“European Migration: Causes and Effects”
We have grown accustomed, for almost a decade now, to see the European Union as project mired in crisis and uncertainty. We have seen how the financial and economic challenges of our day were exacerbated and made more intractable by the gap between our ambitions for a common space and the outcomes of incomplete policies and dynamics between institutions that span national frontiers without subsuming them.
Now, war and chaos in our immediate neighbourhood have led a huge number of human beings to reach for safety on our shores, in a wave without precedent since World War II, and it is the lack of adequate response that has led to a humanitarian crisis.
But this is a crisis which has its roots, first and foremost, in the much more familiar, and longstanding, world of states and national leadership, or the lack of it.
A Middle Eastern order that took shape through western intervention after the First World War is convulsing, through western intervention.
It is certainly a humanitarian crisis, with great numbers of traumatised people risking their lives to reach safety from the ravages of civil war and extremist violence, facing linguistic and cultural barriers, and the host society’s fears.
If we look at the absolute figures of refugees that have been reaching Europe, there is no reason why, on an EU-wide scale, this should be a migration crisis that Europe is struggling to cope with.
How would we then describe the situation in Lebanon, a much less prosperous nation with just about the population of Ireland, hosting over a million refugees?
This was the number estimated to have reached the German territory last year, after Chancellor Angela Merkel suspended – de facto – the Dublin Asylum System, in a move that was courageous, principled and right, and for which she has been paying a political price within her own ranks.
The Dublin system was never fit to deal with a regional emergency of the kind we are facing, and had been failing for many years, especially since the unravelling of the Arab Spring.
Holding the frontline EU countries as hostages to accidents of geography, left alone to cope with the influx was obviously no solution, and Ms. Merkel’s action was a moment when the overwhelming force of the facts on the ground was acknowledged with political leadership and a very difficult decision taken.
Very difficult, that is, when you, are surrounded by other EU leaders who are guided by political expediency and survival.
These frontline countries were not only trapped by geography but also enfeebled by economic crisis and the cure of bleeding the doctor ordered, particularly in the case of Greece.
Yet, the continued influx led to a string of unilateral moves by national governments and the erection of border walls that diverted migratory fluxes and pressures elsewhere, followed by the same uncoordinated, barrier-raising response, not only along EU’s external borders but also within the Schengen area.
The future of a border-free Schengen area is very much uncertain, all the more so due to the latest Paris and Brussels terror attacks that were followed by the declaration of states of emergency, and the reintroduction of other bother controls.
This, with the reports of attacks on women during New Year’s celebrations, also added to an almost palpable atmosphere of moral panic in some countries, as the influx kept apace during the current year, up to the deal struck with Turkey.
This was not the first time that Fortress Europe struck a Faustian Pact to stem the tide. Over a decade ago, before turning on Colonel Gaddafi, we paid his regime to act as the advance guard of the EU’s external border and turned a blind eye on the methods used to keep migrants at bay.
Whatever about any judgements of moral equivalence we might be tempted to make, or otherwise, the deal stuck between national EU government leaders and Turkey stems directly from our national leaders’ inability or unwillingness to agree upon, and work together with, a coordinated solution with shared burdens and responsibilities.
Yet, while the EU country leaders struck a deal with Turkey outside of the EU framework, it is predicated on changes to EU policies and instruments that the European Parliament has a say on.
We register the reports of extremely serious Human Rights abuses against migrants by Turkish authorities that reach us from the most reliable sources, and the UN Refugee Agency’s disengagement from the exchanges.
We should not grant Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey visa-free status unless all conditions applicable are met. And, while on the topic of conditions, we MEPs certainly don’t see it as a bargaining chip for a dubious deal.
Obviously, the atrocious state of human development in our south-eastern neighbourhood will remain a root cause of migratory pressure but the vast majority of those who risk their lives, and those of their children, at sea are Syrian, followed by Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers.
The Commission’s attempts at reforming our common asylum system may be extremely underwhelming when compared to what we need, and yet they look radically unacceptable to many EU governments, to the point of spurring legal challenges in the EU court, and that’s the reason why they are pretty modest from the start.
We need safe and legal corridors to prevent those perilous journeys and to put human traffickers out of business.
Those who are fleeing terror and extremism were left with no choice but to leave, but we have a choice, and the means, to integrate them and make them part of our community.
This will even pay off in the longer term, if we must appeal to enlightened self-interest to overcome legitimate fears rather than engage in a race to the bottom between our countries to show how tough we are, as UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie aptly put it.
She is absolutely right when she says that “if your neighbour’s house is on fire you are not safe if you lock your doors”.
Speech delivered at the Green Foundation Ireland Summer School 2016