“Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” Trump added — a wild assertion.
Many Europeans take umbrage at Trump’s attacks. But even if they don’t subscribe to his “zero tolerance” approach to migration, European governments have also become much tougher in handling migrants, asylum seekers and even minorities already resident.
The Europeans’ focus is on pushing the problem back to the Middle East and North Africa. Italy is bolstering the Libyan coast guard; more migrants are being sent back to already crowded detention centers in Libya.
Those who do make it to Germany would be confined for up to 18 months in what Berlin euphemistically calls “anchor centers” — large camps close to the border — while their asylum requests are processed.
Meanwhile, the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean declined sharply after 2015 from 1.07 million to 360,000 in 2016 and 172,000 in 2017, according to the International Organization on Migration. So why the drastic measures, if the flow of migrants has already ebbed?
‘We can do this’
He was wrong about the riots, but 2016 saw a sharp increase in violent attacks on migrants in Germany. The mood has soured since that summer of compassion three years ago; and not just in Germany.
That doesn’t mean a majority are negative; it means that, to a growing minority, immigration has become the most important issue. This has benefited the parties of the radical right, such as the People’s Party in Austria, Fidesz in Hungary and the Five Star Movement in Italy.
In Germany, it’s the threat of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) that has prompted a crisis within Merkel’s coalition government, with her junior partner the Christian Social Union demanding tougher measures on migration to defend itself against the AfD in upcoming Bavarian elections.
Despite objections from the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human-rights body, the Hungarian government said the law would “assert the will of the Hungarian people” by prohibiting “the resettlement of alien population groups in this country.”
The Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) emerged as the largest party in elections last month with a campaign modeled on Orban’s. The Hungarian premier even attended an SDS rally, warning that Europe’s aim was “to settle among us people who do not belong to our culture, and who will want to live here according to their own religions and customs.”
But mainstream parties have also adopted tougher measures on asylum-seekers and migrants. The same French government that sniffed at Trump’s “model of civilization” has pushed through a new law that toughens asylum rules and makes it easier to deport would-be migrants. It also doubles the length of time — to three months — that individuals who have been denied asylum can be detained. But it allowed for children to be kept in detention with their families.
A new package of measures aims at forcing assimilation in 25 low-income and mainly Muslim areas the government openly refers to as ghettos. It includes mandatory day care — for at least 30 hours a week — for children up to six years old, so they can learn Danish “values.” If families fail to comply they can lose their benefits.
Lost in the noise is the fact that migration is keeping Europe alive. Birth rates in all 28 European Union countries are below replacement rates. Germany alone needs 400,000 immigrants a year to sustain its workforce, according to one recent study. This week Italy’s pensions chief warned the system would go bust without migrants joining the workforce.
Europe has had its fair share of crises — failing banks, terrorism, the ongoing divorce known as Brexit — but has rarely seemed so much in disarray as over migration.
“How we deal with the migrant question will decide whether Europe continues to exist in the future,” Merkel told the German parliament a week ago. Alice Weidel of the AfD retorted: “Under your regime Germany has gone from a motor and stability guarantor to a factor for chaos.”
The stakes, for Chancellor Merkel, for Germany and for Europe, could not be higher. And President Trump is enjoying the spectacle.