Maybe don’t give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses

October 8, 2013

As we saw last week, Africans are desperately risking, and losing, their lives in the struggle to get into Europe. They come above all from the war-afflicted states of Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. They trek to Libya (itself now increasingly in bloody turmoil, a Spring long gone) or Tunisia, and from there seek a boat to the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost piece of Italian soil, nearer to the north African coast than it is to Sicily.

The emigrants pay up to 1,000 euros to traffickers, who sometimes take their money and disappear, sometimes pack hundreds of them into fishing boats, which might normally carry a dozen men. From there they set off to cover the 80 or so miles to the lovely island, a luxurious resort with some of the best beaches on the planet, and now the fevered hope of some of the world’s poorest.

At the end of last week, a 66-foot ship with upwards of 500 of these people sank less than a mile from Lampedusa. More than 150 were rescued; as many as 350 may have drowned. Italy, mired in recession with burgeoning unemployment for all, and especially for the young, is no more generous to illegal emigrants than the rest of Europe, but the scale caused shock there and throughout the continent. Unlikely, though, that it will it cause a change in attitude.

The Mediterranean immigrants are not just fleeing poverty — as emigrants, including millions from Italy in the past two centuries, have always done. They are fleeing death. The largest proportion of the Mediterranean immigrants come from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. The plight of those three countries makes clear what their citizens are running from, even if it’s unclear what they’re running towards.

Eritrea achieved its independence from Ethiopia — itself no poster child of human rights — in 1991, at the cost of a succession of draining wars with Ethiopia and other states, and a tightening authoritarianism that has seen many flee from a slave-like forced military service and a fearsome persecution of all unregistered religious worship. Somalia, for years un-governed, now has a fragile government in place. It is still, however, haunted by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabab terrorist group (which carried out the murderous siege of the shopping mall in Kenya last month). Shabab’s control of parts of the country — now loosened — saw a strong version of Sharia Law imposed, with beheadings and repression of women and minorities.

Syria, meanwhile, continues its slouch towards degradation. BBC Panorama last week had cameras in a hospital just inside the Syrian side of the border with Turkey when first a trickle, and then a flood of children were rushed in. They were screaming in pain from the effects of an incendiary bomb containing napalm, or a substance like it, which had been dropped from a government fighter on a school playground. Many died in their agony; it was a snapshot of a much wider misery.

Fleeing towards opportunity should be in European memory. Half of the population of Ireland and up to a third of Sweden’s and of Italy’s emigrated, mostly in the last two centuries. Most were bound for the U.S.: many, too, were packed in overcrowded ships, and they too at times went down in the longer, stormier crossing. But contentment and wealth cancel such memories. Now we encourage politicians to protect our living standards from the invading hordes, the same hordes depicted in popular conversation and some newspapers as voracious for European welfare.

Some politicians and others argue that Europe, shrinking demographically, needs new blood, muscle and brain — but almost all who believe that borders should be open say that programs must be planned, regulated and explained to both domestic electorates and foreign immigrants. In a new book, Exodus, the Oxford professor Paul Collier argues that “nations are ‘legitimate moral units’ that must be taken seriously” — “whether small poor nations, with their intractable and worsening problems, or successful modernized nations” — and both have the right to protect their living standards. The European Union has signed a handful of “mobility agreements” that seek to regulate the immigration flows  — but so far they have been with countries like Morocco, where the problems are relatively small.

Immigration will continue, and will become increasingly contested. Politicians of every color will be impelled to oppose it — as the French socialist Interior Minister Manuel Valls did last month, when he said that the Roma (formerly known as gypsies), from Bulgaria and Romania, should be deported from France. There is no possibility of ordinary people in crisis-hit European countries welcoming more immigrants, yet something must be done to alleviate the immigrants’ desperation. This is especially true in those states, like France and the UK, that colonized much of Africa deep into the 20th century.

There is some recognition of this. France sent a force of 4,500 troops into Mali early this year, to help a weak government military push back insurgent Islamist forces: in August, a reformist president, Ibrahim Keita, was convincingly elected. Britain has constructed a $70 million package of support for Somalia to supply medical aid and investment. The writer Justin Marozzi, an adviser to the country’s prime minister, wrote in the Times that in the absence of al Shabab, ousted in the summer of 2011 from the capital Mogadishu, he can now drive about the city “without a second thought.” A fragile peace is in place, gradually extending. Over time, with continued improvement, the immigrants’ flight should decline. Yet much larger intervention is needed in the areas from which people are impelled to flee.

