Sep 10 , 2021
By Christian Tesfaye ( Christian Tesfaye (email@example.com) is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture. )
Europe has a big problem. The people of Afghanistan may be suffering from war, dislocation and poverty. Still, it can be an even bigger disaster if they try to escape this tragedy in the eyes of the Europeans. The European Commission may be big on human rights and democracy, but it is not keen to allow people escaping torture and intolerance through its borders. The Afghanistan disaster is a major test of whether the EU is prepared to put its money where its mouth is and act humanely.
“We have a history and a tradition that we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” once said Federica Mogherini, former EU foreign policy chief, in response to former President Trump’s border wall.
Faced with a possible half a million Afghans flooding into Europe, now President Emmanuel Macron wants the sub-continent to do everything in its power to stop vulnerable people escaping devastation from coming anywhere near them. As a result, Europe is in a wall building binge. Some years ago, there was major criticism when Hungary did the same, but since it had an illiberal government, the move was heavily criticised by the liberal media. There is hardly a peep now that Spain, Norway, and France are putting up their own fences.
It is obvious and even understandable why. Illiberalism is not merely an African, Middle Eastern, Russian and Chinese thing. A wave of refugees into Europe would create a great deal of cultural and racial insecurity. It is also true that first-generation migrants fleeing conflict are not likely to be as productive as their offspring could be, who will not have the training, education and certification to compete in anything other than low paying jobs, further dampening wages. The upper-middle-class and the rich would not care; in fact, an influx of cheap labour into the economy would be good for business.
But the working classes will not be on board. Populism will rise and many of those currently in power would be replaced by right-wing parties and candidates. It will also be bad for the world. As hypocritical as Europe may be now, few would want a return to illiberalism, or worse, fascism.
Between a rock and a hard place, what can Europe do?
It could take the development of the Global South, especially the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, as seriously as that of its own. Most people would rather live in their own countries given that there are not constant conflicts and economic opportunities are available. And it should be clear by now that the two are closely intertwined.
It is not a coincidence that Sub-Saharan Africa, the lowest income region of the world, also has the most considerable incidence of conflicts and wars. The population of these countries is exploding but their productivity is falling. Every year that goes by when investment in this productivity is not realised, the more the youth will turn to AK-47s to guarantee their economic welfare, the more migrants that will be knocking on Europe’s door and the likelier the West will eventually fall back into illiberalism. We are all in this together.
Europe might have been facing a far more significant problem had much of Asia not found its way out of the muck of extreme poverty. The case of East Asia is especially a remarkable example of either the quality of migrants the West has been getting from these countries or the reverse migration that is happening.
“If I were Korean, I might have gone back in the 1980s, if I were Chinese I might have gone back in 2000,” said a Vietnamese diaspora whose parents left for the United States looking for economic opportunities in the 1970s, talking to The Economist.
He returned back to Vietnam with his family nearly three decades later. There were no walls needed for this, just a developing Vietnam with promises of economic welfare for its citizens. This is what Afghanistan needs, as does Sub-Saharan Africa.
PUBLISHED ON Sep 10,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1115]
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