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Europe's real problem

Let us not evade the subject, let us not whitewash it, let us not postpone it indefinitely: Europe faces a problem which cannot be solved like so many others with investments, adaptation or modernization. The problem is called illegal immigration.

   They are called refugees, Or asylum seekers. Or poverty migrants. Or victims of climate change. We are mourning thousands of them drowned in the Mediterranean. We regret them being the prey of criminal human trafickers..  We are sorry for the transit countries overwhelmed by illegal immigration. We criticize primitive emergency accommodations and rough treatment of refugees. We are upset about xenophobic groups and rallies. But all of this is only the beginning.  A foreboding of the future.

   Europe has the misfortune of sharing its southern and southeastern borders with the most prolific population groups worldwide: Arabs, Iranians/Pakistani and Africans. Here an example of the demographic momentum typical of this region:

   In Napoleon's days. Egypt's population was estimated at 2.4 to 4 million. By 1930 it counted 15 million. In 1952, when Nasser toppled the monarchy, the population had grown to 23 million. By 1985, Egypt counted 50 million. Today, some 85 million are living on arable land of the size of Alabama's farmland. Since 1985, the number of births per Egyptian woman has remained unchanged at 3.0 to 3.5 children.  How many people will want to live along the Nile in 2030 or 2050?

   No demographer -- the author included -- could imagine in 1960 that Egypt's population would ever attain a size like today's.  In those days, the "Theory of Demographic Transition" prevailed, according to which all populations, after a period of strong growth. would experience a gradual to strong reduction of growth ending in population equilibrium.

   The author himself wrote in 1962: "An analysis of population growth in Egypt convinced us that until now Egypt's population behaved in accordance with the principles of the theory (of demographic transition) . We therefore expect for the future a reduction of population growth in Egypt and an end to the growth cycle."(1)

   Wrong. Totally wrong, as we know half a century later. Population growth has ridiculed all attempts at its explanation, theoretically, statistically or biologically. And Egypt is not a particularly drastic case. Syria, Palestine and Iran showed at least temporarily even stronger growth, not to speak of Africa south of the Sahara.

   As is well known, population dynamics resemble a heavily loaded cargo ship: once it has begun moving in cannot be stopped for decades to come. In countries with an average age between 16 to 25 years the enormous potential for procreation will ensure further growth for a long time even if female fertility -- the number of births per woman --  is declining.

   Although there are valid reasons not to trust too much in long term population projections, there are always reasons to try again with improved methodology. For the United Nations it is obligatory to periodically issue projections.  Recently, two environment researchers undertook to develop realistic projections for the world population to 2100, taking current doubts and objections into consideration.

   Corey J.A. Bradshaw (U. Adelaide)  und Barry W. Brook (U. Tasmania) (2) wanted to calculate the extent of likely future loss of  biological species. Since loss of species correlates with population density, the scientists needed to know where which level of density is to be expected. For this purpose the divided the globe in regions and tried to project the population for each region under different conditions.

   This approach yielded a spectrum of new and seemingly realistic scenarios of future world population. As far as our subject is concerned we can exclude the expected loss of species and the global population projections until 2100. We are particularly interested in the scientists' results regarding population growth in the Near and Middle East, and in Africa.

   Their conclusions, however, are scary. Based on United Nations data, the authors developed a series of scenarios ranging from business as usual to the worldwide enforcement of the one child policy, Chinese style.  The business as usual scenario calculates population growth under the assumption that past trends continue as regards the gradual decline in mortality and fertility.

   In western and northern Africa. (Region 1) the scenario expects for 2100 sevenfold the current population to 3 billion. For eastern and southern Africa, a 5.6 fold growth would also yield 3 billion. In Region 7 (Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Mediterranean countries of Europe) the population would grow 3.5 fold to 1.4 billion. Noteworthy in this context is the observation that Region 1 would become the second most densely populated region after the Indian subcontinent (Region 12). In the thinly settled Region 6, comprising the Arab Peninsula, Syria, Jordan, Libya and Tunisia, the population would grow to 1.7 times the current size. All other populations would either shrink or grow moderately (less than doubling). Only the Andean countries (Region 5) would attain 2.3 times the present size.

   More important than these figures are the results of the "realistic" Scenario 2a which expects for 2100 a reduction of mortality to half the 2013 level, and a reduction of fertility from 2.37 to 2.00 children, commensurate with the trend of recent decades. The female age at primiparity (first child) would also rise.

   Surprisingly, the results of scenarios 1 and 2a do not differ much.  For 2050 the total world population would arrive at  9.3 or 9.23 billion, respectively. At the century's end, the Earth would be populated by 10.42 or 10.35 billion humans.

