Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Coming Migration out of Sub-Saharan Africa

Contributor/AFP/Getty Images
Almost the entire population of Italy, it seems, spent the last week of June watching a boat arrive from across the Mediterranean. It was the Sea-Watch 3, a Netherlands-registered ship funded by progressive philanthropists and captained by Carola Rackete, a 31-year-old German climate-change activist. Rackete radioed that she was carrying 42 African refugees rescued at sea who were in desperate health. Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini holds that such ships rendezvous with traffickers just off the Libyan coast, and are really less interested in rescuing sailors than in transporting illegal immigrants to Europe en masse. “Taxis,” he has called them. And indeed, Rackete had been doodling about at the edge of Italy’s territorial waters for several days, charting a course less consistent with any health emergency than with a wish to land her human cargo in the European Union, where it is easy to apply for political asylum and where even those whose applications are rejected are almost never deported. Since his Lega party began sharing power in a populist coalition a year ago, Salvini’s decision to close Italy’s ports to such ships has made him the country’s most popular politician by a mile — and arguably, though he is still only a cabinet minister, the leader of the Western European political Right.
This time Salvini failed. Rackete broke through a line of Coast Guard ships in the pre-dawn hours of June 29 and made port on the island of Lampedusa, allegedly ramming a customs ship in the process, a maneuver for which she was arrested. Italians were riveted to their smartphones and TV sets. A good number of Lampedusans even lined the docks in the middle of the night to holler their wish that she be prosecuted — and worse. But when “Carola,” as she was increasingly known to the public, was released in early July, a crowd of supporters waved signs with handmade hearts. She still faces criminal charges. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign minister, the Social Democrat Heiko Maas, backed Rackete against the Italian authorities. “Saving human lives is no crime,” he said.
If Rome and Berlin have been transfixed by a nautical incident involving only a few dozen African seafarers, it is for a simple reason: There are a billion more where those came from. And how Europe addresses African migration is going to determine what the population of the continent looks like a generation from now.
Since the turn of the century, Europeans have been faced with the most basic question about their future: whether they have one. In some countries — especially Italy, Germany, and Austria — the native population has been shrinking for decades. Birth rates have fallen so low that each native generation is about two-thirds the size of the last. The decline was masked for a while by the size of the almost wholly autochthonous Baby Boom generation, but now those native Europeans have begun to retire and die. Non-European immigrants, especially those from the Middle East and North Africa, have rushed to claim a place on the continent. At least since 9/11, European newspaper readers have grown familiar with arguments over Islam, some of them euphemistic (Islam will be a “part of Germany,” says Merkel) and some of them gloomy (Europe will be a “part of the [Muslim] Maghreb,” warned the late historian Bernard Lewis). When Merkel offered in the summer of 2015 to welcome refugees walking overland from the war in Syria, she got an additional wave of 1.5 million migrants, most of them young men, from across the Muslim world. Her misjudgment broke Germany’s political system, and has infused German democracy with a current of hard-line nationalism for the first time since the 1930s.
That is only the beginning of the problem. The population pressures emanating from the Middle East in recent decades, already sufficient to drive the European political system into convulsions, are going to pale beside those from sub-Saharan Africa in decades to come. Salvini owes his rise — and his party’s mighty victory in May’s elections to the European Union parliament — to his willingness to address African migration as a crisis. Even mentioning it makes him almost alone among European politicians. Those who are not scared to face the problem are scared to avow their conclusions.
Read the rest from Christopher Caldwell HERE.

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