What Sheikh Khalifa could teach Angela Merkel
In slightly over a year, I've ventured on two informational tours led by Dr. Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. Last year, we studied the immigration crisis in Europe, and we recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, where our theme was "an Arab success story." I expected to learn how the UAE has thrived in a troubled region, but to my surprise, I may also have discovered the linchpin that could untangle Europe's Gordian immigration knot.
To say Europe has an immigration "system" is to give too much credit. For the past few years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have streamed across the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East. Many seek asylum from the Syrian civil war. Others simply take advantage of the chaos. By throwing away their passports, immigrants from all over the world can pose as Syrian refugees and gain access to rich northern European countries like Germany and Sweden.
This influx has increased both terrorism and crime. The rate of terror plots in Europe shot up from an average of one every 24 days in 2014 to one every 9.6 days in 2015, every 6.2 days in 2016, and every 5 days during the first five months of 2017. Fifteen percent of the plots involved refugees or asylum-seekers. In Germany, more than half the terrorist plots involved migrants, and in 2016, 8.6% of German crime suspects were migrants, despite their making up less than 2% of the population. On New Year's Eve 2016, gangs of migrant men sexually assaulted more than 1,200 German women. Similar mass assaults have happened in Sweden.
In stark contrast, the UAE tightly controls immigration. The population is only about 10% local Emiratis and 90% foreigners, who enter on visas tied to temporary employment contracts and can almost never become Emirati citizens. Laborers are mostly from South Asia or the Philippines, and many professionals and managers come from the West.
Although foreigners far outnumber the Emiratis, there is little crime or terrorism. The UAE doesn't publish crime statistics and may underreport crime to encourage tourism, but it's generally acknowledged to be a safe place. One crowdsourcing site ranks Abu Dhabi as the lowest-crime city in the world. Since 2014, there has been only one successful terror attack, resulting in one fatality.
Uncontrolled immigration is very expensive. In Europe, many immigrants have no imminent prospect of employment and rely on local government welfare for housing and food. The German federal government spent €21.7 billion on immigration in 2016, and cash-strapped Italy has announced that it will spend €4.2 billion on immigrants in 2017. Combining generous welfare with open borders creates a magnet for the world's poor. Europe will go bankrupt long before it has welcomed the entire Third World.
In contrast, the UAE admits only foreigners who contribute to the economy. While the rulers provide generous benefits for indigenous Emiratis, there is no welfare for immigrants. Visas are tied strictly to temporary employment contracts. If you lose your job, you go back home. And only foreign workers with sufficient income are allowed to bring their families.
Around 2015, when the magnitude of the European refugee crisis became apparent, there was much criticism of the Gulf states, including the UAE, for their refusal to accept Syrian refugees. In response, the UAE announced that it would accept 15,000 Syrians by 2021 and make financial contributions to refugee camps outside the UAE. The Emiratis were willing to help the refugees, but only if they could do it without hurting their own citizens or derailing their own goals.
The UAE system works because the Emiratis make rigid, hardheaded decisions about immigration that maximize their national interests. It's past time for Europe to do the same.
And European citizens know it. Seventy-six percent of Europeans disapprove of the way their leaders have handled the immigration crisis, according to a 2017 poll, and 90% disapprove in frontline countries like Greece and Italy. Other polls found that immigration was the most important factor for British voters who supported Brexit.
Because establishment politicians have been unwilling to address these issues, anti-immigration parties are growing stronger. Dr. Pipes has argued that despite their drawbacks – including, in some cases, fascist associations – these parties offer a positive way forward. They will gradually smooth their rough edges in order to convince voters to trust them, while legacy parties will poach their ideas to stay in power.
This process is at work in Austria, where, in December, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz became the world's youngest head of state. Although he leads the legacy center-right Austrian People's Party, which has been in power for 30 years, Mr. Kurz – known in Austria as "wunderwuzzi," which translates as "whizz kid" – rebranded his party, ran on an anti-immigration platform, and formed a governing coalition with the anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPO). Their proposals include requiring immigrants to learn German, reducing welfare benefits for new immigrants, ending illegal immigration, speeding asylum decisions, fighting radicalism, and strengthening Europe's external borders.
Austria's radical experiment may be the last best hope for Europe. Chancellor Kurz will convene an E.U. summit meeting on immigration when Austria assumes the presidency of the Council of the E.U. in the second half of 2018. Let's all hope European leaders take a page from the hardheaded, patriotic sheikhs of the UAE.