Magnetic Migration

No one likes to prevent families with crying children from reaching a better life, but the migration insanity playing itself out in Europe now is leading to tragedy and disaster.

Western authorities unknowingly created a magnet - an irresistible lure to hundreds of millions of families - by suggesting that if only they put themselves at risk in rickety boats, European warships would save them from drowning.

And once rescued from the Mediterranean Sea, they would be brought to Italy or Greece -- not to migrant or refugee camps near to their rescue such as in North Africa or Turkey.

I've been studying and writing about refugees for a long time. After all, my parents were refugees in France in 1939 after their Czech homeland was taken over by Nazi Germany.

Then when France fell, they went with the Free Czech Army to England as a second refuge.

But as we all know, six million European Jews were murdered - including my grandparents - because the Western nations did not offer refuge to them when Hitler unleashed his "final solution to the Jewish problem."

Thankfully, these are different times. In August, I visited the prison in France where the Butcher of Lyons Klaus Barbie tortured resistance fighters as well as Jews. Some 40 years later he was arrested in South America and condemned to spend his final years in the same jail where he once tortured and murdered others. In Europe, the reign of Nazis is long ended. But tyranny, war and prejudice remain in distant corners of the globe.

Now come the tens and hundreds of thousands of Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis and others asking - no, demanding - an apartment and a job in Germany or Sweden. One of them warned reporters "we are coming" as if to say: "don't try and stop us."

The problem is this: Once the million or more migrants on the move today get to the wealthy countries they aim for, it will spark tens of millions more in poor countries to sell their land, leave the village and take to the sea in leaky boats.

But there is a way to protect and support both refugees and economic migrants without opening the floodgates of illegal and unsupervised migration as poor people rush to Europe for the chance of jobs, electricity, clean water and other middle class comforts.

According to the international laws enshrined in the UN Covenant on Refugees, those fleeing their homeland who can prove a "well-found fear of persecution" because of their race, religion, or political views are entitled to UN protection in the country closest to their homeland. That means secure and safe places to live, shelter from the elements, food and water - such as provided in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya, etc.

Certainly an apartment in Munich is a better deal than a tent in the Middle East. But by yielding to demands for an apartment, European authorities have created a huge magnet that is drawing perhaps millions from sub-Saharan Africa and Pakistan - from countries where there is no security threat or persecution other than the undeveloped state of poor, developing nations.

Can Germany take not just 800,000 it has pledged to accept their year but one, two or 10 million migrants?

Officials, analysts and media in Europe accept the accusation on the part of the left that because since the West is rich, it owes the poor nations help in ending poverty. And if they fail to develop, we must take them into our spare rooms and basements?

We have tried, for better or worse, to end poverty with the Marshall Plan after World War II; and for 50 years later through the US Agency for International Development and other agencies.

So why is there still poverty? It is not entirely the fault of the wealthy nations, which are accused by the left of sneakily dividing the former colonies to rule them after independence through unfair terms of trade and unscrupulous tyrants.

As we see in the Arab Spring , the tyrants were often better than the ones who followed, keeping people safe so they could at least eke out a living.

Except for South Korea and a handful of other countries that became prosperous, most of the nearly 100 aid-receiving poor countries remain poor, corrupt and lacking in justice.

I used to go to Africa regularly to teach journalism under a US funded program. On one return flight I stopped in London where I read the Magna Carta in the British Museum. Some 800 years ago that document promised speedy trials, justice for all, jury trials, no seizure of property without a warrant and no one allowed to serve as a constable unless they know the law and enforce it without personal gain.

This jawdropping moment in my life hit me at once. The country I had just been teaching in had none of these protections.

You can pour billions of dollars into agriculture, health, legal reform and energy development, but nothing may survive once we leave.

Time after time, the strong and the ruthless seize the benefits of our projects. A village water pipe and tap in Haiti run dry when the village strong man diverts the water into his garden. The pharmacist in a Cambodian hospital is discovered at night opening antibiotic capsules to remove half the medicine to sell on the black market.

When we rush millions of tons of American wheat to African famines, it drives down local grain prices and bankrupts local farmers.

The Marshall plan worked well and rebuilt Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s because Europe had a tradition of laws and an educated group of officials who knew how to manage construction projects and the economy.

We may never be able to reform other countries' cultures. Some, like China, may continue to spit on our laws protecting freedom of speech and assembly yet advance economically. That may be the best we can hope for.

But when a top European officials is sent to the waters off Libya to see with his own eyes the dead bodies puled from the holds of smuggler ships, he should not blame Europe - as he did.

He said that 2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day in poor countries so it is to be expected they will try to come to Europe.

Well, helping fight poverty has not worked in countries where the elites do not give a damn how many die in the field or at sea. And bringing two billion poor people to Europe will forever destroy the lives of the 500 million Europeans.

US officials in the 1980s realized that by rescuing Haitian boatpeople at sea, and bringing them to shore in Miami we created a magnet that saw 10s of thousands put to sea.

So U.S. officials decided to end the magnet. They intercepted boats crammed with hundreds of would-be migrants at sea and then asked the boat people for proof of persecution. A few could meet that requirement and were brought to U.S. shores. The rest were returned to Haiti as economic migrants, not eligible for refugee protection.

When the magnet was unplugged the wave of boat people ended.

Europe needs to do the same. Return migrants to Turkey, Jordan and other countries near their homelands.

When I prepared a report for the UN in 1991 on the plan to repatriate some 330,000 Cambodian refugees from Thai refugee camps, I found it very sad to see folks that were in a camp for 13 years. But the camps were an anti-magnetic force that kept thousands of others from abandoning Cambodia. Finally, they returned home with aid to rebuild their lives, clear land mines and build homes.

Anti-immigration sentiment grows daily in Europe so long as the magnet is in place and migrants are allowed to hijack trains, block the English Channel tunnel, and demand to go only to rich countries for asylum. The longer the magnet is allowed to exist, the more lives will be risked, lost and traumatized on all sides of this issue.