Helping refugees is not enough: we must prevent future refugee disasters

Starting from the official migration data in Europe, Erik Solbu analyse the phenomenon in search of possible solutions that – apart from welcoming and helping those who run from poverty and war- can stem the escape, also intervening in the countries involved

How many immigrants are welcome to Europe?

For many years there has been a conflict in the migration issue between liberals claiming human rights to free movement and xenophobians opposing all forms of immigration of people with different skin color and background. While the former focus on the benefits of immigration, the latter only see disadvantages.

Despite the wonderful idea of a boundless world, we cannot, unfortunately, ignore the fact that free immigration would lead to major problems in Europe. Direct problems caused by immigration itself as well as indirect problems caused by increasing xenophobia and extremism. Although we find those totally against immigration wrong, too many immigrants lead to chaos in our societies. This was the case in 2015 when 1.39 million asylum seekers entered EU(28).





Asylum seekers 2014 Asylum seekers 2015 Asylum seekers 2016
Thousands % of pop. Thousands % of pop. Thousands % of pop.
EU28 510 662 0.13 1,394 0.27 1,293 0.25
Germany 82 203 0.24 477 0.58 745 0.91
Sweden 10 81 0.8 162 1.62 29 0.29

The table above shows the number of asylum seekers to Europe (EU(28) with separate reports for the two most generous countries (Germany and Sweden). Taking into account the chaos that broke out when the reception capacity was exceeded and consequential political acts, we may make the following conclusions: An inflow of more than 1% immigrants relative to the population does not work, while an inflow of 0.25% seems manageable. The maximum inflow of immigrants to the whole EU28 thus lies between 1 and 5 million per year, provided immigrants are more eqaually distributed among the countries.  The German Christian Democrats recently set a target value of 200,000 immigrants per year (= 0.25 % of the population). Therefore, although we may wish for a higher reception of refugees, the longterm influx of immigrants to Europe will probably not be much higher than about 1 million people per year.

How shall we chose which immigrants to stay?

UNHCR Report Forced Displacement in 2016: “Over the past two decades, the global population of forced migrants has increased significantly from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it is still high.”

The most acute problem is currently caused by the war in Syria, but there is no reason to believe that refugee problems will disappear if that war ceases. Probably, if nothing radically is done, problems creating migration will increase even more over the next 30 years. As it is, how can we know that just the people who manage to enter the borders of Europe are the ones most in need of shelter, as there is a massive amount of refugees that never come in question for asylum?

It is easy to argue for asylum rights under the Geneva Convention, while at the same time you are doing everything you can to make it difficult for refugees to enter Europe. Those who succeed do so at risk of losing their lives in the Mediterranean. I see this attitude as immoral and therefore I have proposed to the EU Commissioner for migration a policy based on asylum centres outside the EU and a quota system for distributing refugees between the member countries. Recently the Swedish political party Moderaterna and a group among Kristdemokraterna (both EPP members) have proposed a similar policy.

How can we prevent future refugee disasters?

Up to now EU has done little or nothing to prevent situations giving rise to refugee disasters. We may not have been strong enough, but certainly we have not been determined enough. The colonial past of Europe has partly paralyzed us so we do not intervene when humans suffer in countries around us.

One exception was Libya, where the dictator was overthrown with help from Europe (and the United States), but as soon as this was done, the country was left helpless. The confusion that arose after we left Libya to its destiny was later used as argument for doing nothing in the case of Syria. The total non-involvement in Syria led, however, to tremendously much higher problems than in Libya.

A lesson to be learnt from this is that Europe must have an active attitude for dealing with problems in our surroundings. If a military action is needed, this must be part of a plan for stabilizing the country on a long term. There is also the question whether Europe henceforth can rely on the assistance of the United States. The answer is most probably not. We must admit that the problems are ours and we must have the capability to solve them ourselves.

Situations where military actions are needed are exceptional and create suffering. Therefore it is important to act for avoiding such circumstances. The development of civilian communities in our neighbourhood is not only humanly, but also to our own advantage. We do best with democratic, prosperous countries around us and must work for this in many different ways.

One specific problem that may destroy whatever effort we may do to stabilize the countries around us is high population growth, which takes place in most vulnerable countries in the world and inevitably leads to deterioration of living conditions and to conflicts.

In Africa, the forecast is that the population will double from 1.2 to 2.4 billion by 2050. If we continue to do as little as now for the people in our environment, Europe will either be flooded by refugees even more than autumn 2015, or forced into even more frustrating methods to keep suffering outside Europe’s borders. In both cases, this will lead to disasters and destroy our humanistic values. To prevent this, a massive, all-European initiative is needed to counter the evolving development.

A central action will be the powerful actions for birth control in the most vulnerable countries. In most of the sub-Saharan countries, five-six children are now born per woman and the population is growing faster than the economy, which inevitably causes catastrophic consequences if nothing is done.


If nothing dramatic is done, the number of migrants will most likely increase in the future. However, rather than only focus on problems caused by migration, we must get the European politicians to act to prevent future refugee disasters. There seems to be a willingness to spend 2 % of GDP for military defence. Actions to stabilize our surroundings are as important and should certainly also be allowed to cost. Only in this way can we maintain our decency and democracy.

Erik Solbu

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