by Rohit Upadhya
The revolutions that have swept across the Arab world have, by no means, been peaceful transitions. It is to be expected, then, that thousands would be displaced, or would voluntarily flee their countries to escape the violence and potential anarchy.
The geography of the area makes for an interesting migration strategy, in that there is really only one direction to go. To the east of the regions in turmoil, there lies Saudi Arabia and Iraq—nations that are by no means welcoming, nor even truly accessible. To the south, lies the Sahara, another dead end. The west is equally unwelcoming—repressive nations like Algeria and Morocco share the same status as the nations to the east. There is therefore only one way to go: north, to Europe.
Over 25,000 immigrants have entered Italy from North Africa, mostly fleeing the violence that has beset their home countries. It seems that Italy is the proxy of choice for immigrants, perhaps because the Italian government has been so welcoming. Many of the immigrants have obtained legal residency papers from the administration.
However, this benevolent move has angered other European countries, due to the open-border policy that is such a defining feature of the European Union. Once a person is a legal resident of one country, he or she has free access to any of the other 25 nations that make up the union. Many of the immigrants are Tunisians, and thus head straight for France, a former colonial power whose culture is most recognizable.
In an apparently stunning move, Italy and France have united to push forward a recall of the Schengen Agreement; in other words, Sarkozy and Berlusconi would like to see Europe have closed borders once more, at least for the time being. In practice, this is already beginning to take place: France has detained trains from Italy carrying African immigrants, and has been arresting those already inside its borders.
These events will be a very interesting catalyst for European politics as a whole. Over the past decade, there has been a detectable rise in far-right sentiment across the continent. Many of the ultra-conservative parties in the Nordic region, built on platforms of xenophobia, have begun to win seats for the first time in history. Sarkozy is losing in the polls to an anti-immigrant zealot. If the influx of immigrants continues to become more of an issue, the threads of a free and open Europe might very well begin to unravel. The crisis—whether it is perceived, or real—could very well prove to be the ammunition that the European Right needs to rise to power.
And what might the world then see? Personally I’ve always found European politics somewhat boring (apart from dear old Silvio, of course). I cannot really imagine anything terribly shocking happening, except for perhaps some draconian immigration measures, and at worst, a splintering of the European Union.
Never mind…that actually does sound quite interesting.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons