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Symposium 2015

Solution for Migrants Knocking on Europe's Doors: Towards a Coherent Response to Irregular Immigration

The Challenge

Tens of thousands of irregular migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, set out for Europe each year. If they reach Europe alive, most ultimately manage to stay here - irrespective of whether ...

Tens of thousands of irregular migrants, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, set out for Europe each year. If they reach Europe alive, most ultimately manage to stay here - irrespective of whether they are granted political asylum or refugee status. However, many irregular immigrants first have to criss-cross Europe in search of somewhere safe to live. Later, many live off welfare for several years because they are not allowed to work. Furthermore, EU member states have been slow to support those afflicted by humanitarian crises in their neighborhood, such as the war in Syria. In addition, there are almost no legal employment opportunities for low or medium-skilled immigrants from outside the EU. This situation calls for a comprehensive policy response by the EU and its member states to address humanitarian crises, apply uniform standards for protecting refugees and for deciding on political asylum and refugee status, and provide more legal employment opportunities for non-EU immigrants.

The Mediterranean Challenge: A Global Perspective

 

Global situation: The perfect storm

We are witnessing the largest displacement and movement of people in recorded history. There are currently some 60 million people who have been displaced by persecution, war, conflict or disaster—the most we have seen in the post-World War 2 era. However, whereas at that time weary and war-torn Europe was a place to turn away from and leave behind, it is now at the receiving end of displacement.

Europe’s neighbors to the south and the east are experiencing unprecedented levels of instability, war, conflict, economic collapse, and increasingly, the environmental effects of a changing climate. Persecution, violation of human rights, poverty and lack of access to the most basic services, are only some of the factors that drive individuals to migrate irregularly. Those who are pushed to migrate—unlike those who freely choose to—are more likely to do so under undesirable or dangerous conditions, including by accessing the services of smugglers. The war in Syria and attendant impacts on the region continue with no end in sight. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are host to most of the 4 million Syrians who have fled their homelands. They deserve to be strongly commended for it, but with limited prospects in the region inevitably many are now making their way to Europe through Turkey and Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean route. Political instability in Libya has not decreased, and so it continues to be both a source and a channel of irregular flows to Italy via the central Mediterranean route.

I have, in recent times, begun to refer to this tragic chain of circumstances as “the perfect storm.” We live in an era of unprecedented simultaneous and complex humanitarian disasters, spanning all continents. The eye of the hurricane is on Europe, but from the Caribbean to the western bulge of Africa, from the Middle East to the Bay of Bengal, desperate people are forced to make desperate choices. And all too frequently they end up in the clutches of unscrupulous smugglers. On land and on sea, these migrants have left a “trail of tears,” victims of “travel agents of death.”

According to IOM data, more than 550,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have arrived in the European Union this year, almost entirely via the eastern and central Mediterranean routes to Italy and Greece. This surpasses the number of arrivals for all of last year, and the number of deaths—approximately 3,000 to date—look likely to exceed last year’s record death toll. Sicily, the Greek Islands of Lesbos and Kos, the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Hungarian–Serbian border, Budapest’s Keleti train station, the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla, and Calais, France, have become flashpoints for tensions as Europe still struggles with a climate of skepticism to migration.

While the numbers are on the increase and pressures in some spots have ignited tensions and media attention, we do not view this as a crisis beyond the capability of Europe to manage together as a Union, provided it has a clear-eyed understanding of the policy challenges that must be tackled.

Policy challenges

First, Europe owes it to itself to set aside the current migration narrative. It is toxic at present; and it hints at a denial of both European history and European values. We need to get back to a more balanced dialogue. We need to refute misleading myths and stereotypes and recall that historically migration has been overwhelmingly positive. Through open dialogue and examination of evidence, we can rediscover that well-managed migration and development belong together.

The second challenge is learning to manage diversity. Demographics mean that most countries of the world will in future become more multiethnic, more multicultural and more multireligious. This is a recipe for social well-being and economic prosperity. But to achieve these goals we will need a lot of political courage and imagination; and investments in public information, awareness and dialogue. To begin with we need to move the community debate from its focus on identity to a focus on common values. We need to grasp the essential fact that others may not look like me or speak like me but share common commitments and ideas.

The third challenge is partly related to the first two, and is integral to good migration governance: conjugating sovereign rights and obligations with the rights, obligations and dreams of migrants; reconciling national security and human security; balancing sovereignty and individual freedom.

