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US, Europe clamp down on migration even as arrivals drop

AP  |  Rome 

As allies convene, one issue not on their formal agenda but never far from their thoughts is - even though illegal border crossings are decreasing on both sides of the Atlantic.

The separation of families at the U.S.-border and Italy's refusal to let shipwrecked migrants disembark in its ports illustrate the hardening positions on border control in and capitals.

Lost in the heated political debate is the fact that migrant arrivals in across the from and are at their lowest level in five years, while arrests on the U.S.-border - an imperfect but widely used gauge of illegal crossings - are far below levels seen two decades ago.

"The numbers don't support the hysteria," said Joel Millman, a for the Geneva, Switzerland-based

"Politicians know what moves voters, and this is extremely effective in moving voters."

In both the U.S. and Europe, is increasingly a key political fault line. One side accuses those cracking down on illegal of scapegoating immigrants for problems such as crime and unemployment, even when the correlation is weak.

The other side says politicians are simply recognizing voters' concerns about national identity and poor integration that have long been ignored.

In Europe, the liberal immigration policies that many governments implemented until recently never had widespread popular support, said Ivar Arpi, a at Swedish newspaper

But because Europeans cared more about other issues, such as the economy or education, there was no serious backlash.

That changed in 2015, when 1 million people - most of them from Syria, and - crossed into from and used the lack of border controls in the Union to roam freely from the into and onward to and

That surge and the pressures it put on the destination countries pushed migration to the top of Europe's political agenda, where it has remained since.

"2015 fundamentally changed But it is hard to know how big a change is when you still are in the middle of it," Arpi said. "Nationalism or globalism, this is the new divide between people. It trumps left-right."

Immigration is a major theme ahead of Sweden's elections in September, just as it has been in a series of votes in the past two years, including Britain's referendum on leaving the EU.

Far-right and anti-migrant parties have made gains in Austria, and Germany, while Hungary's Viktor Orban, known for his tough stance on migrants, easily won re-election in April.

Just weeks after taking office in Italy's coalition government, the League - a party vowing to put "Italians first" - has forced other EU nations to grapple with the issue of sea arrivals, which have placed a disproportionate burden on countries in dealing with those seeking a new life in Europe.

Things came to a head when Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and deputy prime minister, closed Italian ports to private ships picking up migrants sailing from in flimsy boats, saying those volunteer rescuers act as de facto "taxi services" for

As a result, two rescue vessels have had to carry rescued migrants on a much longer journey to Spain, and another spent days in limbo off until European countries agreed to share the responsibility for the more than 200 people on board.

The crackdown comes as the number of those trying to make the perilous crossing is dwindling. Sea arrivals in were already down by 80 percent when the new government took office. Across the Mediterranean, about 45,000 migrants arrived by sea in Italy, and in the first half of the year, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, July 09 2018. 14:50 IST