This is not a point about refugees. Nor is it one about asylum seekers, economic immigrants. It is instead one about that base point that economics tries to dun into all too many unlistening heads – incentives matter:
So far this year, more than 18,000 migrants and refugees have landed in Italy after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia.That compares to 5,700 in the same period last year and just 2,100 in the corresponding period in 2019.
Well, that’s quite a lot actually. Places like Lampedusa – only 50 miles off the African coast – are seeing 1,000 such refugees a week as against what is the regular local winter population – 400?
In contrast to Italy, Greece has seen a dramatic decline in the number of asylum seekers trying to enter its territory by land and sea from Turkey.
That’s a much shorter and much less dangerous trip. So, why the fall in numbers?
Those who do reach Greece’s islands in the Aegean are detained in squalid camps made up of tents and metal containers, where they often languish for years until their asylum applications are considered.
Greece has toughened its border control – the Greek coast guard has been repeatedly accused of pushing migrant boats back towards the Turkish coast, in violation of international law.
Recently it was reported that the Greek police on the land border were experimenting with the use of controversial sound cannons – acoustic devices which fire bursts of deafening noise over the frontier to harass and deter migrants.
Hmm. So, one recent weekend there were 500 crossing The Channel in small boats. We have proof that incentives do matter.
This then bringing us to that point that wasn’t being made, about asylum seekers, economic immigrants, refugees. We know what can be done. Do we wish to do it?