Interlaken – ESI at the Swiss Economic Forum: Migration can be both moral and practical

6 June 2024
Gerald Knaus at the CEO-Dialogue. Photo: ESI
Gerald Knaus at the CEO-Dialogue. Photo: ESI

Gerald Knaus was invited by the Swiss Economic Forum to give a presentation at its CEO dialogue in Interlaken, Switzerland. In his presentation, titled “Welche Grenzen brauchen wir – “Which borders do we need?” –  he took on the culture of fear and paranoia surrounding migration and reframed the issue as one where Europe has a real opportunity to take action that is both moral and practical.

 Gerald began by noting the myth that refugees come to Europe mostly from distant lands and distant cultures. In reality, most of Europe’s refugees are Europeans fleeing European conflicts. Stating that Europe has been a continent of conflict in recent decades, he cited the widespread destruction caused by brutal wars in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and most recently Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has triggered the largest migration movement in Europe since the Second World War and vastly eclipsed migration from Africa or the Middle East. Gerald thus highlighted  that the greatest influence on migration in Europe will be Europe’s own geopolitics. Should Serbia invade Kosovo or Russia break through Ukrainian defences, it will trigger yet more mass migration.

Citing statistics, Gerald next argued how Europe’s borders have become the world’s deadliest, with thousands dying yearly in the Mediterranean and other European borders. Gerald pointed out that we know these deaths are avoidable, and we have found solutions before, noting how the number of deaths in the Aegean dropped dramatically after the 2016 EU-Turkey statement.

He then advocated for further such agreements with third countries, in which asylum claims of irregular arrivals would be processed outside of Europe to disincentive taking irregular and deadly routes. In particular, Gerald noted the possibility of a deal with Rwanda, where Gerald recently toured and met with local refugees. As part of this, Europe would also commit to more legal pathways and direct resettlement for refugees in Europe, allowing those whose applications for protection have been approved to avoid the dangerous journey to Europe. In particular, Gerald highlighted the success of Canada as a model for Europe to emulate. He pointed out that failure to create a humane, legal system of migration management is not only a moral failing, but also holds concrete risks for Europe itself. This has fuelled the rise of illiberal, far-right forces across Europe, who have peddled false narratives that the failure to control migration is an existential threat to Europe.

Gerald finished his presentation by underlining that as part of this policy shift, we need to start seeing immigration as an opportunity rather than a threat. By highlighting the success of diverse cities like Vienna and Vancouver, Gerald suggested that when migration is arranged in a practical, organised manner, it both enriches the cultural vitality of society and is a driver of economic growth.