The European Union struck a deal with Turkey in March to send back refugees who’d sailed in rubber boats from Turkey to Greece. It promised to bear the financial burden for their care, pledging €3 billion immediately and another €3 billion when that runs out. (That’s nearly $7 billion.)
Last week, the EU made its calculations even clearer, with a proposal for fairly distributing refugees across EU member states — a proposal that included an opt-out option, called a “solidarity contribution”: €250,000 (nearly $300,000) for every refugee a member state refuses to admit.
Europe’s reluctance to accept refugees — and, presumably, the money it’s willing to pay to dodge them — has grabbed Kenyan officials' attention.
“In Europe, rich, prosperous and democratic countries are turning away refugees from Syria, one of the worst war zones since World War Two,” said Joseph Nkaisserry, the minister of the interior, in an address on Wednesday explaining the policy to close the camps.
Nkaisserry’s statement “directly points towards the scenes we’ve seen in Europe, with regards to how [Kenyan officials] have decided to use refugees as a bargaining chip in international politics,” said Andrew Maina, an immigration and asylum lawyer and the program officer for communications at the Refugee Council of Kenya, a Nairobi-based non-governmental organization.
“I think Kenya is borrowing a lead from a very bad example,” he said. “If the most powerful states are actually doing the same thing Kenya is doing … and they’re the ones with the moral authority of telling Kenya to stick to its international obligations, there’s the notion the international community can’t do anything about it.”
Kenya isn’t the only one taking note of Europe’s seemingly priceless appetite for avoiding refugees. One day after the EU proposed its opt-out price, a delegation of EU foreign ministers met with the government of Niger, a West African country that 150,000 people are expected to pass through on their way to Libya and, after a dangerous sea journey, to Italy, to talk about illegal immigration. The Niger government said it could help curb the problem — for around $1.1 billion.
Which means Kenya, while it’s attracting headlines right now, isn’t alone in sensing opportunity.
"The lack of leadership from Europe gives these other countries the space to start ransoming the EU," said Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns, an up-close look at Dadaab, and a former Human Rights Watch researcher.