The recent truck massacre in Berlin and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey have once again raised the spectre of the West’s “migrant crisis”. The person initially arrested for the Berlin incident was a Pakistani, reportedly both migrant and Muslim, even though there is no evidence he was actually involved. Although the shooter in the Ankara incident was a Turkish policeman it was immediately assumed he was sympathetic to strains of Islamism imported from other countries rather than homegrown, and even a follower of Gulen, and therefore either a foreign radical Islamist in all but name—even by some accounts a paid killer of the West to derail the deal being negotiated over finding a solution to the crisis in Syria.
The reason for this “migrant crisis” should be obvious to anyone who reads the news. Destructive wars are taking place all over the world, and hideous acts are being committed within these conflicts. These are being reported because Western countries want to create certain preconceptions in their domestic audience to gain public acceptance of their role in these conflicts. For example, we never heard much about the civil conflict in Burundi, which during the 1990s was the deadliest of all wars per capita, simply because Western countries were not directly involved.
But when people leave their stricken countries, often at great personal cost in terms of homes and families and futures, to seek a new life in a safe place they are inevitably treated as suspicious. Suddenly, these conflicts don’t exist and the pantomime villains of all the news reports are not villains after all.
People might be terrorists simply because they are migrants from certain countries, despite the fact most terrorist acts which have been investigated were committed by nationals of the country concerned, not foreigners. Even if not, they may not be who they say they are. And why always when such acts happen they are only reported when they involve a Western country? Aren’t most of the migrants just trying to escape poverty back home, and are misrepresenting themselves as hapless victims to live an easier life on welfare, so the story goes?
The more you raise suspicion of people, the more you justify a Western presence in the countries they came from. If everyone from those places is dubious or dangerous, those countries obviously need the civilizing influence of Westerners doing whatever they see fit in someone else’s home. Migrants are not a crisis, or even a problem, for Western countries. They are a policy tool, whose plight was created by a West which would rather see everyone else dispossessed and barefoot, and treated with suspicion because of it, than accept any threat to its own self-proclaimed interests.
Angela Merkel is very fond of using migrants to beat Turkey with: “you will only get benefits from us if you reduce the flow of migrants to Western countries“. These are of course the same migrants who built the United States, the world’s only superpower, and even as late as the 1950s were sent as children to colonise parts of the former British Empire, having been told their parents were dead. But what can the West itself do to address the migrant “crisis”? More importantly, if this is a crisis, why isn’t it actually doing it?
One of the objections to migrants is that some have no paperwork such as identity documents. When they have, they could easily be forged or unverifiable.
Not every country has a compulsory ID card system. The United Kingdom doesn’t, but insists that everyone who enters it should have one. Furthermore it is accepted that those fleeing their own countries on the grounds of persecution do not need to carry paperwork. Obviously, if you are a target of one of these awful regimes we always hear about you will not want to tell people who you are when you encounter police and passport control whilst trying to flee your country.
Nevertheless, people rightly have to prove who they are, and what the basis of their claim is, to enter a new country. If they don’t have paperwork, how can they do that?
Everyone who wants to migrate to a Western country is interviewed at some point, as part of the effort to establish their identity. If the new arrival doesn’t speak the language of the new country an interpreter is provided who speaks their native language, in theory. It is most unusual in Western countries for the authorities not to be able to find an interpreter who claims the relevant language skills. But where do these interpreters come from?
In cases where there is a sound political partnership with the country concerned, the Embassy of that country is asked to provide or source interpreters. Generally however they come from a pool created by the immigration authority. The members of this pool are migrants. Often they come from community organisations for migrants from their country, and on that basis it is assumed, by immigration officials who can’t speak the relevant language, that they must know it.
There are two inherent problems with this approach which Western governments refuse to resolve, simply in order to ensure migrants remain suspicious. The first is that language is very political. For example, during the Yugoslav conflict Western governments decreed there was a language called Bosnian, hitherto completely unknown, in order to support the political claims of what is now the Bosnian state. Therefore if one of these flavour-of-the-month Bosnians sought to migrate to the West they had to declare they spoke Bosnian, a language many of them had never heard of. If not, they weren’t the genuine article. If they didn’t understand the interpreter assigned, who spoke what the West said was Bosnian but the natives didn’t necessarily speak, they weren’t the genuine article.
The second problem is that you can only find out if people are who they say they are by asking the relevant questions. Interpreters can only repeat the questions immigration officers ask, which are based on their limited knowledge. However the same community organisations the interpreters come from inevitably contain people who have inside knowledge of people and places.
If someone says they come from a particular place, there is always someone their own age already in the country they are trying to enter who can ask them detailed questions about the configuration of buildings, events known by insiders but not others and other details that person would know if they really came from there. In many cases, there are also people who would know their family directly. Yet it is rare for this inside knowledge to be utilised by any immigration authority. Why? Because members of community organisations might be biased, or rather politically unreliable.