Priorities for action

The first priority is to save lives. In the short term, rescue at sea needs to remain robust and well resourced. Since the reinforcement of rescue operations in April, the rate of fatalities has fallen significantly. However, tragedies continue, also on the land routes, so we can never rest assured that we are doing enough to prevent the victimization of some of the world’s most vulnerable.

The second priority is to provide effective responses to the mass humanitarian flows reaching Europe. The broad lines of action have already been identified and they are consonant with the operational modalities that have been used to deal successfully with such emergency situations in the past.

Effective reception arrangements must be set up. IOM welcomes the commitment to solidarity through increasing EU support to front line Member States receiving high numbers of migrant arrivals, and stands ready to contribute to the efforts of the involved EU agencies and Member States.

We also welcome and strongly support the European Commission’s proposal for an expanded relocation scheme to better achieve the impact that is needed given sustained high numbers and significant pressures on frontline EU states as well as in neighboring countries currently hosting millions of displaced people. Equitable sharing of relocation among EU Member States and increased resettlement within and beyond the EU Member States must be part of the solution.

While it is clear that a substantial proportion of the new arrivals are refugees, experience has taught us that in order to protect the integrity of the international protection framework, status determination systems must be put into place to distinguish between those who have a genuine need for protection and those whose claims for asylum cannot be established. For the latter, voluntary return to their country of origin will be the most appropriate solution, but careful planning and implementation are necessary for this to be successful and sustainable. Looking ahead, it will be necessary to invest in reintegration programs that will enable returnees to rejoin their communities of origin.

Some interventions are desirable before migrants reach Europe. IOM’s Migration Response and Response Mechanisms planned for a test phase in Niger aims to provide operational support to government authorities to address complex migratory flows, facilitate the identification and registration of migrants, and support data collection to feed into evidence-based policy and programming. Would-be migrants in transit countries and migrants already in Europe need to be given access to information and alternatives, including the choice to return home voluntarily with reintegration assistance. IOM is still planning to establish an MRRM pilot facility in Libya, stability permitting, as well as exploring the feasibility of MRRMs in Turkey and FYROM.

Finally, a robust international response must rapidly be put into place to end trafficking and smuggling operations as well as measures aimed at undercutting their business on both shores of the Mediterranean, recognizing that criminal networks operate across regions.

The third priority is a nothing less than a paradigm shift in the governance of migration. However, pressing the current humanitarian crisis, a response that focuses solely on immediate humanitarian and security needs without addressing the broader picture—the underlying drivers of irregular migration; the demand for labor migration at all skill levels; the impact of communication networks—will be neither effective nor sustainable in the longer term. Without a long-term vision to guide policy and practice and to respond to community apprehensions we will be trapped in a crisis-mode intervention time warp. The current humanitarian crisis should be for us all a reminder of the importance of mobility has acquired in today’s world. We cannot wish this away. We can only accept it as part of our contemporary reality and manage it for the benefit of all.

We encourage bold, collective thinking and action to develop a truly comprehensive approach to the governance of migration that will ensure that the precious commodity of protection is available for refugees, but will equally create channels for safe and regular migration for both high and low-skilled workers and for those in need of family reunification while offering community stabilization and development programs to reduce migratory pressures.

Regular dialogue with Countries of Origin and Transit is critical to achieving consensus on these important matters, addressing the root causes as well as the immediate challenges that the migrant flows represent. The Khartoum and Rabat processes should be reassessed and, if needed, refocused. The EU–AU Summit in Malta this November is a much-needed dialogue at the highest level, and IOM is committed to support it, closely working with our membership from both regions. We will also continue our engagement in meetings that can be arranged in the context of the UN General Assembly and the Global Forum on Migration and Development at Istanbul in October. (IOM supports, and serves as a Technical Secretariat for, some fifteen Regional Consultative Processes on all continents.)

Conclusion

With 9000 staff deployed at nearly 500 sites around the world, IOM is already actively engaged on the European migration crisis in virtually all origin, transit and destination countries. IOM works in close partnership with the EU Commissions and Council as well as with most of the EU’s 28 Member States, all of which are also Member States of IOM. In addition, we cooperate and coordinate closely with UNHCR, our traditional partner for the past 65 years, most other UN agencies and many NGOs. We stand ready to do much more to assist and support you, as appropriate, in addressing these challenges together.

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