“Eliminate the causes of the refugee crisis” – is that really a solution?

Published on 2016/03/22

It always sounds good: There’s no point wasting your time tinkering around with the symptoms of a problem, you’re better off focussing your efforts on eliminating the roots of the problem. Of course this appeals as an “intelligent” and “sustainable” strategy. Who could possibly challenge the idea of tackling a problem’s causes? In the current environment, it is a very rare interview indeed in which a German politician does not stress the need to “eliminate the causes of the refugee crisis.”

But what exactly are the causes of the refugee crisis? Here most observers are in agreement: Large numbers of people are fleeing conflict and civil wars. And there are large numbers of people trying to escape hunger and poverty who see a better future in Europe. “Eliminating the causes of the refugee crisis” basically means: eliminating conflict, civil war, hunger and poverty.

The figures are bad: According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), of the seven billion people on our planet, 795 million are undernourished. In Africa alone, 232 million people do not have enough to eat and drink. Africa also has the highest proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of its population, namely 20%.

As reported by the Heidelberger Institute for International Conflict Research, there were 424 conflicts raging across the world in 2015, of which 21 were classified as wars. Of these 21 wars, nine were taking place in the Near and Middle East and nine were in Africa.

Is it really within the scope of the Federal Republic of Germany’s powers, or even those of the European Union, to change all of this and thereby “eliminate the causes of the refugee crisis?”

The EU, with its 28 member countries, currently provides around 50% of global development aid, contributing more than €58 billion per year according to figures published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation. And yet all of this aid cannot eliminate the root causes of suffering and destitution around the world.

After all, the root causes are corrupt governments – such as those in place in many African countries – and corrupt systems that do not follow free market economic principles. The proof: The renowned Heritage Foundation regularly produces a global ranking of economic freedom. This index measures the degree of economic freedom in individual countries. The ranking is headed by Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Estonia and Great Britain. Unsurprisingly, no one is rushing to escape from these countries because of economic hardships.

In other countries the situation is so catastrophic that it is impossible to even rank them. Such countries include Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, the Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Algeria comes 154th of the 178 ranked countries, Ethiopia is in 148th place, Lebanon ranks 98th, and so on. All over the world, people are regularly fleeing from countries with low levels of economic freedom and heading towards countries with higher levels of economic freedom because the quality of life in the freer countries is so much better. For example, large numbers of people have fled from Mexico (62nd in the ranking) to the USA (11th).

“Eliminating the causes of the refugee crisis” would ultimately mean establishing free market systems in those countries with low levels of economic freedom. In the very same countries where corruption and dictatorships reign, democracy and the rule of law would have to be introduced. Only the people who live in these countries could possibly do this. Free market economics and democracy cannot simply be exported, as the many failed attempts to do so by the United States amply demonstrate.

It is nowhere near as easy to eliminate the forces that drive refugees out of their homelands as many politicians make it sound in their interviews. Conflict, civil war, malnutrition and poverty have their roots in the political and economic systems of the African countries. As long as these root causes exist, it is easy to understand why so many people are going to such great lengths to escape misery.

Even though talk of eliminating the causes of the refugee crisis might sound logical and “sustainable” at first, it is in no way a realistic solution to dealing with the problems faced today.

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