As EU ministers meet in reaction to the disaster in the Mediterranean earlier, their focus will be on immediate responses. For example, it is likely that they will agree to strengthen patrols in the Mediterranean and support the capacity of countries in North Africa to control irregular migration flows. This is only appropriate. Over 30,000 asylum seekers are estimated to have arrived in Europe this year already, and over 1,000 have already lost their lives.
But for these and other short-term measures to have lasting impact, they need to be part of a wider approach that also pays attention to the underlying drivers for growing irregular migration towards Europe.
First, greater efforts are required to provide people at risk with protection and assistance in their own countries – so that they don’t have to flee in the first place. Over the past 25 years, significant progress has been made to develop a legal framework for protecting internally displaced persons; this now needs to be implemented more widely by developing national laws and policies.
Tentative steps have also been taken to overcome the limits that sovereignty has traditionally placed on international intervention to prevent atrocities; it is now time to apply the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect more systematically and consistently.
Inevitably some people will continue to flee their country. When they do, however, they should not need to pay smugglers or embark on dangerous trips to reach safety.
Second, therefore, better protection in the region is required – so that people can remain close to their homes in safety and dignity. The EU already has regional protection frameworks in place – it is time to make them work.
Third, a far more thoughtful response is required to combatting migrant smuggling. The understandable immediate reaction is to get tough, with harsher penalties and better enforcement. Of course, these are required, but they underestimate how migrant smuggling actually works. It is usually based on a network of operators – arresting the captain of a boat is unlikely to have upstream effects on the rest of the network. It is a business – smugglers are adept at adjusting their offer to market conditions. And it is responsive – closing off one route simply diverts smuggling to another route. Among a range of responses required to properly undermine smuggling is better communication with potential migrants of the risks entailed.
Fourth, more refugees need to be offered the opportunity to resettle permanently in Europe. Of the almost 17 million refugees in the world today, around 100,000 each year are offered the opportunity to join programmes that take them from refugee camps to richer countries to settle there. And almost all of these places are offered by the US, Canada and Australia. Resettling more refugees in this way will never be at a scale sufficient to satisfy demand, but it’s certainly a way to demonstrate solidarity with the poorer parts of the world that continue to shoulder the burden of the refugee crisis.
Fifth, not all those seeking to come to Europe are fleeing for their lives; a good proportion is seeking work and opportunity. Increasing options for labour migration to Europe is one way to begin to address this demand, and would also help disentangle flows of labour migrants from those of refugees.
None of these proposals is straightforward; and none will have an immediate effect. But neither are they beyond the means of the EU – there are already pilot programmes and frameworks in place for all of these. Beyond the headline-grabbing quick responses, the most important step that today’s meeting can take is to make a genuine commitment to a long-term solution for Europe’s refugee crisis.
Author: Khalid Koser is Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Migration.
Image: Migrants stand on board of Italian Navy ship Chimera before to be disembarked in the southern harbour of Salerno April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca