Crossposted from Amren.com, where you can comment.
Ten years after Australia stopped illegal immigration once and for all, will the United Kingdom be the first major European country to follow its lead? Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders has shown that when a government is serious, it can stop the influx not only over land borders but also at sea, something European countries have never been able to do.
In 2013, Australia started interning all illegal immigrants caught at sea or intercepted on arrival. It held them in detention centers on island nations with which the Canberra government had signed agreements. Another essential part of the policy has been that anyone caught trying to enter Australia illegally is automatically banned for life from visiting or seeking asylum.
Under the 2007-2010 Labor government, illegal immigration by sea totaled around 50,000 people, including over 37,000 between 2012 and 2013 alone, and there were more than 1,200 deaths by drowning. That was because the Labor government of Kevin Rudd dismantled the border control policies of his predecessor, John Howard. Since 2013, thanks to the new rules, the flow of boats carrying illegals—and the drownings—have stopped. Immigrant-smugglers who can’t get illegals into a country have no customers. The smuggling networks disappear. The problem is solved.
The British government led by Rishi Sunak is now trying to establish a similar policy. The first step was the agreement signed with Rwanda in April last year. Although judicial hurdles have kept Britain from sending a single illegal immigrant there, the mechanism is in place. It is the equivalent of Australia sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea while their requests were processed.
Mr. Sunak’s bill, now in Parliament, would require that the Home Secretary detain all illegal immigrants and either deport them to their home country, if it is safe, or send them to Rwanda or any other country with which the U.K. may sign agreements.
Home Office Secretary Suella Braverman rightly points out that “this will break the business model of people-smuggling networks, and ultimately save lives.” This is something no European government has managed to do.
Fortunately for the U.K., it is no longer a member of the European Union, and is no longer under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). As we will see, the ECJ has stopped many common-sense measures to halt illegal immigration.
If the U.K. Conservatives are really serious about a “Stop the Boats” policy, they will probably have to free themselves from the jurisdiction of yet another European court: the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has jurisdiction over members of the Council of Europe. The council is composed of 46 countries that are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights and fall under the jurisdiction of the ECHR. This included Russia before it was expelled in March 2022 after its attack on Ukraine. The ECHR equivalent in the Americas is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has jurisdiction over all members of the Organization of American States (the American equivalent of the Council of Europe).
Under Britain’s new law, the Home Secretary would have the power to ignore ECHR injunctions. Such injunctions are interim measures used to suspend deportation before a judgment on the merits. ECHR judges—who push the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights to its limits and even beyond—often side with immigrants. A report published in 2020 by the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) describes worrying connections between a number of ECHR judges and George Soros’s pro-immigration network of NGOs.
It was the ECHR that blocked the first deportation of illegal immigrants to Rwanda last year after England’s High Court ruled such deportation legal under British law. If it is not possible to ignore ECHR injunctions—some legal experts say they must be followed—and if the court continues to be an obstacle, Britain will consider withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights.
This would mean pulling out of the Council of Europe, but Britain can now do this because it is no longer in the European Union. Any council member can give notice and then withdraw after a short waiting period. British citizens would lose ECHR protection of their “human rights”—not a great sacrifice.
Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and the man who pushed Tory Prime Minister David Cameron to organize a referendum on Brexit in 2016, has called repeatedly for withdrawal. According to a poll published by the British “anti-woke” television channel GB News, over two-thirds of Tory voters are also in favor of leaving the Council of Europe so that Britain can regain control over who can come and who can stay.
There are now over 166,000 people waiting for a decision on whether they can remain in Britain, a nation of 68 million. In 2022, more than 89,000 people applied for asylum, 45 percent of whom had arrived on small boats crossing the English Channel from France. Of those 89,000 asylum seekers, 16,000 were from Albania. A predominantly Muslim country in Southeastern Europe and a NATO member since 2009, Albania is considered a safe country. Other migrants came mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, Eritrea, India, Sudan, and Pakistan. In total, 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel illegally last year, which was the highest number on record, and that number is on the rise for the first quarter of this year compared to a year ago.
A deal to fast track the deportation of Albanian migrants came a step closer on Thursday after Rishi Sunak and Edi Rama, Albania's prime minister, agreed to close loopholes preventing their removal https://t.co/kwVxi8G5h4— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) December 2, 2022
Because Britain left the E.U. in January 2020, it can no longer send asylum seekers back to the E.U. country of first arrival under the so-called Dublin agreement. Even within the E.U., the agreement doesn’t work well because countries of first arrival—most often Spain, Italy, or Greece—often refuse to cooperate, arguing they already have too many illegal immigrants.
In any case, it is easy to cross most European borders because there is no border control. Furthermore, France does not usually detain illegal immigrants, and deports only a small number even of those to whom it has issued deportation orders. Thousands are therefore waiting near Calais for a chance to cross the English Channel. The French authorities stop many but then set them free, so they try again. Once the migrants are in Britain, France refuses to take them back. The French view is that it is the U.K.’s generosity and leniency that create a pull factor. Countries more to the south, namely Italy and Spain, could say the same about France.
