largely by sea — considerably fewer than in previous years. The IOM reported that 110,669 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2019. At the height of the migration crisis more than a million migrants entered the EU, according to the United Nations. FILE – Migrants on a dinghy are approached by a Greek coast guard boat near the port of Thermi, as they crossed part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 1, 2020.Even before the pandemic unfolded, numbers of migrants and refugees were decreasing dramatically, first falling off in 2016 after the European Union clinched a deal with Turkey to disrupt migrant routes into Europe via Turkey and subsequently also because of increased interceptions at sea and deals with the Libyan coast guards to keep migrants from making it to Europe. The pandemic is making movement even harder, say analysts. But once the pandemic has been curbed, the economic reckoning of the coronavirus is likely to boost migration. FILE – A police officer speaks to rescued migrants after they arrived on an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat in Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbor, Malta, Sept. 21, 2019.Evarist Bartolo told a British broadcaster last week that Europe has to do much more to persuade people to stay in their own countries. “We need a new relationship with African countries so we can help to create wealth where they are, they do not risk their lives trying to get to Europe,” he said. Aid is not the answer But some development economists are warning that development aid is not a short-term solution to migration. A handful of new studies suggest neither aid nor economic development does much to deter migration, at least in the short to medium term, and they cast doubt whether higher incomes for the poor in origin countries will deter migration, at least for some time. Research by the FILE – An internally displaced woman from a drought hit area carries firewood for cooking near her shelter at a makeshift settlement in Dollow, Somalia, Apr. 5, 2017.Neither researcher is arguing foreign and development aid should be cut off. Says Clemens: “That would be unwise. Economic development overseas is in everyone’s long-term interest. It helps other countries prevent humanitarian disasters, fight pandemic disease, remain stable, and engage with the world economy. Perversely encouraging poverty, out of a misplaced fear of migration, is a road to nowhere.” But development aid cannot serve as a short to medium-term panacea to illegal migration. Recent research by other development economists suggests that if aid is given just with any eye to deterring migration in the short term, it would be highly costly. British academics Paul Clist and Gabriele Restelli estimates that Italy would have to spend around $1.8 million in bilateral aid for each migrant deterred from trying to enter the country.