Dealing with intensified immigration flows, the European Union is working hard to address the migration and asylum challenges that have been affecting the region for the past few months. Unfortunately, it is rather clear that the modus operandi adopted is still not able to deal with the problem in a timely and comprehensive manner.
The main actors facing the migration crisis are losing control of the situation and this is resulting in millions of deaths and huge organizational problems in the countries of destination. I am clearly referring to the European Union and its Member States that with their lack of coherence are not making any step forwards. The EU is probably doing its best to overcome the crisis but is this enough? A hypothesis will try to be made in accordance to some data few considerations on the last policies adopted by the EU and other main powers (NATO, for instance).
The migration crisis is developing very fast and every year (but also every few months) the EU excogitates new policies for putting an end to this spread phenomenon that is attracting the attention of the entire world. Just to mention one of the last proposals, the Valletta Action Plan of November 11-12, 2015, stated both some new and old points of the EU willingness of action in migration. Out of the six main priority points of the Action Plan, three regard the protection of the European borders rather than that of migrants. In fact, even if the protection of migrants’ rights and the reference to the root causes are included in this five points list, they are soon marginalized when the EU call for “resettlement efforts,” “return arrangements” and “readmission agreements.” The summit also expected to mobilize an “Emergency Trust Fund for Africa” composed by €1.8 billion from the EU budget and additional significant contributions from Member States. The fund main aim is to “address the root causes of destabilization, forced displacement and irregular migration, by promoting economic and equal opportunities, security and development.” However, it is not clear what this fund will be used for. In other words, it is still unknown whether these financial contributions will be used for fighting poverty or for increasing border security. Also, there is no mention of the countries that will benefit from this money and more importantly who will be managing them. Will they be devoted to humanitarian agencies, NGOs or to the improvement of governments? It is difficult to imagine how these funds will be controlled by weak and fragmented governments (Libya, for instance). In this regard, the Valletta Summit also suggested a deeper interest in giving humanitarian assistance to countries that are affected by forced displacement the most. It also underlined the need to tackle the root causes of human displacement in third countries. This is not a new proposal inside the EU conventions on migration and it was always put on first position on Action Plans. However, little has been done to implement a mutual and durable cooperation with countries of origin. We cannot blame the EU for lack of interrelationships with countries of origins that are stateless or in unstable and weak political situations. However, we can blame the EU for not cooperating constantly with NGOs, humanitarian agency and civil society organizations active in the home countries territories.
This happened in November 2015 and even though many points of the Valletta summit were repeating those of the previous ones, the expectations from the European (and Western) community were high.
Unfortunately, by February 2016 we have to acknowledge that just in these first two months of the year, 110,257 (1,015,078 in 2015) are the arrivals from the sea and 406 are the dead/missing migrants. The main countries of origin are more or less unvaried: 41% of migrants come from Syria, 27% from Afghanistan, 16% from Iraq followed by Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Gambia, Guinea, Morocco, and Senegal. Mediterranean countries have been the main destinations countries for migrants in the past two months. However, the main south route (from North African countries to Southern Europe) has been in part replaced by an eastern route (from Middle East/African countries to Eastern Europe). Consequently, Greece has been facing the highest number of migrants coming by sea this year so far.
The high numbers of migrants and deaths have not destabilized the main idea of the EU community that migration is mainly a security issue. As a consequence, the EU decided that its ‘military’ forces were not enough and that FRONTEX did not succeed in its original mission: protecting the borders of the EU. The disastrous search-and-rescue operations of Mare Nostrum and Triton had no relevance in understanding how negatively the strict border control influences the migration crisis. This is why Germany, Greece and Turkey called for the intervention of a new actor in the migration crisis arena: NATO.
The collaboration with NATO was officially launched on February 11, 2016. Thus, it is still not clear how exactly it will help the European countries in fighting illegal migration. However, what is known is that the main aim of NATO operations will be based on a military alliance and will be focused on illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean. The Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg stated clearly that the main aim of this intervention will mainly be to comprise the detection of human trafficking and criminal networks and not that of pushing back refugees. Adding military forces reflected the concerns that further waves of migrants are likely to head toward the European coasts. More importantly, it reflects the main vision of the EU (and of the European countries) that migration is a security issue and as such should be overcome with deterrence measures. The reasons why NATO has stepped into the EU migration crisis are still unknown. However, it is easily deductible, from the current situation within the European Union, that both these actors will have their benefits from it. Many NATO countries affected by the waves of migrants are pushed by huge waves of right-wing nationalist parties, a phenomenon that is expanding and creating interferences and contrasting sentiments toward the hosting countries’ population. Contrasting opinions are also emerging from the EU that is showing to the world its fragmentation and lack of a unique policy on migration. In this regard, the introduction of an external actor could mean less migrants reversed in our shores and thus less burden to deal with within the EU. From its hand, NATO will protect the credibility of its member states. In particular, Turkey that has been the focus of the latest months for the high number of migrants reversed in the country, can be resigned by NATO from the accuses of authoritarianism that are hampering its image at the EU eyes and compromising its application to be a member of it.
As time goes by, the migration crisis has been developing step by step with the euro zone crisis and the final outcome by now is always the same: no solidarity at all. The EU response to the migration flows of the last years has not been satisfying. The EU is still going through an economic crisis that is also leading to a moral crisis. The EU of today is composed of countries that are expanding nationalistic sentiments and lack humanity towards each other and with people in need. What is alarming is that if deterrence policies are growing, humanitarian ones are still lacking. The new Balkan land route is showing a deep resistance to migrants reversed at their borders. The proof of this is an agreement in the “Joint Statements of Heads of Police Services” launched by five Balkan countries (Austria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia) on February 18, 2016, that seems to limit the entries solely on the basis of nationality and possession of identification documents. No mention is dedicated to the Refugee Conventions and human rights of the most vulnerable: the ultimate proof of the regression of human rights toward interest-driven policies.
Clearly, the approach of the EU to the migration question has been and still is a Eurocentric approach. The EU is also showing its weaknesses at its best: the lack of a real union between Member States and above all, the lack of cooperation among them makes it clear that the EU cannot be considered an integrated political Union yet. The EU is appearing ineffective, disunited and heartless, putting Member States against one another and fueling nationalist and anti-Muslim sentiments. It is looking at the phenomenon of migration as a threat to fight instead of simply dealing with it. Until migration will be tackled as a security issue and the root causes of migration will not be depicted, new prominent flows of refugees will be overcrowding our shores.
Master’s Degree in Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations (University of Catania)
Council of the European Union. Valletta Summit on migration, 11-12/11/2015. See: www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/international-summit/2015/11/11-12/
European Commission. European Agenda on Migration. See: ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/index_en.htm
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Europe/migration: Five-country police agreement exacerbates crisis and puts vulnerable migrants at risk. See: www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17091&LangID=E
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean. See: data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php
Schmidt, Michael S., and Chan, Sewell. “NATO Will Send Ships to Aegean Sea to Deter Human Trafficking,” The New York Times, February 11, 2016. www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/world/europe/nato-aegean-migrant-crisis.html?_r=0