   One of the study's main surprises is how limited the impact of temporary mass mortality events on total growth would be. Disasters of the magnitude of  a world war, a global pandemic or rising infant mortality caused by climate change would affect population growth only in a limited way. Also, little change can be expected from population policies.  Only the global enforcement of a draconian Chinese style one child policy could limit world population to about 9 billion in 2056 and reduce it to 7 billion by 2100.

   The conclusions of the study by Bradshaw and Brook do not differ much from the results of the latest round of United Nations population projections (3) which upward revised the expected future worldwide growth. According to the UN, Africa's population will more than double to 2.4 billion by 2050 and continue growing strongly, attaining 4.2 billion by 2100.  By then, more than every third human being would be an African. Of the 31 countries in which women have more than five children, 29 are located in Africa. In Niger and Somalia, seven children are the standard.

   Asia now counts four times as many inhabitants as Africa. By 2050, there would live half as many Africans as Asians.  By 2100, Africans would almost have caught up with Asians, according to the medium variant of the UN projections. Bradshaw and Brook expect Africa to become the most populous continent by 2100. As far as the Near and Middle East are concerned, Bradshaw and Brook expect 3.5 times the current population in Region 7 and 1.75 times in Region 6.

   In any case, Africa will build up a hitherto unknown momentum of population pressure. Nigeria, the 1950 population of which was one quarter of the US population, would by 2100 have to accommodate twice as many people as the also quickly growing US.  The Near and Middle East will also experience strong population growth. These likely trends lead to the question which consequences the demography of our southern and southeastern neighbors will have for Europe.

   If we take the current level of illegal immigration as the starting point of our observation it appears that the Middle East is sending many political refugees whereas Africa south of the Sahara is sending mostly economically motivated  migrants, "poverty refugees."  This observation could lead to the assumption that the Middle Eastern problem would disappear once peace is restored to the region. This, however, is rather unlikely because a vital cause of the current troubles is the past population growth which resulted  in the current existence of strong cohorts of young men faced with high levels of unemployment. For many the only alternative to misery is war, crime, terror and drug trade, as well as emigration. Peace and order will not return to the Middle East until these age cohorts have moved up in the age pyramid.

   Africa shows a similar trend. The growth of population which even accelerated since the 1980s is in many countries breaking up the social structures and the traditional economy. This development could mean a welcome pressure modernizing  the economy and breaking up patriarchal structures. On the other hand it is also conducive to creating those dreadful armies of jobless young men looking for a livelihood, no matter which.

   The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, Al Shabaab in Somalia, Séléka in the Central African Republic, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the tribal wars in South Sudan are only some better known violent militias which live on a variety of crimes from livestock rustling to slavery, to drug trade and ransom extortion.  The oversupply of young men induces brutality and mayhem.

   During the first gulf war between Iran and Iraq (1980-88)  the Persians -- following decades of rapid population growth -- drove "human waves" of soldiers in the Iraqi minefields. Thousands died.  Children are used as fighters by the Lord's Resistance Army, the various Mai Mai militias in eastern Congo, and now by the IS and Séléka.

   On the other hand, several African countries are currently achieving remarkable economic progress led by telecommunications, banking and agriculture. The gradual expansion of a modern economy offers families alternatives to traditional old age insurance in form of children, human capital investment. With the one-child system, China directed family savings away from procreation to the money economy and banking. In this way, China built up the by far largest capital stock of developing countries which financed its ascent to the position of the world's largest economy.

   In Africa as well, economic progress would redirect savings from procreation to the monetary sector. This, however, holds also true in reverse: in countries where chaos and destruction spread poverty, more human capital formation is to be expected, for instance in Somalia, in Yemen and probably also in Syria and Iraq.

   Official immigration in from these regions into Europe was, according to UN data, for considerable time quite stable. In Italy, as a result of the economic crisis, the influx of  legal migrants was halved to 250,000 in 2012 whereas in Germany the number rose to 400,000. In Italy, however, illegal migrants continue to arrive in increasing numbers, totaling 150,000 in 2014.

   Although the OECD stressed that Europe needs and promotes stronger official immigration of young and preferably qualified people, illegal immigration is viewed with skepticism.

   Most illegals are young but they are people who for whatever reason have not obtained or applied for a visa. This fact solicits caution in dealing with them. On an individual level, this does not pose a difficult problem which can be handled  by emergency arrival arrangements, social assistance, jurisdiction and acceptance or expulsion.  However, if illegals arrive in hundreds day after day, as Italy and Greece experienced, and in consequence also Germany and Sweden, this mass migration becomes a crisis.