Britain cannot legally intercept boats and push them back to France, especially when the boats are unseaworthy. The Convention on the Law of the Sea requires rescue, and many would agree that this is a moral obligation. You may bring the migrants back to their point of departure only if the country they sailed from agrees or cannot stop you. As noted, France refuses.
Migrants on France’s northern shores are a nuisance; they commit crime and increase the risk of Islamic terrorism. French leaders have promised for years to solve the problem and always fail. They have occasionally broken up the migrant camps, but the migrants come back.
Britain’s projected law, combined with the Rwanda scheme, should solve the problem. Most illegal channel-crossers would presumably stay in France if they knew they would end up in Rwanda. At the same time, Prime Minister Sunak struck a new migration deal with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in early March. It requires increased efforts by France to stop the boats and more financial help from the U.K. to cover part of the costs.
Britain will also contribute 30 million euros over three years for a detention center from which migrants would be deported to their home country or sent back to their first country of arrival in the E.U. This would be something new for France. We will see what comes of this.
Countries that remain within the E.U. are severely restricted by E.U. institutions. In 2020, the European Court of Justice condemned Hungary over its detention centers and asylum procedures on the border with Serbia. The court argued that they violated (1) The Return directive, which prohibits refoulements (pushbacks) at the border, (2) “Reception” policies, which severely limit holding asylum seekers in closed centers, and (3) the Procedures directive, which regulates the examination of asylum applications.
Hungary had to close its two detention centers, but its parliament passed a new law that made it impossible to file an asylum application within Hungary; all claims have to be made at consulates abroad. That law, together with one that allowed for sanctions against NGO activists who help illegal immigrants, led to a new ruling against Hungary by the European Court of Justice in November 2021.
Hungary’s resistance comes at a cost. The European Commission has been withholding billions of euros in funds for Hungary from the €750 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility that was meant to help E.U. members recover from the COVID crisis and cope with the difficulties due to the war in Ukraine (with which Hungary shares a border). Last year, the European Commission also activated the E.U.’s new “rule-of-law mechanism,” threatening to suspend payment to Hungary of the E.U.’s cohesion funds, which pay for development projects in the poorer countries of the European Union. Hungary, as a former Eastern Bloc country, has been a big beneficiary since it joined the E.U. in 2004.
All this does not mean that pushback (refoulement) is always forbidden. The European Commission does not always refer such cases to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and even approves of some. Spain, for example, has been practicing pushbacks at its land borders with Morocco near the cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the coast of North Africa, where a triple fence was already keeping out illegal immigrants long before Hungary built a fence on its border with Serbia.
The European Commission picks and chooses the cases it sends to the European Court of Justice. Consider Greece. The 2015 migrant crisis brought nearly 2 million illegal immigrants into Europe. In the spring of 2016, Germany, France, and the E.U. institutions in Brussels—supposedly on humanitarian grounds—refused to stop what looked to many like an invasion by hundreds of thousands of mainly young men of military age. Several Central European countries, and in particular, Austria and the Visegrád Four (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary) together with Bulgaria and Macedonia closed the borders north of Greece and sent men and equipment to repel migrants. Brussels, Berlin, and Paris harshly criticized these moves, but the European Commission took no action of the kind it had with Hungary just a few months earlier.
European elites seem to accept violations when nations face extreme circumstances. The excellent, 20-minute long documentary film With Open Gates”: The Forced Collective Suicide of European Nations gives a good sense of what was going on in Europe at the time. A number of Muslim migrants who came to Europe through the Balkan route took part in several jihadist attacks, including the murderous coordinated attacks in Paris in November 2015 and the ones in Brussels in March 2016. This was at a time when European elites promoted the famous George Soros plan (available here) that is so extreme that some European mainstream media have denied its existence.
Germany’s then-chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s president Emmanuel Macron later tried to make the E.U. border-control force Frontex exclusively responsible for the E.U.’s external border, but E.U. states refused. As Viktor Orbán famously said, “They want to take away from us the keys to the gate.”
There are other European enforcement inconsistencies. Bulgaria has a border with Turkey. It put up a fence during the 2015 migrant crisis and has pushed back illegals for years without any complaint from Brussels.
The migrant crisis had political consequences in Greece. In 2019, the center-right government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis took over from far-left government of Alexis Tsipras, and introduced tougher policies against illegal immigration. In early 2020, Turkey tried to move migrants off its own soil, and helped thousands try to cross the land border with Greece.
With the help of Greeks living near the border and uniformed reinforcements from Central Europe, Greece relentlessly and sometimes brutally pushed migrants back—for weeks—until Turkish president Recep Erdoğan finally backed off. This time, again inconsistently, the European Commission and Germany and France accepted refoulement.
