In December 2018 the UN General Assembly launched a process of international negotiations on a ‘global compact for safe migration’. In the meantime, the EU and its member states are still struggling to adopt a comprehensive common policy in response to the migrant crisis.
Migration and displacement crises are far from new. However, the one triggered simultaneously with the Arab Spring is unprecedented. It started in 2011, in Syria when President Bashar al Assad refused to reform his repressive government and step down, leading to widespread protests and the flight of thousands of Syrian citizens. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, by September 2013, more than two million Syrian citizens had fled the country. A second wave of refugees fled Mosul and neighbouring cities when these were taken over by the Islamic State. The United Nations and the European Union agreed on the urgent need to provide these refugees with a safe place to stay.
According to Frontex, 2015 has been the peak of the migrant crisis with more than 1.82 million illegal crossing. This unprecedented migration and displacement crisis has been triggered by various factors. Conflict is the first reason why people migrate internationally, but other elements such as unemployment and poverty are also triggering this process. Since 2014, the top five countries of origins for migrants is Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. All those countries have recently been torn apart or are still undergoing conflicts that explain why the population decided to flee.
After 2011, European countries agreed to take on a definite number of people for a limited amount of time. However, they were quickly overwhelmed by the number of refugees reaching the continent and found themselves unable to welcome them in decent conditions and integrate them. A few regulatory measures, like the establishment of the hotspot approach in Greece and Italy (in May 2015) were implemented, aiming to ensure that arrivals were registered and security-checked, but these measures failed. This resulted in member states deciding to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls in September 2015, in an attempt to stop the refugee flow. Meanwhile, the EU and its member states have been trying to implement other similar policies but those do not seem to be working, as they are not dealing with the root causes of migration.
The migrant crisis has exacerbated already-existing European divides. We can observe the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, after Germany decided to open, without restriction, its borders to migrants, saying that the migrant crisis was “a German problem” (September 2015). Those divides can be seen in the failure of the European member states to provide a comprehensive and united answer to the crisis. We can also observe an important imbalance between the number of asylum application each European country is receiving. With countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, or France left alone to administer migrants arriving daily on their shores, and countries like Hungary or Austria refusing to play their part, it has been increasingly hard for the EU to provide an efficient and sustainable response to the crisis.
The EU’s attempt to answer the crisis
- Push for closer cooperation with neighbouring states
The Valletta Summit on Migration, in November 2015, first attests to member states’ recognition of the need to address the root causes of irregular implementation. They decided to launch the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, to help improve security and stability as well as improving living conditions in countries of origin and transit. This step forwards did not prevent Western Balkans countries from closing their borders to restrain refugees access, which did not stop arrivals from Turkey to Greece. Hence, Greece, Turkey and the EU decided to produce a joint statement, aiming at ending irregular migration flows from Turkey to the EU and implement an organised, safe and legal channel for Syrian refugees. Financially, this support translated into a funding of €6 billion from the EU to Turkey. This aims at providing education to Syrian children, including catch-up and back-up classes, building new schools (136), delivering primary healthcare consultations as well as a monthly cash transfer to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees (1 500 000). In Greece, it helps support the management of migrants and their reception conditions.
This agreement is considered a success by both the EU and Turkey, as resulted in a significant decrease in arrivals. Whereas in October 2015 up to 10 000 migrants would arrive in 24 hours, the average today is 83. Resettlements have also increased, with the legal admission of Syrians from Turkey. Finally, the arrivals to Greece dropped by 97% and have remained low ever since.
This joint statement has been a game-changer; the EU needs more of those agreements with other third countries. However, until now, the EU has failed to establish any similar agreement.
