In an earlier blog (January 27, 2017) about the futility of building a wall between Mexico and the United States, I commented that a wall would not stop migrants. At best, the wall would slow migrants, but it would not stop them. Instead, individuals that are determined to enter the US will find a way to enter.
The limited ability to control undocumented migration and refugee movement is illustrated in on-going attempts in the Mediterranean to control movement into Europe. In an attempt to slow and lessen the migration crisis that Europe has been dealing with over the past few years along with the high number of drownings, the European Union moved to rescue migrants closer to the shores of Libya (earlier rescues tended to be closer to Italy). While this has undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives, it has not eliminated the risk of traversing the ocean. Indeed, over 75,000 have risked entering Europe, and some 1800 individuals have already drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2017, based on UNHCR statistics.
Instead, smugglers changed the game by sending more boats toward Europe, or leaving boats without a motor in international waters, where migrants would wait to be rescued. Likewise, the European Union had hoped that the flow of migrants would be reduced by destroying the wooden boats used by smugglers to ferry migrants to Europe. Instead, smugglers turned to more flimsy boats and inflatable boats that were over-filled, increasing the likelihood that they would capsize. In short, for every attempt to stop flows into Europe, smugglers have responded and the flows have continued, pointing to the desperation of individuals. Undoubtedly, the same would also hold if the US was to build a wall with Mexico: smugglers would find new ways to get migrants into the country.
So how do you fix these situations, whether we are talking about undocumented movement into the US or the refugee crisis in Europe? The key is to improve the conditions in the sending countries through measures that could include stopping the violence, ensuring good government, growing economic opportunities, etc.. The problem is that these are not simple solutions and are long-term.
Stuart A. Thompson and Anjali Singhvi. Efforts to Rescue Migrants Caused Deadly, Unexpected Consequences. The New York Times, 14 June 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/14/world/europe/migrant-rescue-efforts-deadly.html
Photo credit: UNHCR.