Rather than resolve the problem of migrants’ identities, immigration authorities choose to remain in the dark for political reasons. However the same immigration authorities get their own interpreters from the same unreliable organisations, and will sometimes drag in people like security guards to do the job on the grounds that they look like they might speak a related language, despite the fact this is not their job, they have no training or verification and an applicant often doesn’t know if an interpreter really understands them until they see a transcript of what they allegedly said, if they even get to do so.
Paved with gold
The welfare issue is another often raised by Western governments. Politicians often casually assume, and state, that most people who enter their countries will automatically have a better material existence there than they did back home, and that this is therefore the main reason they have come to the West, rather than staying in less prosperous parts of the world.
However those who say this fail to mention that the vast majority of forced migrants are in Third World countries. Only a select few can get to the West. Selected how? Very largely by income level.
The West sees those who can afford to get out – who have had decent lives and futures in their home countries, which few would wish to exchange for the dependency, lack of dignity and often menial work available in Western countries. The poor go to neighbouring counties, if they can get out at all. Most end up in the category which disappears into academic literature when Western politicians start talking about migration – Internally Displaced Persons. Homeless and jobless, these individuals may well be better off living on welfare or doing poorly paid jobs in the West, but few will ever get the chance.
Thirty years ago the secretary of Brtish government minister Nicholas Scott was accused of racially abusing a foreigner Scott had encountered during a road accident, telling him to “go back to where he came from”. The gentleman concerned was Swiss. The press maintained that it was inappropriate to say such a thing to a person from a rich European country, but at the same time was quite happy to aid and abet governments in questioning the character and motives of migrants from elsewhere. This demonstrates what the “migrant crisis” is really about.
It takes one to know one
Nowadays terrorism is considered the big bogey. Therefore migrants are being used to keep people afraid of it, and force them to trust their governments – “countries are exporting their terrorists in the guise of migrants.”
Spain suffered over 40 years of ongoing terrorism perpetrated by ETA, the Basque separatist group, though most Basques reject terrorism. The only place ETA terrorists could have been deported to would have been the other part of the Basque homeland located in France. But this did not happen, and there were no claims about France “sponsoring terrorism”, because these Basques weren’t migrants. Nor is it assumed by those who want to remove migrants from their country that Spaniards must be terrorists, despite the country’s long terrorist history.
Italy likewise suffered considerable internal terrorism in the 1970s from the Red Brigades. One reason this went on as long as it did was that the Italian public largely agreed that their state was corrupt, even if they did not accept the leftist solution, and had seen the same methods used by Mussolini’s fascists who had once had much more popular support. It was sometimes assumed that Italians living elsewhere were in the Mafia, but not that they were terrorists, though terrorists may have impacted the lives of more people in Italy itself.
Legally, anywhere, it is not the job of migrants from non-Western countries to prove that they are not terrorists but for the receiving country to prove that they are. All Western countries have a tool they can use to achieve this: they have drawn up lists of organisations they consider, rightly or wrongly, to be terrorist. The activities of these organisations are monitored and recorded. Therefore any correlation, in terms of dates, places and people, with something a migrant uses as the basis for their claim can be checked, as part of the identification process, against this list.
Is this done in any consistent or meaningful way? Clearly not… and whenever a terrorist atrocity occurs, we are told about the terrorist links, real or imagined, of the suspects. Few even question such claims, especially if it is made by a recent president elect. If these links actually existed, why was nothing done about them before? For two reasons: either no such checks were made by the immigration authorities which had a responsibility to investigate them, or because the perpetrators weren’t really migrants, and therefore not subject to the same scrutiny.
If governments did carry out the appropriate checks, and identified a number of actual terrorists pretending to be simple migrants from the same country, this would commit that government to taking action against that country. But suspicion is a much more powerful weapon, and costs nothing. Leaving aside the question of who is arming and funding the “terrorists” we see on our TV screens daily, their existence solves many more problems than it creates for Western governments. In the name of national security you can call anybody anything, and not have to back up anything you have said.
Many hats make light work
The truck which ploughed into the Christmas Market in Berlin is described as “Polish” because it was stolen from a Polish driver. Photos reveal it was manufactured by Scania, a Swedish company which exported it to Poland. Poland is one of those newer EU members which keep on sending migrants to other countries to take other people’s jobs. Sweden does the same, but hasn’t been vilified for it. Let us see which country is next associated with terrorism as a result of the attack.
Even if we assume that the Ankara assassination was a genuine attempt and not a false flag, the views expressed by the shooter were hardly foreign to Turkey. Indeed, they are not only consistent with the position of the Turkish government in Syria but with the crackdown after the coup attempt, which was equated with terrorism to justify the repression of people such as academics who might think the wrong thing. Kurds have long had to live with being labelled as terrorists when they have fled from it. We all know, however, what would happen to strategic military bases and supply lines if Western governments started saying being Turk equals being a terrorist.
There is no “migrant crisis” in the West. There is room for everyone, and housing and employment problems are driven by official attitudes towards the poor and unemployed rather than economic necessity, as we find in times of war when manpower is suddenly needed. If there is no migrant crisis there must be another explanation for poverty, economic underperformance, global instability, terrorism and Western actions in other countries – and that is what migrants are being used, convenient scapegoats, most conveniently, to prevent us from hearing the truth.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.