Since 2020, the government in Athens has been strengthening its border walls and fences with Turkey and has been forcing boats back towards the Turkish shore. The European Court of Human Rights now says pushbacks at sea are dangerous and violate the European Convention on Human Rights—unlike the Spanish refoulements on land.
Although Greece’s tougher policies have brought the numbers of illegal migrants down (from over 71,000 in 2019 to about 9,000 in 2021 and more than 18,000 in 2022), it hasn’t stopped them.
The only way to stop all illegal immigration to Europe would be an Australian-style policy and lifetime bans. Denmark, Austria, and the Visegrád Four have called for this. However, major member states, such as Germany, France, and Spain, reject such a policy.
Those governments support tough pushback policies only when an influx is part of a foreign power’s act of “hybrid war,” as was deemed to be the case when Turkey encouraged the migrant assault on Greece’s borders in early 2020. There was a similar European reaction when, in 2021, Belarus lured tens of thousands of Middle Easterners and Africans through visa-free cheap flights to Minsk and the promise they could cross the border into Lithuania or Poland. Once there, illegals would have had free movement within the E.U.’s Schengen Area. The Lukashenko regime wanted to put pressure on the E.U. to lift sanctions imposed after Belarus forced a European plane to land in Minsk in May 2021, to arrest a political opponent who was on a flight from Greece to Lithuania.
Like Greece, Poland and Lithuania pushed back migrants and built hundreds of kilometers of border fences without European Commission criticism. However, like Greece, Hungary, and others, they cannot copy the Australian solution, and assaults on the Lithuanian and Polish border fences continue to this day, just as they do on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia. Hungary may not accept asylum claims on its soil, but Germany and other E.U. countries further to the north and west do, so migrants still try to cross illegally into Hungary.
A decision to enforce an Australian-style “Operation Sovereign Borders” in Europe would have to be made at the E.U. level, and this will not happen while Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Spain’s Pedro Sánchez remain in power.
There was hope of a big policy change with the victory of the anti-immigration, patriotic right in Italy last year when Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni became prime minister. Greece is the door to Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey. Spain is the entry point from Morocco or Algeria. Italy holds a key position on the Central Mediterranean, with hundreds of thousands crossing from Libya since 2011, when France and Britain bombed that country with the support of the USA, toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and unleashed civil war. Immigrants also come from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey.
Italy has taken some measures to fight NGOs bringing in migrants from Libya, but it has been much more difficult to stop small boats from Tunisia. The Italian government is now negotiating a scheme like the one with Libya, whereby it would finance border patrols by Tunisians to stop migrants before they leave or while they are still in the Tunisian search-and-rescue zone.
Until now, Miss Meloni has failed to take a hard stance like the one her coalition partner Matteo Salvini did when he was interior minister in 2018-19, and it could be because Italy badly needs the post-COVID E.U. recovery funds that are being denied to Hungary (and to Poland, for similar reasons). Italy has received €67 billion euros but Brussels has frozen another €19 billion since Miss Meloni became prime minister in October last year (for technical rather than political reasons). Italy is hoping for €114 billion more, and may not want to risk offending the E.U. bureaucrats.
Most polls conducted in European countries with a great number of immigrants show that significant majorities are opposed to mass immigration and want very strict policies. For years, they have been told by their governments that illegal immigration cannot be stopped. Because the Western European mainstream media are massively in favor of immigration, multiculturalism, and a federal Europe, the success of Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders has been kept hidden from ordinary citizens, and the operation itself, when it is mentioned, is caricatured and called an inhuman failure.
Far too many European politicians and media personalities still think like Irishman Peter Sutherland, who was U.N. Special Representative for International Migration from 2006 to 2017. As he explained to the British House of Lords in 2012, immigration is a “crucial dynamic for economic growth [for E.U. states], however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens of those states.” He also praised it because it would produce “multicultural states” and urged the E.U. to “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of member states.
If the U.K. goes ahead with its plans now that it has left the E.U., there will be pressure from voters in the E.U. to seek a similar solution. The Conservatives are now returning to conservative policies on immigration, but also gender ideology, political correctness, and law and order to avoid what seemed at one time to be certain defeat to Labour in the next elections. Prospects were very dark when Rishi Sunak—the son of Punjabi Indians who immigrated from East Africa in the 1960s and a practicing Hindu—took over from Liz Truss last October.
You can fight illegal immigration by refoulement at the border—when arrivals are from “safe” nations—and efficient deportation for anyone who gets in. Many Muslim and African countries will not take their citizens back, and the British now understand they must find countries that will accept them.
Could the E.U. follow suit and even set an example for the United States? Or, despite a growing sense of danger among citizens, will it wait too long and fall apart before it can take action? The future of the West is at stake.
Mr. Goland is a French journalist and translator living in Poland who writes about European affairs, with a special interest in post-communist Central Europe.