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The May Doctrine: Addressing Global Mass Migration

Theresa May Speaking on Refugees and Migrants to the United Nations.

Theresa May speaking on refugees and migrants to the United Nations.

“The May Doctrine” is a three-part series discussing the three major planks of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s new foreign policy grand strategy. This second part analyzes the second plank: addressing the global mass migration crisis. Find the first part of the series here.

In spite of Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May recently unveiled an internationalist foreign policy doctrine. Unlike many current western leaders, May has demonstrated her political craft by listening to her populist electorate’s trending fear of terrorism, frustration with immigration, and dismay with Brussels. In response, May has signaled that the UK will strategically address the root causes of three global crises that contribute to her electorate’s concerns: global terrorism, historic mass migration, and modern slavery.

The second plank of her doctrine, addressing the 65-million-person mass migration crisis, largely ties the other two planks together into one complete package to qualm UK worries of an influx of migrants. May touted the UK’s investment of $9 billion in humanitarian assistance in the last five years as well as the additional $12 billion in pledges raised from the international community at the “Supporting Syria and the Region” 2016 London conference in February 2016. Half of the pledges have already been filled as previous examples of the UK commitment to “playing a leading role” in solving the crisis.

May’s foreign policy doctrine to address the crisis, however, is far more comprehensive than hitting benchmark humanitarian spending goals.

Ensuring Asylum in “First Arrival” Countries

At the UN General Assembly in September, May boldly asserted that, “We must help ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach,” rather than continuing onward through Europe in ways that “only benefit criminal gangs.” May is criticized on the left for a lack of compassion, but in actuality, May’s plan pragmatically aims to reduce exploitation by human traffickers by reducing the amount of vulnerable migrants traveling hundreds or thousands of miles.  Additionally, this ensures an easier and less costly return to home countries when conflicts subside, rather than traveling across Europe a second time.

May understands that her plan places a tremendous burden on neighbors of conflict hot spots who already host hundreds of thousands of refugees. That is why she has pledged assistance to “first arrival” countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey by fostering conditions for job creation and education opportunities for refugees.

Assisting East African “First Arrival” Countries

May followed her words with action, increasing the humanitarian budget by 10 percent this year to $2 billion. May additionally pledged a modest initial $3.25 million contribution to the UN and IOM emerging countries resettlement fund. Only $8 billion of the $21 billion required by the UN Global Appeal for refugee assistance has been met, and the UK is taking steps to share in filling the gap.

In a corollary to her focus on addressing terrorism first in East Africa, May also promised over £100 million for aid in Africa. £16m in Somalia will go toward food, education, shelter, and sustainable livelihoods while £4m will go to Kenya to assist the process of returning hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees to their stabilizing homeland as Al Shabaab continues to be beaten back. May is choosing to direct UK taxpayer dollars toward a root cause of migration in Africa, leading to less migration into the UK.

The other £80m of May’s aid to Africa is aimed at financial support for the construction of new industrial parks in Ethiopia to provide 100,000 new jobs, including 30,000 for Eritrean refugees. Twelve percent of the 124,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Italy between January and September 2016 were Eritrean, and Eritrea is currently the biggest nationality of asylum seekers in the UK. By creating jobs for Eritrean refugees in neighboring Ethiopia, May hopes to remove any incentive for the dangerous trek to the UK in search of economic opportunity.

Effective utilization of economic development aid will decrease the burden of the host countries. Because more young men will be employed, developing skills, or in school, they will be less likely swayed by extremist ideology and terrorist recruiting.

Assisting Syrian Refugee “First Arrival” Countries

While she has not produced a grand strategy to address the Syrian conflict, May is hoping to contain the Syrian refugee influx into Europe by cozying up to its neighbors. May dispatched Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to Turkey to announce Britain’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the EU despite Brexit. Turkey’s bid to join the EU has always been stagnant, and it will likely never succeed. Nonetheless, by sending the chief Leave Campaign leader to Turkey, May validated her commitment to helping “first arrival” countries in not only their resource needs to support refugees but their political wants as well — all while certain that the rest of the EU will ensure Turkey never joins. It’s a win-win for May.

May hailed Lebanon and Turkey as leaders in ensuring that the more than 300,000 Syrian refugee children can go to school, emphasizing the need for educational opportunities for refugees. Similar to her aid plan for Ethiopia and Eritrean refugees, May reiterated the need to “create the jobs needed for Syrian refugees and host-communities alike by accelerating progress on concessional finance and mobilizing the private sector.” She applauded Jordan’s decision to give Syrians the right to work, calling it an example for “first arrival” countries.

Besides offering political support, the UK will have to foot a much larger bill for Syrian “first arrival” countries if it wants to seriously stem the tide of refugees into Europe.

Distinguishing Between Refugees and Economic Migrants

While May affirmed at the UN that the 1951 convention and 1967 protocol “must remain the bedrock” of refugee policy, she said that the context to which they apply has changed in the 21st century. May is making a clear distinction between political asylum seekers and economic migrations in order to fulfill international community obligations to the former while reducing the latter’s incentives to use illegal transnational migration routes. May’s distinction policy more easily protects UK workers from foreign labor competition while still accepting political asylum seekers.

While promising to uphold David Cameron’s pledge to host 20,000 Syrian refugees, May is not expected to expand that number. May is walking a tight rope, balancing the will of the electorate who want no refugees and fulfilling international obligations without succumbing to too liberal of a refugee policy like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose party has taken tremendous setbacks in recent elections.

May’s distinction policy reinforces her development aid plan investing in economic and educational opportunities for migrants in “first arrival” countries in order to reduce mass migration beyond hot spots into Europe. By providing jobs in “first arrival” countries, migrants will not compete with UK workers for jobs but will still have the chance to provide for their families and work toward better lives.

Better Migration Management

May uses strong rhetoric to back better control of UK borders while also noting the necessity of accepting the return of Britain’s own nationals. This policy falls squarely in line with her populist electorate’s greatest desire: less immigration.

May’s international method of tackling displacement and mass migration is proactive in addressing root causes rather than reactive and simply keeping up with the ripple effects of an influx of immigrants into Europe and the UK.

While her realist policy can seem harsh and lacking in compassion, May has explicitly noted that her policy will help reject isolationism and xenophobia, two issues that can shackle down Britain. By diminishing fears of an immigration crisis in the UK, May hopes the electorate will no longer fear migrants who do arrive — emphasizing the need to fulfill international obligations to political asylum seekers. Furthermore, May can sell her bold international foreign policy to the public by sharply noting that the price required for less migration in the UK is simple: addressing the root causes of the migration crisis.

While her plan does not have warm or welcoming rhetoric, May’s foreign policy provides something far more important: tangible action to tackle a global problem.

Photo Credit: Number 10

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  1. Pingback: The May Doctrine: Ending Modern Slavery | Policy Interns

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