Friday, February 24, 2017

Decreasing numbers of arriving migrants are good news for Europe. Or are they?

Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed, Wikipedia Commons.
The news that migration flows to Europe have been receding has made many Europeans sigh with relief. Although the total number of applications submitted fell by 9% in 2016 as compared to 2015, since September the numbers have been on an even more promising steady decrease. The number of first time asylum applications in the third quarter of 2016 decreased by 15% compared with the same quarter of 2015. Frontex reports that total number of arrivals to the Greek islands felt by two-thirds in 2016.

Good news!

But I am worried. The night before the storm is always deceptively calm.

The good news is that receding flows give us breathing space and time to patch up the failing migration system without public hysteria. The EU has won time to mend at least some of its internal disagreements.
Countries also got a breathing space to calm the public with convincing measures addressing migration flows before elections in Germany, France, the Netherlands. Nationalist, far right, populist parties, and domestic extremists have it harder now to exploit the anti-migration sentiment. Those Europeans fearing the loss of cultural identity, jobs, and security can sleep better.

The bad news is that we haven’t properly used this time to upgrade our fair-weather migration system and become better prepared to face migration flows in the future.
Let’s give the EU the credit it deserves: some important measures have been implemented. The upgrades in competencies, budgets, and personnel of FRONTEX, the European Border and Coast Guard, have resulted in quicker processing of arrivals and better organized returns of those denied the right to stay. The Turkey deal has helped to decrease the flows to Greece. The EU has been working on setting up similar deals with other countries, giving money and other assistance to improve the conditions of people in the troublesome areas.

But I am worried as I know that this is not enough.
I am worried because I know that the measures taken are easy to sell under the brand of addressing the root causes. But these root causes are not easy to address. The conflict in Syria, the turmoil across the whole Middle East, military and political strife and extreme poverty in Africa will not miraculously transform into stability overnight.
Even with immense amounts of funds and political dedication, it will take many years to alleviate these problems. And neither our funds nor dedication to solve them are immense.
We made some steps towards securing borders and managing migration externally. But we have not advanced much in terms of adapting our internal European migration system to the changing reality of the world.

The soothing numbers and the “addressing the root causes” mantra allow us to pretend that we can stop people from migrating. We can’t. It is in our own interest to admit it and decide what we do with those who have to move. We haven’t diligently worked on our capacity to accommodate, integrate, generate jobs, and give migrants opportunity to contribute to the society. We have not figured out how to cooperate effectively across the Union to share valuable intelligence information to increase security.
The Commission proposed the upgrade of the asylum system, but it will take years to negotiate it. I am not sure Europe has the luxury to negotiate for years. Another crisis might be around the corner. Arrivals to Italy are the highest ever recorded, with most people coming from West Africa. Warmer weather might bring another spike followed by a spout of public hysteria. And then all good that’s been done and all the progress that’s been achieved is reverted with nationalist populist parties coming to power across Europe.
I am worried because I know that President Trump has just signed disturbing orders banning not only refugees but also many Muslims from entering the US and making them feel even more desperate and unfairly accused of all the misfortunes of the world.

We are protecting borders and keeping people out to increase our safety. We might be doing the opposite.

I can imagine ISIL fanatics sit back and relax. Fewer desperate people coming to Europe and the US? More desperate people to recruit for ISIL! The blamed, hated, desolate people from war-torn and extremely poor regions might have no other options than live on the ISIL control territories or join ISIL out of desperation.

Pro-migration minded people have been labelled idealists. But I am a very pragmatic person. I just find this idealism convincing.
It is pragmatic to set up a workable system to manage migration flows. It is delusional to pretend that we can wall off everyone. It is pragmatic to help the most desperate and vulnerable. It is delusional to think that you are fighting terrorism by banning Muslims and depriving desperate people of a place to go.
It is pragmatic to want guarantees that one’s life, identity, and income is safe. It is delusional to believe that populists and extreme nationalist governments intend to or know how to give you all that.

Alena Kudzko
Deputy Research Director
GLOBSEC Policy Institute

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