I’m not certain that everyone involved understands the consequences of allowing a mass migration event to occur. On the one hand, Germany and certain other European nations are doing something humanitarian by letting hundreds of thousands come and stay in their nations. On the other hand, millions of displaced people back in refugee camps will hear of this invitation and possibly follow suit.
Who in the Third World or a war-torn nation would not strike out for the chance to live in a peaceful, developed nation? Even just for a short period?
Having lived in Third World situations, for extended periods of time, I can say with certainty many of my neighbors wanted desperately to leave. They see how the 5% live, at the movie theater, on TV and in magazines left behind. Their impression of how people live in developed nations may be somewhat distorted but still sits close to the truth. Our streets are paved (just not with gold), we have running water, inside plumbing and a steady source of electricity. There is work available, for those willing to do anything. Our streets are generally safer, with the exception of certain urban districts.
It is only natural that a person living in a drought-striken, war-torn corner of Sudan or Syria would dream of living in a modern German or American city.
It is only natural that a person living in Haiti would want to move to Florida. This would not solve the problem of poor education, little training, and no savings, it just relocates people to a place where more possibilities are available. The real solution is to make those natural parts of a normal human life available back in the refugee’s home nations.
All modern societies already struggle under the weight of migrant populations. In Europe it is the huge existing illegal immigrant population along with the Roma and other groups. The very structure of the EU encourages workers to move where there is work.
In the U.S. there is the same freedom to live anywhere from Juneau, Alaska to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Most people have cars. We have a very mobile workforce. There is also a sizable homeless population, mostly located in or near the largest urban centers. Our illegal immigrant population sits anywhere from 10 million to 20 million. Accurately counting all these groups is impossible, but we can estimate that they are huge numbers of people.
If we suddenly open the U.S. borders you can expect a stampede to soon follow. Border regions would be the first regions to be overwhelmed. In some cases, such as Texas, they might already be. But the borders are also located in every international airport. When a plane from overseas lands, citizens, tourists, students, business people and new immigrants are all likely to walk off.
Passenger manifests are much more closely scrutinized than in the past but some “tourists” and some “students” are actually immigrants. They fully intend to stay beyond the length of their visas. Those immigrants join the people that walked across border, though we may not treat them the same.
All of these immigrants will eventually find work. The rules that bind family are stronger than the rules we impose on employers. Immigrants traditionally worked in businesses owned by relatives or associates. Immigrant populations stick together. Illegal immigrants from Ireland were employed in the Irish pubs and businesses in Boston and Baltimore. Illegal Chinese immigrants often started out their careers in the back of restaurants. Farm and outdoor work long ago became the immigrants domain. There will always be business owners willing to hire someone willing to work hard and quietly, for less pay.
These are alternative systems we have for handling illegal immigration, however informal or illegal they may be. Those charged with finding every illegal immigrant have not the time or resources to do so. They can only go after the largest offenders at best. A poultry processing facility is raided. The other chicken plants check everyone’s Green Cards again.
This whole system would be upended if 100,000 people were suddenly brought to our cities. Or would it? Hundreds of thousands of people already move around the U.S. every year. Some migrate to enjoy the Florida sun, others move to North Dakota to work the Bakken. No, the first one hundred thousand we could accommodate. It is the next 900,000 that concerns me.
The next 900,000 are already deeply concerning to the European nations. These mass migrations could develop into a situation that causes global turmoil. The only way to stem the tide is to deal with the reasons why these people are suddenly migrating. Drought in Africa is a tough problem to solve but agricultural assistance is one way. War in Syria is tougher still but Assad and the fighters must be brought to some terms someday. The so-called Islamic State joins Boko Harum, Al Shabab, the Houthis, and the Taliban, just to name a few other groups driving people to migrate north.
The makeup of groups now crossing by land into Europe tells the story. There are Afghans, Sudanese, Eritreans, Syrians, and even people from the Balkans moving towards Western Europe. From the south boatloads of refugees from Africa are risking drowning at sea to get to any piece of European soil. Those groups often end up in Spain, Italy and Greece. Organized crime is making millions selling a non-existent seat on a leaky raft to a man so desperate he would pay for such a spot, sight unseen. Others are sold a suffocating location in an overcrowded truck body or shipping container.
SHORT TERM HOUSING
Short term housing solutions are available. These include vacant homes, vacant apartments, tourist hotels, emergency shelters, camps or second homes and finally empty rooms in large homes. These last two are the most controversial simply because most people do not want to invite a poor stranger into one of their homes. Those that do offer to house refugees should be given a tax-incentive to help with some of the additional costs.
A million tourists visit Europe every summer and typically leave by mid-September. They stay in hotels, BnBs, and even hostels. Many of these rooms sit empty until next Spring. A financial incentive, such as a tax-break, might encourage some of the owners of these places to open their doors to a destitute Syrian family.
I would imagine Germany has hundreds of thousands of beds available in summer camps. Camp owners are probably preparing to close up these rural locations for the winter. Most camp structures are probably not suited for habitation beyond October. These rural camp locations are still likely to be better than creating new tent cities out in some field.
Now the use of summer camps does complicate things when the refugees have to be moved again, once the typically harsh northern European winter begins. The summer camp solution is really just a way of giving authorities a 60-day window for developing other housing solutions.
LONG TERM HOUSING
The wars in Syria, Afghanistan and the droughts in Africa will not be ending any time soon.
Finding a place for a million people to live for a couple of years will not be easy. Existing vacant structures can probably accommodate 250,000 or more, that will require an analyst to determine. AirBnB and other similar services probably know of many empty beds in Europe. In any event the owners of those structures will certainly want compensation. Encouraging them to allow poor refugees to move into their units will not be easy. Landlords can only image the toll these people might take on the structures. In the end it may be no different than renting to any other tenant but the fears of property damage will still be there.
Construction of new housing, while an interesting source of employment, will not be a popular solution. It takes years for such buildings to be planned and safely constructed. Pre-fab housing can be installed in a much shorter time-frame but these units still require foundations, roads and utility connections. These projects would best be constructed in the border nations of Italy, Greece and perhaps Spain. I understand there is a great deal of half-finished construction all over Europe, leftovers from the recent economic recession. The idea of using campers or caravans, poorly attempted after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, should be passed over.
Germany and other nations have rules whereby new refugees are not permitted to work for the first year. This may not be the best way to respond to this current crisis. Many of these refugees are from Middle Eastern nations. We have learned the hard way that radical Islamic groups feed upon idle Arab youth, often using social media on the Internet. There is simply no other way to put it. Having hundreds of thousands of idle refugees sitting around European cities is a recipe for disaster. European nations may need to consider the voluntary work schemes like the WPA used during the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s. The current situation certainly looks similar to the Great Depression in many ways.
The only real solution to the refugee crisis is the elimination of turmoil in the places where these people were living. Wars would need to be ended and housing rebuilt in places like Homs or Aleppo. In places suffering from drought perhaps drought-resistant crops could be introduced. Creating new jobs through development would certainly encourage some to return home. Governments would be wise to work closely with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) already prepared to perform some of these tasks. Peace negotiations may even take on a new urgency.
I’m trying to envision this entire event, from a all perspectives, in order to understand what can and will happen next. There are many angles from which to view this ancient problem of migration. It cannot be left up to the U.N. Refugee Agency alone to find the solutions. Larger, better funded governments will need to step in.