Amsterdam, Netherlands – In a stunning turn of events, the collapse of the Dutch parliament has laid bare the deep divisions within Europe’s ongoing immigration discourse. The departure of the Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister, Mark Rutte, signifies the intensifying polarization surrounding the management of individuals risking their lives in pursuit of a new beginning on European soil.
On Saturday, Rutte submitted his resignation to King Willem-Alexander, marking the end of his tenure as the Dutch Prime Minister and setting the stage for upcoming general elections in the autumn. The crux of the issue leading to the collapse of Rutte’s parliamentary coalition was the failure to reach a consensus on stricter immigration measures. Specifically, Rutte’s party clashed with coalition partners, the Christian Union and D66, over proposals for a two-tiered asylum system, differing views on family reunification policy, and the treatment of refugees fleeing persecution versus conflict. While Dutch immigration policy is already more stringent than that of many European nations, a recent surge in migration from countries such as Tunisia and Pakistan has reignited the migration policy debate across the continent, reports Vox.
While current migration levels to Europe have not reached the peak witnessed during the height of the Islamic State’s caliphate and the Syrian civil war in 2015 and 2016, a confluence of factors has compelled individuals to flee their home countries. Economic repercussions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, conflicts in Ukraine and parts of Africa, and political and social upheavals in the Global South have all contributed to the surge in people undertaking treacherous journeys through unsafe and irregular routes facilitated by human smuggling networks.
However, those seeking refuge in Europe today are confronted with a different political and social landscape compared to the refugees who arrived in 2015. The focus of European countries, the UK, and the US on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, now in its 19th month, has overshadowed the migration issue. Additionally, right-wing movements in Europe, though not dominant, hold greater influence than in previous years.
Interestingly, even the implementation of strict immigration policies, such as those seen in the UK, has not deterred individuals from risking their lives to reach European shores. Moreover, the lack of concerted global efforts and a comprehensive approach to migration management exacerbate the perilous nature of the journey, as exemplified by the tragic sinking of a ship bound for Italy near Greece last month.
Migration patterns have become increasingly complex in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent border closures led to a significant decrease in migration to the EU in 2020. While the number of first residence permits issued by the EU declined from 3 million in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2020, it rebounded to 2.9 million in 2021. Notably, the number of irregular border crossings, characterized by individuals entering without valid visas and often resorting to illicit means such as human smugglers, rose by 66 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to the European Commission.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has been a major driver of migration to the EU. However, even before the conflict erupted in February 2022, Ukrainians were already migrating to European countries. As of May this year, approximately 4 million Ukrainians held temporary protected status in an EU member state, as reported by Eurostat. Migration from Morocco, Tunisia, and Pakistan has also seen an upward trajectory, with individuals fleeing ongoing conflicts and repression in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.
Migration from Tunisia appears to be a consequence of the turmoil in sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of undocumented migrants have fled countries like Mali, where Islamist violence and a brutal military junta have inflicted suffering on the populace, and Sudan, where two rival military leaders have transformed the capital, Khartoum, into a battleground.
Reportedly, individuals from Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Guinea, and Senegal have migrated to Tunisia, where they face racist violence. Instead of providing assistance through aid organizations, the Tunisian government has focused on expelling them, as highlighted in a recent Reuters report. Tunisian President Kais Saied has implemented a discriminatory crackdown on Black African migrants, baselessly accusing them of spreading violence and crime. In a speech in February, Saied espoused an unsubstantiated notion that successive waves of irregular migration sought to detach Tunisia from its Arab and Islamic affiliations.
Migration from Pakistan has also witnessed a surge, as evidenced by the presence of hundreds of Pakistanis on a ship that sank in the Mediterranean in early June. Political volatility and economic instability have compelled many Pakistanis to seek employment opportunities in Europe. Although Pakistan received a reprieve with the renegotiation of an International Monetary Fund agreement, unlocking $1.1 billion in funding for the struggling nation’s economy, the country’s ability to adhere to the agreement and stabilize its economy remains uncertain.
As Pakistan prepares for a general election in October, the aftermath of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s removal from office and subsequent arrest continues to contribute to unrest. The IMF deal’s stipulations necessitate the implementation of austerity measures, which are likely to further impact the already fragile economy and standard of living, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Economic and political instability is expected to persist well into 2024.
The European landscape has grown increasingly polarized since the arrival of migrants in 2015. However, the current migration trends bear little resemblance to the massive influx of refugees during that period. In 2015, a record 1.3 million individuals sought asylum in Europe, doubling the previous record established after the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Pew Research.
Despite the disparity in immigration numbers, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman introduced a controversial immigration policy earlier this year. The policy aimed to deport individuals who arrived irregularly, primarily through small boats crossing the English Channel, and prohibit them from seeking asylum in the UK. The bill faced significant criticism for its alleged racism and legal complexity, drawing objections from the UN’s refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.
In a similar vein, Braverman unveiled plans in 2022 to relocate certain migrants to Rwanda, despite concerns over government repression and regional conflicts instigated by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Legal challenges have thus far prevented the implementation of this policy.
Germany played a pivotal role in welcoming refugees in 2015, with Chancellor Angela Merkel famously proclaiming, “We can do this.” The country has experienced success in integrating migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern nations into its social fabric. However, the right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD) capitalized on the influx of newcomers, fueling Islamophobic fears and promoting an anti-immigrant agenda. Although the federal government placed the AfD under surveillance in 2021 due to concerns about its extremist ideologies and anti-democratic stance, a recent poll conducted by Deutsche Welle indicates that the AfD enjoys more popular support than any single party within the ruling coalition.
Anti-migrant sentiment and right-wing movements have been on the rise across EU countries for several years. Hungary’s Viktor Orban sealed the country’s borders in response to the 2015 migrant arrivals, earning begrudging praise from many European leaders. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently criticized the European Commission’s plans to support