When, by the end of 2016-beginning of 2017, the Central Mediterranean route via Italy became the most used migration route, the European Commission called for further cooperation between Europe (Italy in particular) and Libya. This cooperation was planned to include the training of Libyan cost guards, a closer cooperation with the countries of origin and transit of migrants, and further efforts to increase returns to the countries of origin. An EU External Investment Plan was also launched to create jobs and growth in Africa and the European neighbourhood. It has been described as successful: by December 2017 the arrivals via this route had decreased by 80% compared to the first half of 2017, and remained at this level throughout 2018. However, the returns procedures are still very slow and ineffective, and the last agreement between European Member states, agreed on last June, has been widely criticised for not pushing more towards a common EU policy on refugees.
- Create disembarkation platforms (European Council of 28 June 2018)
The EU, in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for refugees and the International Organisation for Migration, presented an initial outline on the concept of regional disembarkation platforms. Creating those platforms would ensure a reduced number of deaths at sea, as well as predictable disembarkation. The partnership with third countries would be made on the basis of already-existing agreements and tailor-made to each country’s specificities (in terms of politics, security and socio-economic situation). It should also allow a post-disembarkation process fully respecting international law and human rights (which mean
no more detention and camps).
However, despite some positive results, including a decrease in the number of refugees coming to Europe, the EU Member States are still facing important challenges, such as the integration of refugees to a European society still suffering from the 2008 economic crisis, is shifting towards the extremes and populism, and showing an increasing mistrust in refugees. The EU and its member states are failing to reach their political objectives.
This can be explained notably by underfinancing. The October 2018 report from the Donor Relations and Resources Mobilisation Service of UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) stated that barely more than half of the EU’s needs were met. According to the emergency appeal for 2019, in the coming year, more than 132 million people will need humanitarian aid.
The aim of this policy paper is to address concerns associated with the policies implemented by the EU and its member states, both internally (in the Schengen area and associated states) and externally (in the countries of origin and transit of migrants).
Currently, 85% of the refugees worldwide are living in low and middle income countries. Humanitarian aid is not enough anymore and rich countries need to step up their game.
3. Deal with the primary root of migration: conflict
As we saw earlier, conflict is the first reason leading people to flee their country. To stop migrants from coming to Europe, European authorities need to create more stable conditions of living in countries deeply affected by conflicts. This includes proving citizens of those countries with decent social conditions as well as political stability. The EU needs to build long-term partnerships with those countries, which also include targeting smugglers and traffickers.
4. Create incentives for migrants to stay in their home country through economic
One of the other reason is poverty. This is why it is crucial for richer countries to invest in poorer countries, in order to create job opportunities. In a continent like Africa, with an ever-growing young population, those investments would create significant incentives for young citizens to stay in their own country and play a role in its economic and social growth. The focus should specifically be put on agriculture, which is Africa’s most significant employer. Moreover, both the EU and Africa should be investing in infrastructure, especially electricity grids, irrigation and transport system, to make this sector more efficient.
5. Improve the support system for migrants in Europe and facilitate resettlements.
Regarding the improvements the EU could make when dealing with the migrant crisis on its own territory, it should be developing laws enabling a faster process for registering asylum requests. This would enable member states to keep migrants at their borders for a limited amount of time (during which they would not be detained in deplorable conditions) before either letting them in or escorting them to their home country. The EU also need to provide a full protection for unaccompanied minors and implement specific regulations that would speed up their admission process and make sure they do not go back to their own country unaccompanied. Finally, the EU needs to work on its reception capacity, in order to provide migrants with adequate places to wait while their request to enter the EU is being processed. It would allow the EU to have an effective and sustainable European-wide strategy on migration management, which would focus both on the internal (European soil) and external (home and transit countries) aspects of the crisis.
Since the European member states, even after debating this topic for years, have been unable to agree on a comprehensive and sustainable solution, it would seem overly ambitious to put forward a unique solution to the migrant crisis. This paper focuses on two aspects of the EU migration policy (internal and external) and how it could build cooperative initiatives (or joint statements) between its member states and African countries, while providing better conditions of living for migrants in Europe. It is essential to combine both those aspects, in order for them to be effective.
By Camille Lavalée