BERLIN — Last year Angela Merkel said that "the welfare of Africa is in the German interest." Since then, the Chancellor has spoken more about Africa than any of her predecessors and has made the continent a priority for Germany's G-20 chairmanship this year.
On Monday, the German Chancellor invited eight African leaders to a major conference on the continent's future in Berlin. The Chancellor considers her economic and trade policy with Africa, the so-called "African Offensive," a key to solving the refugee crisis. And she is definitely right.
The 21st century will be the African century — one way or another. The continent will either follow in the footsteps of Asia and experience its astonishing ascent out of poverty. Or it will collapse and creep closer to Europe.
Forces will soon prevail in Africa that the world has never before experienced. By 2050, the number of people on the continent will double to 2.5 billion. There will then be ten times more young people there than in Europe. These people could be a great hope or a major risk. They could become the engine for Africa's ascent — or turn into an uncontrollable army of the discontent.
It is therefore right to afford significant attention to Africa. And it is proper that Germany aims to exploit the power of the markets in the process. Private capital should flow to Africa in order to create jobs. The primary economic forces of globalization should catapult Africa out of its longstanding poverty.
But the fight against the causes of migration is a long-term strategy. This struggle cannot supplant rigorous safeguarding of Europe's borders. The African conference in Berlin took place as approximately 6.6 million migrants — at least 2.6 million of them in North Africa — stand at Europe's gates hoping to enter the Schengen Zone according to security authorities, a number that continues to climb.
From January to May, about 50,000 migrants from Africa have reached Italy, 46% more than during the same time period in the preceding year. In total, 260,000 migrants are expected to cross the Mediterranean this year. That is more than ever before. Africa's demographic development threatens to drive these numbers far higher.
The dream remains potent
The idea that Africa could improve its economic situation to the point of ending mass migration within a few years is absurd. The dream of Europe remains potent. As long as it remains realistic to realize this dream, people will set out for Europe.
Currently, the trade-off is as such: Whoever is determined to go and has money for the traffickers — and dares to board a dangerous dinghy — is almost sure to be rescued by European authorities or asylum activists, and be escorted to Italy.
The EU remains the only part of the industrialized world that does not have entry into its territory under control. Meanwhile, the safeguarding of Europe's southern coast has high priority for Brussels.
But the task is highly complex, for the EU has tied its hands with its own asylum laws. The right to asylum in Europe is unparalleled in the world. Through judicial rulings at the regional level, this right has been strengthened to such an extent that it is hardly possible to protect the maritime borders of Europe.
Refugees squatting in Berlin — Photo: Libertinus
Under the current asylum regime, refugee boats may not be sent back to the African coast. Every migrant has a right to have his or her asylum application assessed. What's more: the asylum regime is extremely broad in Europe. All major democracies have signed the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951), but only Europe has placed the right to asylum above the right of states to protect themselves and Europe's external borders. That has been disastrous in light of Africa's demography.
A change to the legal status of refugees is possible, however — and talking about it should not be taboo. In light of its current instability, the EU needs to protect its borders in order to be ready for the turbulent international situation. The EU's asylum policy has been guided by unrealistic ideals instead of practical reason. Europe must redesign its asylum law and border control. The Union must be able to refuse migrants. This is unpopular because it's considered inhumane. But is the current situation humane?
First, open borders themselves endanger human lives. Refugees board rickety dinghies and drown by the thousands in the Mediterranean because they are attracted by the opportunities in Europe. Furthermore, it is hardly humane that parents send thousands of children to Europe without protection.
Open borders are also very expensive. Migration researchers calculated that it is over 130 times more costly to care for a migrant in Europe than near his homeland. At present those who reach Europe win the jackpot. Little money remains for others who are less mobile.
We can conclude that open borders are unjust. Young people who have money at their disposal have the best chance to come to Europe. The ten poorest countries in the world aren't the ten countries that send the most migrants.
These migrants originate from places like Morocco, Ivory Coast, and Senegal —all of them relatively prosperous African countries. The truly impoverished cannot afford to migrate. Some 90% of all migrants are internally-displaced or have moved to a neighboring country where they receive far less than a warm welcome.
The hope for a better life in Europe is understandable. But it should not be encouraged. Only then will a new smarter and more just migration policy be possible, which could include deciding asylum applications in North Africa or in home countries rather than Europe.
Certain politically persecuted individuals reach Europe through resettlement programs. In the future, all other refugees could be provided for nearer their region of origin.
Europe is simultaneously opening itself up to African professionals through a modern immigration system. These qualified individuals could send remittances or return to their home country with new qualifications. This makes more sense than receiving those people from Africa who have no educational background and are overwhelmed by the expectations of modern industrial societies.
We need more than lectures about the fight against the causes of migration. We must also speak about border control and the end of an allegedly humane—but truthfully costly and unfair— asylum policy. Only a strong Europe will be able to help make Africa strong too.