View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. The New Statesman View
16 August 2023

The new politics of migration

As conflicts multiply European countries must agree consistent principles for asylum policy, as the alternative is anarchy.

By New Statesman

The world has entered a new era of mass migration. More than six million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in ­February 2022, while 5.5 million have left Syria since its civil war began in 2011, and 2.7 million have left Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power in 2021.

Yet far from being exceptional, such geopolitical shocks are only likely to become more frequent in future decades. The climate crisis, conflict and extreme poverty will all increase migratory flows. As Robert D Kaplan, the American author and foreign policy expert, writes in our cover story, “While the fate of Europe seems today to lie in the east, in Ukraine, as the century progresses it will increasingly lie in the south, as steady migration from south of the Sahara takes hold… Africa will loom larger in our consciousness as we increasingly comprehend how we are all part of the same human family.”

All Western governments, whether of the left or the right, are struggling to adjust to this reality. In the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, the longest-serving prime minister in Dutch history (having entered office in 2010), was forced to resign last month over government splits on asylum policy. In Poland, which has settled 1.3 million Ukrainian refugees, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has this August pledged to hold a referendum on whether the country’s voters are willing to accept “thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the forced relocation mechanism imposed by European bureaucracy”.

[See also: Anarchy unbound: The new scramble for Africa]

In the UK, meanwhile, the government has pledged to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda (a plan first mooted by Denmark’s Social Democratic government in 2021). Since this policy remains legally disputed, ministers have resorted to housing asylum seekers on barges, with the first being the Bibby Stockholm docked in Portland Port, Dorset. Yet, as Anoosh Chakelian reports, the scheme farcically unravelled when those on board were evacuated after traces of Legionella bacteria were found in the boat’s water system.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

This episode fits a pattern of broken promises and false solutions on immigration in UK politics. New Labour vowed to provide “British jobs for British workers” and predicted that only 13,000 eastern Europeans would migrate to the UK per year (an estimate more than ten times short).

Successive Conservative governments pledged to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands” a year – a target they never came close to meeting. Owing to the UK’s economic reliance on migrant workers and lucrative foreign students, net migration reached a record high of 606,000 in 2022. As a consequence, Rishi Sunak has focused political attention on uncontrolled small-boat crossings across the Channel.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the Rwanda plan in November. Even if approved, the policy is a populist gesture masquerading as a solution. Rwanda’s limited processing capacity means it will only be able to manage a small fraction of the UK’s asylum applicants (at an extortionate cost of £169,000 per person). Nor is the plan likely to serve as a deterrent to those already willing to risk their lives to reach Britain – as the death of six Afghan men on 12 August tragically demonstrated.

The government would be better served devising practical solutions. It should invest more resources in reducing the asylum backlog of around 136,000 people. Since asylum seekers are barred from working in the UK, they are entirely reliant on the state for financial support and accommodation – a fact routinely exploited by demagogues.

But the only sustainable solution to the challenge of immigration is an international one. Rather than acting in isolation or offering ad-hoc responses – such as Angela Merkel’s welcome to Syrian refugees – European countries must agree consistent principles for asylum policy (the UK, which ranked 16th for asylum applications in 2021, does not bear a disproportionate load). One option, as with the UN’s foreign aid target of 0.7 per cent of GDP or Nato’s defence-spending target of 2 per cent, is for a quota system to establish the share of asylum seekers nations should accept. In an age of political fragmentation and populism this may appear unachievable. But the alternative, as new threats and conflicts multiply, is anarchy.

[See also: Rishi Sunak should take on the immigration fantasists]

Content from our partners
Individually rare, collectively common – how do we transform the lives of people with rare diseases?
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE

Topics in this article : , , , ,

This article appears in the 16 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Russia’s War on the Future

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU