Debate in Europe framing illegal immigration from the third world as a problem is “dangerous”, the United Nations (UN) refugee chief has warned, insisting that the mass movement of peoples has been “a source of progress and prosperity since people first began to migrate”.
“Distorted” political debate on the subject has led to Europe becoming “obsessed” with a migrant crisis that “does not exist”, Filippo Grandi said, urging EU politicians to stop squabbling “over a few boats” [of illegal immigrants].
In an interview published in the German press Thursday, he dismissed plans backed by Austria and Italy among other member states which would see asylum processing offshored and immigrants blocked from reaching European soil.
“As the United Nations High Commissioner [for refugees], I cannot support a proposal that would deprive people of the right to seek asylum in Europe. There are people who have very pressing reasons for asking for protection in EU nations,” he told Handelsblatt.
Speaking with the German daily, Grandi denounced recent comments by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer branding the massive immigration influx which resulted from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the border as having become “the mother of all problems”.
“Migration has been a source of progress and prosperity since people first began to migrate,” claimed the Italian, stating that the tendency of politicians to frame the phenomena as a “major problem” was “unfortunate” because it boosts the argument of people opposed to mass, third world migration.
He said: “The constant problematisation of migration fuels an atmosphere of fear and sometimes even hostility, which is very dangerous and results in a vicious circle where the heated mood strengthens migration opponents, which in turn makes finding solutions [to illegal immigration by boat] difficult.”
Grandi repeatedly insisted there was no migrant crisis in Europe, stressing that the number of people arriving has “fallen sharply”.
However in the same interview, he expressed “concern” over a major factor behind the decline in arrival numbers, namely the huge reduction in NGO activity taking place in the Mediterranean after Italian authorities made it more difficult for open borders activists with private financing to work with criminal traffickers to ferry migrants from Africa to Europe.
When it was put to the Italian that development economists have argued it would be much more ethical to help refugees closer to their home regions, he told the newspaper: “Excuse me, but that is the wrong debate as 90 percent of the world’s refugees are already in those regions.
“If [development economist Paul] Collier wants to argue these countries [hosting refugees] need more support then I completely agree with him, but here we are talking about a migration crisis in Europe which does not exist.”
Claiming that “Europe needs migration”, Grandi said the EU “should therefore create ways for economic migrants to come to Europe legally [from the third world] and not burden the asylum system”.
Much less of an ideologue than individuals who have served in similar UN roles including Peter Sutherland, the former Goldman Sachs chairman dubbed the “father of globalisation”, the refugee commissioner said Europe should only redistribute third world migrants between countries which want to take them.