Africa still remains, in many parts, a benighted continent. Many of the most active and courageous seek a better life elsewhere — and will continue to meet at best a grudging response if they succeed in reaching Europe. We still owe it to them, and to the world, and finally to our own security, to make their countries worth living in — and make Lampedusa less worth dying for.

PHOTO: Coffins of victims from a shipwreck off Sicily are seen in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport October 5, 2013. Rough seas again blocked efforts to recover the bodies trapped inside a boat that sank on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 Eritrean and Somali men, women and children who were seeking a better life in Europe. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

People with a violent, might makes right culture are by definition undesirable.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

Europe has been a source of many cultural and scientific contributions. It pains me to witness the inevitable deterioration that will follow the influx of these illegal borderjumpers. Africa has great mineral wealth, farmland, ect., ect. Yet it is in a constant state of turmoil. The people of Africa will never get their act together; they have had enough time. (Hell, the muslims have been fighting over some dumb-ass feud for 1500 years! We have the same problem in the U.S.: the blacks keep blaming slavery for all their inadequacies). Send all of them back!

Posted by juansomething | Report as abusive

“People with a violent, might makes right culture are by definition undesirable”.

I was tempted to say, “you mean like the US or Britain when it suits them”, but in reality most cultures exhibit such traits at times. Your comment really just confirms the double standards employed by the west.

And really, the people who flee such trouble are the ones who want quiet lives, the sort of people all should welcome. If only we could directly swap our hawkish population with the victims of their policies around the world!

Posted by joechip | Report as abusive

To think about immigration, consider the difference between Japan and India.

Although its first human habitants came from China, Japan rose to prominence among human cultures because it was, like England, an island nation, and compared to other countries, had almost zero immigration thereafter.

Japan, the Land of the Gods, grew such a strong culture, admired around the world, because it was not constantly disturbed by immigrations.

Japan is the exact opposite of, say, India, which has constantly, throughout its history, been disturbed by immigrations. Including its immigrants, India today has a population of 1.17 billion people, compared to Japan’s 128 million.

India has had migration after migration from every direction. It is made up of Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Christians, just to start. India, the land built by immigrants, has literally dozens of languages, great corruption and chronic diseases. Everybody speaking a different language, worshiping a different god, stealing from each other. That is India, the poster child for immigration advocates.

Yet Japan, with a population only one-tenth the size of India’s, has a GDP 4 times as big as India. That means the average Japanese citizen is roughly 40 times as productive as the average Indian.

Japan, the island nation, protected from immigrations, a cohesive culture, very high economic production, high per-capita incomes and wages, and the lowest crime rate in the world.

So America should ask itself, do we want to remain a strong culture, like Japan, or do we want to allow immigrations from all directions, and end up with the chaos and poverty and disease that is India?

Immigration into America today has flooded the labor markets, driving down wages and causing joblessness, destroying American careers and families. Immigrants (America has 45 million immigrants today) occupy scarce American housing, driving rents sharply higher for Americans.

Immigration on such a vast scale is quickly destroying the American middle class.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

It must be remembered that the total famous Irish immigrations to America over the last two hundred years cited in this article were MINUSCULE compared to the immigrations occurring today into America from Mexico, India, China, Philippines etc.

One must separate the myth from reality. Remember, Ireland is a tiny country and it has never had a large population. For example today its population is 4.5 million.

Compare that to Mexico’s population today of 118 million.

Or compare that to India’s 1.2 Billion people, or China’s 1.3 Billion.

Ireland is tiny.

The biggest canard in the immigration debate is when people say, “Because America benefited from Irish immigrants, we therefore should now allow the gigantic immigrations now occurring from Mexico, India, China, Philippines, etc.”

The UN just released figures about 2 weeks ago showing that America now has 45 million immigrants. That is over 14% of the population, or 1 out of 7 people in America.

Never in the history of America has the percentage of immigrants been that high. Even the day the Mayflower landed in 1620 with 102 English Pilgrims, they met native Americans within an hour of walking ashore.

