This week promises to be an important one for Europe’s response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean, where more than 1,800 migrants have lost their lives since the beginning of the year.
Today, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will ask the UN
Security Council to pass a resolution, drafted by Britain and supported
by France, Italy and Spain, which would authorise military action
against migrant smugglers operating in Libyan and international waters.
This move is likely to receive wider support among EU leaders than
some of the other proposals expected to form a new migration policy due
to be presented by the European Commission on Wednesday.
These include a mandatory quota system to ensure a more even
distribution of refugees across member states and a renewed push for the
creation of more safe and legal channels for migrants to reach Europe
so they don’t have to rely on smugglers.
IRIN asked three experts about the potential solutions to Europe’s
migration crisis: François Crépeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on the
human rights of migrants; Martin Ruhs, a senior researcher at Oxford
University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPASS); and Hein
De Haas, co-director of the International Migration Institute (IMI),
also at Oxford.
How did we get to this point?
François Crépeau: At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s,
we saw a change because it’s the time when the Schengen Agreement was
being negotiated. Politicians decided there’d be freedom of movement
between EU countries and that caused a sea change in terms of security
procedures. It’s the moment when irregular migration goes from the
ministry of labour or social affairs to the ministry of interior or home
affairs. And since then we’ve been securing borders more and more, and
we have constructed the irregular migrant as a security object when 99.9
percent are not: they present no security risk.
Hein De Haas: We made it so difficult to get in, we created a
market for smuggling. What I find really disturbing is the lack of
historical perspective. It’s not a phenomenon caused by the Arab Spring;
it all started with the introduction of visas for North Africans in
1991, and before that there were more or less open borders with southern
European countries. Many migrants would come and earn money and then go
back to their countries. The more we started to close our borders, the
more migrants were forced to start using smugglers. The biggest
misunderstanding is that by attacking smugglers you solve the issue. You
only increase the dependency of migrants on smugglers
Could or should Europe go back to having open borders?
François Crépeau: I’d like to go back to the 1960s when the
border wasn’t a security issue, when millions of Africans crossed into
Europe looking for work. They bought a ticket, came on the ferry and
arrived in Europe. They showed their papers and no one objected to them
looking for work, and, when they found it, their visa was easily changed
to a work permit. That’s what I’d like to go back to. For economic
migrants, we have to recognise there’s a pull factor which is our job
markets. And as long as we don’t recognise that, they will come and be
employed in exploitative jobs. These people are mobile and they’re all
connected. They don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to go and look
for work just like we can. So do we let the smugglers control the system
or do we organise it ourselves?
There are so many examples, if you go back in history, when you had
more open borders and there were no massive immigration flows. When
Spain joined the EU in 1986, there was a big fear that it would cause
mass migration, but it didn’t happen.
Martin Ruhs: I think it’s important to have arguments for
open borders out there. But it’s also important to not do economics
without politics. If you take a global point of view, the fastest way of
increasing welfare is to liberalise labour migration. But, we also know
nation states restrict migration and it’s a highly salient issue in
most states and politically often difficult. There are very important
policy problems that need to be addressed. The really difficult
challenges are about the in-between solutions – in between the arguments
that we should lock everyone out or let them all in.
If you have to regulate [migration] somehow, how exactly do you do
it? All immigration policy involves inclusion and exclusion and that’s
always going to be difficult. I think moral outrage is important; at the
same time I take a more realistic approach. The key challenge for any
realistic approach is to get the judgment right about what can’t be
changed in the short-term and what are the policies we can change.
Are there any other solutions for asylum-seekers and refugees?
François Crépeau: Saving lives through an operation at least
of the size of Mare Nostrum (Italy’s now defunct search-and-rescue
operation) as a first principle. I don’t think it’s going to do much to
change the pattern of [migrants] crossing the Med with smugglers because
it doesn’t respond to any of the push or pull factors. If we don’t
touch on those, nothing’s going to change.
We can avoid any refugee going through the ordeal of crossing the Med
with smugglers if we have a distribution key across Europe – a way of
apportioning people to countries, based on population or size of GDP.
There are four million Syrians stuck in the Middle East with no future.
If we believe they’re going to stay there quietly and wait for us to move them, we’re delusional. If we
don’t organise it ourselves, the smugglers will. I hope at one point,
European leaders will show the kind of resolve they need to have despite
their electorates, and decide collectively that something needs to be
I hope that the idea of resettling refugees in a significant number
could catch on. If we divide one million Syrian refugees over five years
between all the EU countries, and also Australia, Canada and the US,
that is a drop in the bucket.
Martin Ruhs: We need to have a comprehensive debate about
policy options. There’s the containment strategy which is keep people
out and keep them in the region. There’s the temporary protection
strategy where we admit people and hope they return home after conflict
subsides, like we did with the Kosovo conflict. Or you can admit people
through regular asylum means and then give them permanent protection
right away. I think the EU has certainly moved in recent years from
temporary protection to a containment strategy, and that has contributed
to the rise in numbers of people trying to enter Europe through other
means. It’s driven by very short-term considerations.
You now have a lot of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries which
could as a result become unstable. So even if you’re focused on
national interests, I think it’s a mistake to take that strategy. My own
view is that Europe should do more to protect people who are trying to
cross on boats. It should clearly take many more Syrians, but even if it
did, you’re only going to help a small fraction [of the refugees].
There needs to be a much bigger response in terms of making these
countries more stable. Focusing on the “traffickers” as they call them,
that’s profoundly mistaken.
What about economic migrants?
Hein De Haas: There is a close relation between economic
cycles, labour market demands and levels of labour immigration. If a
society wants to cut back on immigration, it can’t be achieved through
migration policy because if there’s still a labour market, people will
still come. So the only way to do something about that, is to do
something about the demand. Migration is not a tap you can turn on and
off, labour demand will keep driving it.
Martin Ruhs: I can think of no country that does not define
its migration policy primarily based on what they see as best for their
residents. I think vastly increasing labour migration channels in
response to the Mediterranean crisis would be hard to make a case for.
Many of these people are fleeing violence and conflict and it’s there
that we need to think much harder about what we can do, because the
ethical obligations that we have towards those people are very
important. I think we need to think about changing the composition of
our immigration influx. In Britain, asylum-seekers make up less than 10
percent of total immigration. Maybe we should admit more asylum-seekers
and refugees because of the need to protect those people rather than
making the argument that we need more labour migrants to benefit our
economy. Employers will always want more workers, but they’re not the
only stakeholder group.