We need a global European policy to tackle the migration crisis

Peter SUTHERLAND

United Nations Special Representative for Migration and Development

European countries are not taking their share of responsibility in the current migration crisis and have left countries like Turkey and Italy to deal with it alone, simply because they are closer. But we cannot go on ignoring the migration issue.

At the last European summit, the German chancellor acknowledged that migration is Europe’s biggest challenge. Angela Merkel even went so far as to say that European asylum and migration policy is “broken”. In fact, there has been no real response to the loss of lives in the Mediterranean, and the lack of solidarity shown by the European Council in June was staggering.
Migration policy is “broken”
What has caused the crisis? The lack of political leadership at national level. Europe’s politicians are afraid to say that migration is beneficial because that would go against public opinion. However, by evading the issue, national leaders have given a free hand to extremists who never miss an opportunity to exaggerate the problems and challenges posed by migrants. Yet, in most cases, migrants are an asset: they are less likely to be unemployed than the native population and they create more jobs than they take. Although these facts are incontestable, they are never brought to public knowledge, which considerably alters the current perception of migrants. According to a recent survey, 67% of French people, 53% of Germans and 57% of Italians are in favour of reintroducing border controls.
How can we get out of this impasse? First of all, we must clarify the distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants, which is still far too vague. The majority of asylum seekers pay much more to cross the Mediterranean on a makeshift boat than they would to fly first class from New Dehli to an airport in Europe. That shows how desperate they are… I wonder why these migrants can’t be registered in Cairo or Khartoum? Why? Because European countries are not taking their fair share of responsibility by taking in some of the refugees. It would seem that the European Union expects countries like Turkey and Italy to deal with the problem, simply because they are closer. Turkey is doing far more for Syrian refugees than the European
Union is. Yet, after the Soviet invasion of Budapest in autumn 1956, Europe took in 100,000 Hungarian refugees. Today, less than 60 years later, Hungary has chosen to build a wall to stop migrants crossing its border…
No fair share of responsibility
It’s a shame that Europe is incapable of addressing the demographic challenges posed by the undeniable ageing of its population. We need migrants much more than we care to admit. We should establish partnerships with Africa and Mediterranean countries, based on principles of equality. Of course we could hope for greater mobility and better governance in Africa. But that’s not enough. We also need to introduce a new European policy for the Mediterranean area. We often look down on the United States, but we should bear in mind that their asylum system is much more generous and efficient than ours. And take inspiration from it.
Europe has its back against the wall. It needs to introduce innovative new measures to better protect refugees and forced migrants, especially those who are not specifically mentioned in the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees. We cannot continue to ignore the migrant crisis. Turkey, which has a population of 74 million, has taken in two million Syrian refugees since 2011, while Europe, with its population of over 500 million, has barely taken in 150,000. The burden must be shared more equitably. And it must be done fast. We need a global European policy. We are talking about men, women and children: human beings. That’s the whole point of globalisation.

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