Borders are an issue worldwide and the future of the national character is what the consternation in Europe is all about.


Germany is suffering from a migration crisis, which the resignation threats of Horst Seehofer this week brought to the forefront. Seehofer is the leader of the patriotic Bavarian opposition party CSU, the partner in the CDU Bundestag coalition and the Interior Minister. He argued that the June deal that all European Union member states had agreed on migration, was ineffective and destroyed his credibility as CSU leader. The deal relinquished the enforced quotas for taking in refugees: the controlled centres would be located on a voluntary basis and processing centres are likely to be built in North Africa, outside the EU.

At the Nth minute, Angela Merkel agreed to hold migrants at “transit centres” on the Austria-Germany border and to deport those already registered in another country (except to Italy and Poland who have not signed the repatriation agreement, Italy is the main transit route to Germany); thus for the moment Seehofer has stayed put. But fearing repercussions on the Austrian border, Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor, suggested he might take steps to protect Austrian interests, making the point that a border free Europe is a pipe dream until the external borders are properly controlled. On 1 July, Austria took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU and has declared a priority to focus on security and migration.

In 2017, there were 728,470 applications for international protection in the EU, a decrease of 44% compared to 2016, when there were almost 1.3 million applications. In 2017, EU countries granted protection to more than 538,000 people, down by almost 25% on 2016. Almost one in three of these were from Syria, while Afghanistan and Iraq rounded up the top three. Of the 175,800 Syrian citizens granted international protection in the EU, more than 70% received it in Germany.

Borders are an issue worldwide and the future of the national character is what the consternation in Europe is all about and not just in Germany. The continuing influx of and what to do with migrants is unresolved across Europe; in June both Italy and Malta refused to let migrant rescue boats ashore. Sweden’s violent immigrant gangs are the elephant in the multicultural room and Denmark has just introduced a new assimilation policy aimed at assimilating migrants into Danish culture and eliminating ethnic “ghettoes”. Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Italy are consolidating a tough mindset bloc against the political positions of Germany and France.

Recently, President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” and inhumane enforcements to reduce immigration into the United States attracted an emotional response and worldwide opprobrium. This caused him to announce an executive order for families entering the US illegally “to maintain family unity, including by detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources”. President Trump is trying to be faithful to his Arizona campaign speech of 2016, implementing and increasing the Obama legacy of enforcement of immigration laws and reducing refugee admissions.

It is thought that Australian Prime Ministers Malcolm Howard and John Turnbull’s policies influenced US Presidents Obama and Trump. During past decades, Australia has erred away from population boosting immigration towards necessary skilled labour immigration. Australia could be a fascinating example of how ethnicities within a population might shape the national psyche. Presently, Australian ethnic demographics show a population (23.2 million), mostly of British origin, with Italians at 3.3%, Germans at 3.2%, Chinese at 3.1%, Indians and Greeks at 1.4%. But this is changing, with a record number of 39,000 Indians and 28,000 Chinese legitimately arriving in 2017. Now that their predecessors have built the nation, Australia needs a labour force and entrepreneurs who will bring prosperity and stability. Australia does not accept any arrivals by boats. Turnbull says by refusing the boats Australia is depriving the smuggler of the product. According to a reproduced transcript in the Washington Post of the Trump-Turnbull conversation in January 2017, Turnbull told Trump, “The problem with the boats is that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea. So what we say is, we will decide which people get to come to Australia, who are refugees, economic migrants, businessmen, whatever.” Until the harsh conditions of the detention centres of Nauru and Manus islands became known and publicised, many in Europe and UK admired Australia’s tough stance on migration. PM Justin Trudeau in Canada has spoken out against US techniques, which brought under scrutiny Canada’s own immigration practices. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states “it is affirmed as a principle that a minor child shall be detained only as a measure of last resort, taking into account the other applicable grounds and criteria including the best interests of the child”. But recent reports show that Canada too has been criticised by health professionals for unnecessary detention of children.

Deterrence with fairness, compassion and humanity is what governments are trying to achieve, recent techniques separating families are condemnable, but so is the extortionate practice of luring migrants onto unsafe boats to cross the Mediterranean. In 2017, 439,505 people were denied entry at the EU’s external borders. As of 26 June 2018, more than 43,000 people have risked their lives reaching Europe by sea, with over 1,000 feared to have drowned.172,300 people reached Europe by sea in 2017, less than half those in 2016. The Mediterranean crossing remained deadly, however, with 3,139 dead or missing in 2017, compared to 5,096 in 2016.*

The International Organization for Migration reports global displacement is at a record high: the number of internally displaced people is over 40 million and the number of refugees more than 22 million. Current estimates are that there are 244 million international migrants globally (or 3.3% of the world’s population).

Immigration was one of the top factors that influenced the vote for Brexit and that elected President Trump. As populist parties become more popular across Europe the conundrum of how to deal with further asylum seekers and refugees deepens.

* Figures from the European Parliament website