   Sometimes, individual cases can be quite unusual.  In December 2014, a group of Syrian academics with their families fled in direction to Europe. When arriving in Istanbul they saw a large Italian cruise ship in the port. They inquired and learnt that the cabin fares of this luxury cruiser were lower than the tariffs charged by the smugglers taking refugees to Greece. They purchased first class accommodations, managed to board with their Syrian passports and descended in Bari. The Italian immigration police were utterly surprised. Never had they seen elegantly dressed gentlemen and their ladies who spoke English and French ask for asylum. As usual, they registered the personal data and sent the Syrians to the emergency reception center. A few hours later the Syrians had disappeared in northern direction, without leaving a trace.

   The smuggling industry is getting increasingly better organized. It cynically exploits the European maritime rescue operations as a free and safe "ferry service." Europe's efforts to fend off potential immigrants who made it into Turkey or North Africa only result in increasing the fares charged by the smugglers.

   On a European level, the situation appears still manageable. But what will happen if the numbers of illegals arriving rise in the wake of expanding conflicts and population growth? Positive economic development in parts of Africa may convince some potential migrants to drop their plans and stay at home. But it could also provide other candidates for migration with more means to bribe officials and pay smugglers. The results can be seen: whereas in the past the coyotes used old fishing boats and rubber dinghies they can now afford to buy old cargo ships which they abandon in mid sea after the crew has left. Soon they might even use aircraft and parachutes. In southern Italy, the trafickers have established ties with the local mafias which hide arriving crew members from police and "recycle" them.

   Fort a potential migrant it is possible to book the fare in the Arabic F acebook. Ships to Italy are leaving on schedule every two to three days from the Turkish ports of Istanbul, Mersin and Antalya. The coyotes are Syrians and accept cash payment in Turkey (current tariff US$8,000) or bank wiring, according to information from passengers of the cargo ship Blue Sky M. after its arrival in Gallipoli, the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reported. 

   The European defense force Frontex is being criticized for its xenophobic mandate. Italy tries to get rid of its former maritime salvaging service Mare Nostrum.  Instead of towing refugees' boats, the Italian party Northern League would prefer to bomb them.  In Greece, xenophobia has led to the creation of the right wing party ΧρυσήΑυγή (Golden Dawn). In Saxony, a German province with very few foreigners, citizen demonstrated against being "overwhelmed" by foreigners, mostly muslims.  In France, the anti-Islam right wing Front National party is getting ready for the presidency.

   Most of these developments still signify populism and folklore rather than a threat to Europe's existence. But what will happen if the influx of illegals continues to swell in the years to come?

   If in North Africa walls of people are lining the coasts, waiting for the ship of their dreams or their death, what is Europe going to do?


Heinrich von Loesch


(1) Heinrich v. Loesch: Ernährung und Bevölkerung in der Entwicklung der ägyptischen Wirtschaft. Thesis, LMU, p. 47f.

(2) Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems.  Bradshaw and Brook 10.1073/pnas.1410465111

(3) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision,    http://esa.un.org/wpp/



Iran: Proposed laws reduce women to ‘baby making machines’ in misguided attempts to boost population

Women in Iran could face significant restrictions on their use of contraceptives and be further excluded from the labour market unless they have had a child, if two proposed laws are approved, says a new report by Amnesty International published today.“ The bills reinforce discriminatory stereotypes of women, and mark an unprecedented move by the state to interfere in people’s personal lives. In their zealous quest to project an image of military might and geopolitical strength by attempting to increase birth rates, Iran’s authorities are trampling all over the fundamental rights of women - even the marital bed is not out of bounds.” 

The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline (Bill 446) outlaws voluntary sterilization, which is believed to be the second most common method of modern contraception in Iran, and blocks access to information about contraception, denying women the opportunity to make informed decisions about having children. Coupled with the elimination of state funding for Iran’s family planning programme, which had, up until 2012, provided millions of women in the country with access to affordable modern contraception, the move would undoubtedly result in greater numbers of unwanted pregnancies, forcing more women to seek illegal and unsafe abortions.Lack of access to condoms, which were previously dispensed through urban clinics and rural health houses funded by Iran’s Family and Population Planning Programme, would also lead to a rise in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 

The bill was passed in parliament with an overwhelming majority in August 2014 and is undergoing amendments as recommended by the Guardian Council, a body which needs to approve it before it can become law. Without such access, women will either have to carry their pregnancies to term when it is not their choice to do so; or risk their life and health by undergoing unsafe, clandestine abortions.

Amnesty International, 11 March 2015


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