Thursday, 3 January 2019

The Migrant Crisis - Echoes of prohibition?

Apparently the UK is in the grip of a "migrant crisis". Although, with apologies for linking to Sky News, 230 people attempting to cross the channel during December can hardly be considered significant in a country of around 66,000,000 people. Neither can it really be considered significant when compared with the 130,000 children in the UK who were forced to spend Christmas with no permanent home.

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, raises doubts about whether these people are genuine asylum seekers. Apart from the racist overtones of what he says, and the fact that, under current rules, his father would not be allowed into Britain, perhaps there's some truth in that. But maybe not in the way he means it; the way of appealing to the right wing to ennoble his potential leadership bid.

Prohibition?

The story of prohibition in the USA is well known; the government of the time banned nearly all legal sales of alcoholic drink, causing widespread criminality and ultimately repeal of the law. There is some dispute over the criminality, but it's clear that a large black market was produced, which gave a significant income to the only groups which could consistently outflank government enforcement - organised criminals.

So what has this got to do with migration? Well, it seems that, if something is ruled against to the extent that it is impossible to do it legally, it won't stop happening. Rather, it will continue to happen illegally, fuelling criminals, denying revenue to legitimate businesses and the exchequer and making the users into victims. It happened with alcohol during prohibition, marijuana and heroin. It's even starting to happen with tobacco consumption in the UK - cigarettes and tobacco have been taxed out of the reach of many smokers and, rather than stop, they buy fake products smuggled from less well-regulated countries. The income from those goes directly into the pockets of smugglers.

The same, of course, happens with people-smuggling. The people who are taking desperate measures to cross the channel and settle in the UK are taking the only route now open to them. Of course they're claiming asylum - there is no legal means for them to travel to and settle in the UK otherwise. As a country we have cut off every legal route available to them so some people will inevitably resort to the illegal. This leaves them at the mercy of the people smugglers, who have no care for their customers beyond the cash in their pocket. Just like prohibition, tobacco smuggling and heroin dealing, that money goes straight into the pockets of the criminals, and funds their increasing power. Surely this shouldn't be what we want?

What's the solution?

Honestly, I don't know. Immigration is a complex problem with no easy solution. I would love to think that it will be possible one day to open all borders, but at the moment we seem further from that than ever before. But part of the solution has to be to introduce a legal method of entry for people who don't meet the standard immigration criteria. The USA does it through their Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which selects people via a lottery, to increase the diversity of immigrants. That must be a good thing; I just hope President Trump doesn't cancel it, before his inevitable fall from grace that is.

During the cold war we used to welcome "dissidents" who manged to make it across the iron curtain which divided Europe and the world. Now we regard people who manage to escape ruinous wars and barbarous regimes as criminals and, even worse, "enemy combatants". Really, what's the difference?

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