The European Union’s Refugee Crisis: A Way Forward

On Friday 16th October, the King’s Think Tank launched its first event of the year, a panel discussion focusing on ‘Europe’s Migrant Crisis’. The panel included Dr Jeff Crisp, a Research Associate at the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre; Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London; Mr James Mates, Europe Editor of ITV News and Jakob Muratov, President of the European Affairs Policy Centre at the Think Tank. The vibrant discussion covered the impact of mass migration with regards to the migrants themselves, border control and the necessary response to overcome the problems facing Europe.

The unprecedented scale of this migration has presented the European region with a dangerous and immediate dilemma. According to the International Organization of Migration, “more than 464,000 migrants have crossed into Europe by sea for the first nine months of 2015” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2015). Facing political instability and persecution in their home countries, these migrants, mainly from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq, present European leaders, and ostensibly global leaders, with a great challenge of how to best approach the surge of people onto European soil.

The discussion explored the differences and necessarily different reactions to economic migrants and asylum-seekers. According to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, refugees and asylum seekers should be protected from a “well-founded fear of persecution”, as stated by Dr Jeff Crisp. However, this does not apply to economic migrants. The simultaneous entry of economic migrants and asylum seekers has therefore made it difficult to distinguish between those in need of genuine protection and those who stay illegally. In addition to this, the sectarian approach adopted by some European countries, notably Slovakia and Hungary, presents yet another dimension to the immediate problem. Their exclusion of non-Christian migrants raises problems beyond European borders, requiring the united action of international actors. Despite the acknowledged potential economic contribution of refugees, the short-term need to accommodate, educate and cater has markedly inhibited the acceptance of those streaming onto European land.

Internal and external border controls compromise yet another problem area exposed by the rapidly changing European demographic. The current migrant influx challenges the durability of European borders and laws, namely the Schengen agreement, which facilitates the free movement of Europeans within the 26 contracted countries, and the Dublin regulation, which restricts asylum applications to the first country of entry. For example, Europe’s proposed replacement scheme, relocating 120,000 migrants to other European nations, works contrary to the Schengen agreement and does not provide a viable solution. Consequently, there still exists an urgent need to alleviate the disproportionate burden of responsibility on the few nations who have adopted an open door policy, notably Germany and Sweden. The opening and closing of borders still remains a pressing issue, and will do until a more proportionate scheme is adopted.

Beyond the immediate concerns of physical accommodation, the discussion concluded with talk of potential solutions to the problem in Europe and the problem at the source. Despite Russia’s involvement seeming entirely necessary in the resolution of the Syrian issue, the panel concluded that cooperation would fundamentally come at a price Europe is not willing to pay. This could range from the lifting of sanctions in the Crimea context or accepting Russia’s demands concerning Syria. Further, the attempt to provide safe havens for migrants in their home country would undoubtedly depend upon western military deployment, which all potential exponents oppose. Crucially, the prevalence of national interests has stunted any unified European response to the refugee issue.

If you wish to view the full event, click the following link: https://youtu.be/AD3lcyiB2w0. If this should inspire you further, then get in touch with us about writing a policy recommendation on the topic at editor@kingsthinktank.org.

Sofia Kebede

European Affairs Editor

King’s Think Tank

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