Today America is over-populated and over-polluting and over-straining its natural resources.

Yet uninformed people keep saying, Because America had famous immigration from Ireland, then we should allow all 1.3 Billion people from China to immigrate here, and all the 1.2 Billion people from India.

They fail to understand that the Irish immigrations were in the range of 200,000 over 100 years, and there was much unpopulated land in the 1800’s. Today Asian and Mexican immigrants are coming at a rate, not of 200,000 per hundred years, but closer to 200,000 per week, or almost 10 million per year.

Immigration is quickly destroying the American middle class.

For reference here are the UN immigration figures release just 2 weeks ago: most-immigrants-161952285.html

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

@Adam Well stated. We cannot and should not apply the immigration philosophies of 100 years ago to today. The key driver for immigrants in the 20th century was economic, and the motivation to become “Americans” under a political structure based on individual liberty. We also had the ability to relatively easily assimilate the relatively poor and unskilled. But that is no longer true.

Today, assimilation and adoption of American ideals is not the objective of many immigrants–it’s purely economic, with diminished motivation to become “Americans”. Additionally, our economic infrastructure requires a better educated and skilled work force. The concept of multiculturalism, and the expansion of the welfare state, has removed the incentive for learning the language and adoption of American values, two of a number of critical requirements for upward mobility in this country.

This does not mean a family abandons its heritage, but it does require that the immigrant adopt the American way, versus American adapting to the ways of the immigrant. It does mean that we begin by eliminating the hyphenation of ourselves. You can be an American of Italian, Irish….(name one) descent, but placing your home country in front of “American” is simply the wrong way to start. It diminishes what America is and what we are. It started with Blacks (now “African-“), while the facts show that, other than the color of their skin, few Blacks in this country have any emotional, economic or cultural connection with Africa. It means you adopt the language of the country in order to conduct business and to take advantage of education, and eventually to vote.

In spite of what one may hear in the media, this is the land of opportunity PROVIDED the individual be motivated to succeed. Success demands that they adapt to, and adopt, our culture. In spite of our flaws, which we openly acknowledge, this is still America.

Those, including our President, who wish to abandon our core foundation of liberty and personal responsibility, serve neither the interests of America, nor of immigrants.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

@Adam I feel that direct comparisons between Japan and India based solely on population size is a bit misleading. You have to take into account that India is enormous and Japan is very tiny. Looking at population density, one can see that Japan is at about 870 people/sq mi and India is at about 980 people/sq mi. Also, the following link shows that 2013 immigration from both Mexico and India are at net negatives:  /the-world-factbook/fields/2112.html That means fewer people born in Mexico and India are living in the United States than they were a year ago. 2012 records show the same.

Posted by ZanWB | Report as abusive

“As we saw last week, Africans are desperately risking, and losing, their lives in the struggle to get into Europe. They come above all from the war-afflicted states of Eritrea, Somalia and Syria.”

Last time I check, Syrians are NOT Africans.

Posted by PortgueseinAf | Report as abusive

The inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption (a relationship unrecognized by the field of economics due to its self-imposed ban on all subjects related to population growth) makes it inevitable that, beyond a certain critical population density, a society will slowly, steadily spiral downward into worsening unemployment and poverty as its population density rises further. Immigration policy should be formulated with this relationship in mind.

Posted by Pete_Murphy | Report as abusive

I think the author is correct even though elusive. You can’t stop immigration of the nature Europe is facing right now. They are escaping death and worse. The only way to stop them is to help or force them to change their own situation.
As far as the USCA is concerned, @AdamSmith has good point. India’s biggest export is Indians. And we can defend the southern border. The soviet union did it for over thirty years. It is insulting to say we can’t do it.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

“China’s official news agency has called for the creation of a “de-Americanised world”, saying the destinies of people should not be left in the hands of a hypocritical nation with a dysfunctional government.”

Our political parties are seriously hurting the country now. Both of them. We need a referendum vote on Term limits for congress and SCOUS and campaign finance reform. Nothing more or it will be turned into a never ending argument and well get nothing. Just those two things and all things can be achieved after just one or two election cycles. DEMAND IT!

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Corporate greed destroyed the African Continent. And, corporate greed bringing in and supporting illegal immigration is a major contributing force destroying America.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive