How Europe's far right fell in love with Australia's immigration policy
In October 2015, six weeks after Tony Abbott was deposed as Australia’s prime minister in a fit of intraparty backstabbing, he arrived in London to give the Margaret Thatcher memorial lecture at Guildhall. Standing before an audience of Conservative party luminaries, he praised the Iron Lady before launching into a spirited defence of Australia’s controversial immigration policy. According to Abbott, his government’s harsh measures – forcibly turning around refugee boats to prevent them landing, and sending asylum seekers to detention camps on remote Pacific islands – had ended the arrival of unwanted migrants in Australia.
After a summer when more than a million asylum seekers had streamed into Europe, Abbott lectured the assembled Tories about the perils of loving one’s neighbour as oneself, calling it a “wholesome instinct [that is] leading much of Europe into catastrophic error”. Due to “misguided altruism”, Europe was weakening itself, argued Abbott, and the only way to reverse the tide, he insisted, was emulating Australia’s policy.
Whether those turned away died in another country’s waters or back in the countries they initially fled did not figure in his equation. By removing images of boats capsizing off Australia’s shores from local television and ensuring that more migrants seeking asylum did not arrive in the country, his work was done. Nor was he bothered by the fact that the offshore camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were still operating, at a cost of billions of dollars.
The core of Abbott’s argument was that refugees seeking asylum were simply trying to cheat the system by travelling to wealthier western countries. “In Europe, as with Australia,” he said, “people claiming asylum – invariably – have crossed not one border but many; and are no longer fleeing in fear but are contracting in hope with people smugglers. However desperate, almost by definition, they are economic migrants,” – even though many asylum seekers arriving in Europe and Australia have passed through countries that are unsafe or do not offer asylum because they are not party to the UN refugee convention.
“Our moral obligation is to receive people fleeing for their lives. It’s not to provide permanent residency to anyone and everyone who would rather live in a prosperous western country,” said Abbott. He denounced the EU and Nato rescue missions in the Mediterranean as too kind. For Abbott, rescuing migrants on capsizing boats was “a facilitator [for migration] rather than a deter-
But as the rest of his speech made plain, the real allure of Australia’s offshoring policy was ideological, not simply logistical. For Abbott, the seas surrounding Australia and Europe were fronts in a new battle, in which desperate asylum seekers appeared as an invading horde threatening western civilisation itself: “It will gnaw at our consciences – yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it for ever.” An anonymous Tory minister labelled the speech “fascistic”. Nigel Farage called Abbott “heroic”.
Although it rarely makes the news, Australia’s immigration policy has become a beacon for Europe’s far right. From France to Holland and Denmark, politicians point to the Australian model as the solution for Europe’s refugee crisis, and they are not talking about the points system that Australia uses to determine the educational and skill levels of potential immigrants. The real attraction, especially since the massive refugee influx of 2015, is offshoring.
Rather than assess the asylum claims of people arriving by boat or rescuing them at sea, the Australian navy intercepts asylum seekers, towing them back or putting them into small sealed pods and sending them off in the direction of Indonesia. Those who reach Australian territory are sent to detention camps on Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Both camps are paid for by the Australian government and run by private contractors. The inmates can claim asylum there – but not in Australia – while they remain in miserable conditions of confinement designed to deter others from attempting the same journey. If people seeking asylum are never allowed to reach Australian shores, so the logic goes, they will never have a legitimate claim to refugee status in the country or access to its legal protections and welfare benefits.
For far-right leaders promising to stop the hordes from storming Europe, the model has undeniable appeal. A month before Abbott’s speech, just after the corpse of threeyear-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, Nigel Farage, then leader of the UK Independence party (Ukip), announced that “if the European Union had the right policy, people would know they would not be accepted by coming across the water, just as the Australians dealt with this problem, and that would stop the drownings from happening”.
Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only member of parliament at the time, argued: “There are lessons to learn from Australia. It’s come up with something that works.”
Ukip is not the only party on the European right looking to Australia for inspiration. In France, Yohann Faviere, one of the Front National’s local leaders, thinks it is the only viable model. “When they find a boat in the sea, they send the migrants back,” he says admiringly of the Australians. He is bothered by the drownings, but adamant that Europe should not be in the business of rescuing refugees. “The boats found in the Med need to be sent back to where they came from.”
Frits Bolkestein, the former leader of Holland’s centre-right VVD party, who gave Geert Wilders his first political job, agrees that Australia has the answer to Europe’s current problems. “The better we treat them, the more they come,” he says. “If you don’t want them to come, you should not treat them all that well, which is what the Australians do.” Bolkestein insists that Australianstyle controls are the only solution as more and more of the world’s poor, whether they are refugees or not, seek to move to Europe. “Look at the United Nations’ statistics about African natality,” he says. “It’s most disturbing. Countries like Central African Republic, it’s a failed state, and they go on producing children. Do we want them to come here? No, we don’t, so what do we do? Australian solution.”
When pressed on whether this would actually solve the problem of asylum seekers coming to Europe, he concedes that it wouldn’t. “We are trained in the west to think that every problem has a solution,” he says. “There’s no solution to this, unless we adopt very nasty measures.” And nasty measures have become an Australian specialty.
For European culture warriors, Australia’s appeal is that it is an advanced western democracy that has managed to morally and legally outsource the processing and resettlement of refugees to poor island nations in the Pacific, where they are warehoused far from the prying eyes of the media and a population that might show them sympathy.
The politicians who demand what Bolkestein calls “nasty measures” invariably justify them by invoking the spectre of an imminent civilisational threat. What is actually a legal and logistical problem has been transformed into a kulturkampf by politicians who know that fomenting fear wins votes. After all, the refugee issue would not resonate so powerfully without the manufactured alarm that European civilisation itself might be destroyed by Muslim usurpers.
Many of those promoting the idea that the arrival of refugees from the Middle East and Africa presages the “suicide of Europe” have been inspired by the apocalyptic vision of a 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, which depicts the shores of France being overrun by boats full of “scraggy branches, brown and black” and “fleshless Gandhi-arms”. (“The Third World had started to overflow its banks … and the west was its sewer.”) The new right’s leading lights, from Marine Le Pen to Steve Bannon, hail the book’s author, Jean Raspail, as a prophet. At the peak of the refugee crisis in September 2015, Le Pen warned of the “hundreds of thousands of migrants who will come tomorrow” and urged the French to read Raspail’s work.
In the novel, the arrival by sea of 800,000 people causes a clash between the self-appointed defenders of French civilisation and the radicals, intellectuals and hippies who welcome the newcomers. Although Raspail’s imagined invaders were Hindus fleeing India, the image of the brown masses descending upon the west has been conveniently taken up by the antiMuslim right to satisfy current political tastes. When the boats finally reach France, Raspail describes the landing as a “peaceful assault on the western world”. One of the book’s heroes is the captain of a Greek ship who rams flailing refugees in the water. A naval captain advises the French president: “We have to make a choice. Either we open our doors to these people and take them in. Or we torpedo every one of their boats, at night, when it’s too dark to see their faces as we kill them.”
Apart from the former leader of Germany’s anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, Frauke Petry, who has openly called for German police to shoot asylum seekers illegally crossing the border, few western politicians have advocated violence to force migrants away. But the appeal of the Australian model for the European far right is the absolute commitment to keeping refugees out at all costs – it is not about “managing” migrants, but defending the nation from them. The policy prescription that Abbott brought to London was a simple one: turn boats back, deny entry at borders and build camps abroad. Some force would be necessary, he admitted – and a lot of money.
Between 2013 and 2016, the government spent around A$9.6bn (£5.6bn) on intercepting migrant boats, transporting asylum seekers, and paying foreign governments to detain them overseas, thus absolving Australia of legal responsibility for their living conditions and of any obligation to grant them refugee status in Australia if their asylum claim is found to be genuine. The total cost is approximately A $400,000 (£236,000) per detained asylum seeker per year. The public has generally gone along with it, as have both political parties, preferring to spend those exorbitant sums to keep the problem out of sight and out of mind, rather than allow refugees a chance to start over in Australia and share the fruits of its generous welfare state – which welcomes close to 200,000 immigrants with visas each year.
Australia was one of the first countries to sign the 1951 UN refugee convention – and it welcomed the socalled “boat people” fleeing South Vietnam in 1976. But the course of its immigration policy changed abruptly in 2001. On 26 August that year, a distress call went out from a vessel carrying more than 400 asylum seekers in the waters between Indonesia and Christmas Island, an Australian territory 1,000 miles north-west of the mainland. A Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, responded. Although Australia had issued the initial call for rescue assistance, the conservative government led by prime minister John Howard saw a political opening; that evening, he introduced the Border Protection Bill of 2001 and threatened to prosecute the Tampa’s captain if he entered Australian waters.
Julian Burnside, one of the country’s best-known lawyers, challenged the government in court as the crisis deepened. A judge ruled in his favor at 2.15pm on 11 September 2001, Melbourne time – about eight hours before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan. He lost a few days later on appeal. “All of a sudden, the discourse changed, and you didn’t have terrorists anymore; you had Muslim terrorists, and you didn’t have boat people anymore, you had Muslim boat people,” Burnside recalls.
In addition to being Muslim, the people coming in boats were labelled as “illegal”, rather than as asylum seekers with rights granted by the UN convention, conditioning the public to see them as criminal and deserving of detention and punishment. The language was deliberate. If all asylum seekers are illegal, and hence criminals, then draconian policies are easier to justify. If it’s a “war” against people smugglers, then military deployments are acceptable, as is the rhetoric of national security threats.
Within two days days of 9/11, then defence minister Peter Reith linked asylum and terrorism by warning that boats could “be a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities”. Never mind that the country’s top intelligence official called the risk “extremely remote” and denied there was any evidence that terrorists were seeking to get to Australia by boat.
One of the public servants most responsible for shaping public attitudes toward asylum seekers was Philip Ruddock, a short, grey-haired politician who represented Sydney’s suburbs in parliament for more than 40 years, and served as immigration minister from 1996-2003 under prime minister John Howard. Ruddock is proud of his role in transforming the national discussion about asylum seekers. “I am probably more responsible for conditioning the Australian debate than any other public official,” he tells me. “We take the view that they should wait where they are first safe and take a place in the queue.”
Conjuring an imaginary “queue” was a clever way to conflate two different sorts of refugees in the mind of the public: those who manage to reach UN camps and patiently wait for years to be resettled, and those who flee their homelands and attempt to claim asylum upon arrival in Australia. But there is no such queue, because countries are not obliged to take in refugees assigned for resettlement by the UN; if they do, it is purely good will. Signatories to the UN refugee convention are, however, obliged to assess the claims of asylum seekers reaching their shores. Australia is a society obsessed with rules and fairness, and the queue-jumping argument resonates perfectly with a population primed to think in terms of orderly regulations, most of whom have never faced state-sponsored violence or war crimes. By this logic, whether or not you have had your hand chopped off doesn’t matter if you broke the “rules” to get to Australia.
In addition to planting the notion of a “queue” in the public mind, Ruddock’s innovation was to move the problem offshore, away from the view of journalists, citizens and the review of Australian courts. When challenged about the ability of all the world’s refugees to safely find their way to a UN-administered camp and patiently wait for resettlement, Ruddock is defensive. “Your view is that those who’ve got no money and can’t pay a smuggler and who have to wait in a refugee camp – even if their claims of persecution are far more heinous – should take second place to somebody who’s got the money to pay,” he asserts, assuming that no one seeking to pay a smuggler might face persecution or have a legitimate claim.
I ask Ruddock what Australia owes asylum seekers with legitimate claims, if anything. “They’re entitled not to be returned to persecution, and as far as we’re concerned, we’re not prepared to have them here, and we have arranged that they can be elsewhere where they are safe.” To Ruddock and others who invoke the queue-jumping argument, whatever horrors people are fleeing are secondary to the sin of paying a smuggler.
Not everyone can safely wait in refugee camps indefinitely as Ruddock insists. Mohammad Baqiri fled the Urōzgān province of Afghanistan in the late 1990s as ethnic Hazaras came under attack from the Taliban. He was seven years old. It took a week for his boat to reach Australian waters; during the journey, two women died, and a baby lost consciousness for six hours. Finally, they arrived in Australia – or thought they had. After three hours of chaos, during which several people jumped into the water, the navy rescued the passengers. They were taken to a detention centre on Christmas Island. “The clothes that we were rescued in, that’s what we had with us. For over a month, that’s what we were wearing,” he recalls. Then they were told that to have their claims processed, they would be taken to Nauru. “We had no idea where Nauru was.”
When the plane landed, Baqiri couldn’t believe how small the island was. He remembers the mosquitoes the most – and seeing detainees suffering from malaria. They were living in army tents. “There was no plumbing,” he recalls. Once on Nauru, he says, there was pressure to “stay here for ever or go back to your country”.
The list of abuses at Nauru is long and almost always contested by Australian officials. Health workers and inmates have documented and reported dozens of cases of rape of female inmates, guards demanding sexual favours, denial of medical care and countless incidents of selfharm. One asylum seeker poured gasoline on himself and burned himself to death. Others have sewn their lips together in protest.
Baqiri was lucky. After spending three years on Nauru, his family suddenly received news that their applications had been approved, and that they would be sent to Australia with visas valid for three years. Ruddock oversaw Australia’s immigration policy during the years Baqiri was locked up on Nauru. In 2003, he stepped down as immigration minister and became attorney general. Four years later, the Labor party came to power and sought to reverse many of his policies.
For five years, between 2007 and 2012, the Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard ended offshore detention, but in 2012, with numbers of boat arrivals rising, a commission recommended reopening the Nauru and Manus Island camps. More than 51,000 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by sea between 2009 and 2013. It was a time of media frenzy and a “boiling point” within the immigration department. The right accused Labor of encouraging people smugglers to resume their work by removing the deterrent of offshore detention. Bringing back control of the border was the political mantra of the day, and Labor was eager to look tough. In 2011, the government struck a deal with Malaysia to send 800 asylum seekers who had arrived in Australia by boat to Malaysia, in exchange for 4,000 people already certified as refugees by the Malaysian government. Human rights lawyers successfully challenged the government on the grounds that Malaysia was not party to the UN refugee convention and couldn’t guarantee legal protection. Their victory buried the deal, pulled the rug from under the Labor party as elections approached, and led to Labor re-opening the detention camps, where the conditions of confinement and prospects for resettlement would become even worse.
The Villawood detention centre on the western outskirts of Sydney is a far cry from the mosquito-infested detention camps of Nauru. Apart from the security presence, xray machines and heavy iron doors, Villawood’s public areas resemble those you’d find in a primary school or children’s hospital. Visitors bring food and drinks and sit on brightly coloured faux-leather benches alongside the detainees. But among these men (and a few women), there are several who have come from a much darker place.
One stateless Rohingya man, who
had been brought to Villawood from Nauru for medical treatment, tells me that he had fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2007, going first to Thailand and then Malaysia. He tried to work, but police arrested illegal employees and demanded bribes from them – mostly money, but sometimes their shoes.
He would have stayed in Malaysia, he says, if he had been able to work without the threat of arrest hanging over his head. “I had to come here,” he adds. But by the time he arrived on Christmas Island, it had been “excised” from Australia’s “migration zone”, effectively making it not part of Australia for anyone seeking asylum. He was immediately flown to Nauru, where he still has no right to work, and the Nauruan police, he claims, constantly ask him for bribes. “I have no alternative country,” he says. “Not Australia, not Myanmar, only Nauru.”
At Villawood, I also met two Syrian refugees, Ahmed and Marwan, who had the misfortune of arriving in Australian waters during another abrupt shift in the country’s immigration rules. Ahmed, now in his 40s, is a university-educated accountant who worked in Syria before violence forced him to flee. He headed to Australia, where he has relatives who are citizens, planning to send for his wife and children later. He and Marwan claimed they were inspired by Australia’s criticisms of the Syrian government for violating human rights.
While they were at sea on a small boat from Indonesia to Christmas Island, Australia’s government changed the immigration rules. Henceforth, anyone arriving by boat without a visa anywhere on Australian territory – not just Christmas Island – would be barred from ever being resettled in Australia. The Syrians were sent to Manus Island under the new law.
After people are sent off shore, Australia wipes its hands and claims that because no one is shooting or torturing them, it has committed no sin. But the safety of asylum seekers is not a foregone conclusion. The local islanders were not thrilled about their arrival. In February 2014, Reza Barati, a 23-year-old Iranian detainee, was killed during a riot when asylum seekers allegedly tried to escape from the detention centre on Manus Island and local residents and police stormed the facility.
Ahmed and Marwan knew him. A month later, another riot swept through the camp where Barati was killed and private security personnel put it down; several asylum seekers were beaten by the guards. Ahmed was assaulted by a guard and later had a heart attack. He was flown to Brisbane, more than 1,500 miles away, at taxpayers’ expense, for treatment and placed on suicide watch after threatening to kill himself if returned to detention. “Manus was like a hell,” he tells me. “I was starving there. I saw death there. We were attacked by the locals.”
“There was no humanity,” says Marwan. “I was there when the Iranian died,” he adds. He is furious at Australia at this point. “Give me one month to go to any embassy,” he says, exasperated. “Let me have a chance!” he exclaims. “If we do something wrong, put me in the jail … You have the choice to refuse me, but you don’t have the choice to put me in Papua New Guinea third world. I ran away from war!”
For his part, Ruddock, the architect of offshoring, is satisfied that once arrivals are detained offshore, the Australian government no longer has any responsibility or jurisdiction over them. “We’ve satisfied ourselves that if a person is a refugee, they will not be returned to persecution,” he says, and if they are intercepted by the Royal Australian Navy and sent to a third country, Australia has no further obligation to process them. “If the situation changes back home, and it’s safe for them to return, you can return them,” he adds.
The risk, human rights lawyers are quick to point out, is refoulement – the legal term for forcing an asylum seeker back into danger, which is prohibited by the UN refugee convention. Ruddock is himself a savvy lawyer, and he knows how to find ways around international legal concepts. “The obligation is nonrefoulement,” he argues. “It is not an obligation to give people permanent residency … And it doesn’t mean you have to give your family and all your offspring an entitlement to come,” hence the idea of temporary protection, which has now been embraced by the European right. Ruddock puts it bluntly: “Because you can’t refoule them, then don’t give them anything more than you have to.”
But he is not much concerned about verifying the safety of the situation they’re returning to. “There’s no obligation to verify,” he tells me. “We can’t send our officials in to see whether or not you’re abusing your nationals,” he says. In other words, someone could be sent back to a place that isn’t safe at all.
When Australia sends asylum seekers home, it is framed as voluntary, but in fact is far from it. “We are returning refugees to refugeeproducing countries,” argues human rights lawyer Daniel Webb. Australia is essentially telling legitimate asylum seekers to pick their poison – human rights violations at home, or on Nauru and Manus Island. “The more you understand about the conditions in which we are keeping people,” he says, “the more you understand that it is not a voluntary choice.”
“It’s like standing on the edge of a cliff and holding a gun to someone’s head and saying: ‘Jump, or I’ll shoot you,’” Webb says. “And then when they jump, saying: ‘Well, I’m not responsible for your death because you chose to jump.’”
Søren Espersen, the deputy leader of the nativist Danish People’s party, which became the country’s second largest party in 2015, has a very clear vision of how Denmark – and the rest of Europe – could implement the Australian model. “We should prepare them for going home,” he says of the refugees in Europe. Espersen told me in April 2016 that the war in Syria would soon be over. “No war lasts for ever, and of course, there will be a time and then they must go back,” he says. He believes two years of provisional asylum would be fair. “Tell them from the beginning … You have no future in Denmark.” It must be clear that “we don’t want to integrate them”.
“We help them and everything, but the idea is that they should go back home,” Espersen tells me. “Maybe the education for the children here should be more English than Danish, so that they can also use that when they get home.” Those sent home do not always get a chance to use their English skills.
Denmark’s get-tough policy has been deadly for some whose asylum claims were denied. Two Afghan brothers, Vahid and Abolfazl Vaziri, who came to Denmark after fleeing Afghanistan with their family in 2006, were sent home in June 2015, when Danish authorities barged into their asylum center, forced them to pack, gave them approximately $3,500 in cash and flew them back to Kabul. They were robbed soon after arriving, and Abolfazl disappeared almost immediately. Vahid searched for him in vain. Two months later, a group of Pashtuns showed him his brother’s body. He fled the country once again, following the same path he had as a child, heading for Europe.
Espersen and his DPP colleagues would prefer that asylum seekers like the Vaziris never reach Europe in the first place. To mimic Australia, they propose funding and staffing “Danish-driven refugee camps where they will be provided for, but the idea is that they should return”, argues Espersen. And if they end up on Nauru or in Denmark’s equivalent of it, even better.
Espersen has studied Australia’s Pacific solution in detail, so I pushed him: where would your Nauru be? “Morocco is a very good example of a country that would possibly do it for an amount of money,” he claims. And Danish staff could run the camps. “We would run the things ourselves and pay the Moroccan authority a fee. We would also make it possible for their local grocers or butchers to come and deliver goods … There will be excellent service, I can assure you.” In the Danish right’s offshore paradise, there would be education, too. Nobody will be “living in ratholes”, he promises.
But the goal is not good service; it’s stopping outsiders, even those in need of asylum, from coming and sharing in the wealth of the Danish welfare state. Espersen openly questions many Syrian refugees’ claims and whether they need asylum at all. “Why don’t you want to go home to your country and help [with] rebuilding it?” he asks – as if there’s an opportunity awaiting them tomorrow in the Aleppo construction trade. Espersen imagines a world in which refugees are mostly fake and face no danger. The rapes, suicide attempts, beatings and riots that have characterised Australia’s experiment with offshore detention are not appealing to him; the political and economic logic is.
There is a reason that today’s far-right leaders in Europe rarely point to Canada, a country where the prime minister personally welcomes refugees at the airport, as a model for their desired immigration policies. Canada also has a highly regulated immigration system focused on skills and education and a limited number of refugee resettlement cases per year. But its policies, unlike Australia’s, have not been driven by a post-9/11 public panic about Islam, and its leading politicians have rarely stoked such sentiments for political advantage.
An Australian-style solution to Europe’s crisis can be seen taking shape in the form of EU deals with Turkey to send back migrants arriving in Greece, and a more aggressive form of offshoring, as Espersen advocates, could be on the horizon, especially if parties like his gain enough power or influence.
The EU has earmarked around $2bn in the past two years to address the drivers of migration. But development aid designed to create jobs for young men who might otherwise head north has been coupled with policies that are beginning to resemble the forceful tactics deployed by Australia. Whereas Australia turned back boats at sea, the EU is paying African nations to intercept migrants on land and send them home or detain them indefinitely in dangerous places. It has paid Niger huge sums and pledged more than $600m – including military training and equipment – to shut down smuggling routes.
The final stop for those who manage to avoid the crackdown in Niger – by taking increasingly perilous alternative routes – is Libya, also the recipient of European funding intended to deter migration. For those who make it that far, the situation is grim. Migrants have become “a commodity to be captured, sold, traded and leveraged … they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s UNbacked government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets”, as the journalist Peter Tinti has documented. Rape and torture are commonplace and sometimes streamed live online to pressure families into paying ransoms. Those who are not auctioned off or abused for ransom are often detained indefinitely in horrendous conditions at the mercy of crime syndicates and militias who sometimes “rent” detainees as indentured servants or sell them to smugglers.
Libya offers a worrying picture of what the future might hold if politicians like Espersen and Le Pen get their way, or if these sorts of outsourced solutions come to be seen as palatable by mainstream parties. Libyan militias are already using force to stop European NGOs from rescuing stranded migrants at sea, often with Italian help. The EU has declared it a goal to “significantly reduce migratory flows by enabling the Libyan coast guard to ‘rescue’ a higher number of migrants and bring them back to Libya before they reach EU ships or EU territory”, a euphemism for what the policy analyst Mattia Toaldo calls “lightly concealed outsourcing” of Europe’s efforts to force people back to where they came from.
As with Australia and its offshore centres, what happens in Libya stays in Libya while Europe washes its hands of responsibility. If the flow of migrants surges again during the next war or climate crisis, the clamour for offshoring will only grow louder. And if the Australian model is adopted more fully in Europe, then there will be no hope for legitimate refugees to claim asylum through legal channels, and more of them will seek illegal paths to Europe.
The far right’s goal is to make European social benefits the exclusive property of native-born citizens, a hard-earned jackpot to be protected from the grasping hands of supposedly undeserving new arrivals. But the model of a nativist nanny state surrounded by North African Guantánamos is a dead end that will only end up sullying Europe morally while funneling money to unsavoury and often criminal groups in Africa – and it is unlikely to keep migrants away the next time a major military or environmental crisis arises. Jean Raspail is now 92. His phone number is blocked and he lives in a small apartment decorated with books and travel memorabilia. The man whose fictional dystopia inspired the policies now unfolding from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific generally shuns visitors, but when I showed up at his door May 2016, he was eager to talk about his 44-year-old novel, given new fame by Steve Bannon’s endorsement.
In an oft-overlooked passage of Camp of the Saints, Raspail lavishes praise on an imagined Australian government: “Set off by themselves in their remote corner of the planet, the Australians have the distinction of belonging to the white race,” he wrote, lauding them as “champions of the western world stuck away in the farflung hinterlands of Asia.” Their resolve in keeping refugees out is, in his narrator’s view, due to the “model severity of the Australian Immigration Act, encouraging, as it does, the entry of Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, English, French – in short, all those white of skin and Christian of soul, while relentlessly excluding any trace of yellow, black or brown”.
More than four decades later, reclining in his office, he shifts his focus from the novel to now. “We are encumbered throughout ex-Christian Europe by the phenomenon of compassion,” he tells me, hinting at the logical endpoint of the policies his ideas have unleashed. “Compassion is fabulous … but it is obvious that without the use of force, we will never stop the invasion.” Main image: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy by Sasha Polakow-Suransky is published by Hurst on 16 October. To order a copy for £17.99, go tobookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p amp;p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p amp;p of £1.99.
• Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.
Migrants, many from Eritrea, jump into the water from a crowded wooden boat as they are helped by members of an NGO during a rescue operation in the Mediterranean sea about 13 miles north of Sabratha in Libya, August 2016. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP
The Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea in February 2017. Photograph: Reuters