19th Dec 2018

Mediterranean in 'perfect storm' on migration

  • IOM personnel inspect migrants rescued by Italian vessel (Photo:

The head of the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration has said the Mediterranean is facing “a perfect storm.”

Speaking to EUobserver on Tuesday (26 May), William Lacy Swing said the EU should be more open to people fleeing persecution and conflict.

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“Migration, whether it is regular or irregular, migration is not a problem to be solved. It is a human reality to be managed. By that we mean having in place policies that are humane, responsible, and dignified,” said the former US ambassador.

Swing, who earlier met with top officials from the EU foreign service and with MEPs in the civil liberties committee, said there is lack of leadership and political courage to address the humanitarian disaster.

He noted that the narrative on migration to Europe has become “toxic”, with some describing migrants as criminals or terrorists.

“Terrorists don’t take smuggler boats, they have other means to get in, probably in business class," he said.

He added that Europe needs immigration to address demographic change and noted that an unprecedented number of people, around one in seven worldwide, are currently on the move.

“There are currently no viable political processes or active negotiations that I am aware of that give us any hope of short to medium term solutions for any of this. And I hope and pray you will prove me wrong,” he said.

He backed the EU’s plan to resettle refugees and to relocate asylum seekers, but he warned against launching a military assault on smugglers.

“We have concerns about this. We think it is a risky approach to the issue,” he said.

Instead, he said the should EU come up with more legal avenues for economic migrants and asylum seekers to help stabilise its own neighbourhood.

He noted that Lebanon, which has fewer than 5 million people, is currently hosting around a million refugees.

“Water-poor Jordan has at least a million and we are worried about the 200,000 that came north last year into a population [EU] of 550 million,” he added.

Swing’s comments come ahead of a proposal by the European Commission on Wednesday (27 May) to relocate asylum seekers across member states.


The commission unveiled a broad strategy earlier this month, but is set to present a legal proposal on one of its details - the relocation scheme.

According to documents seen by Reuters, the relocation proposal “shall apply only to persons arriving on the territory of Italy and Greece as from the exact date of entry into force."

It will cover 24,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and 16,000 from Greece.

Both countries will need to step up efforts to properly fingerprint and process asylum seekers.

Once properly identified, the claimants would be distributed to other member states according to criteria like national GDP and unemployment rates.

The distribution plan has already generated a backlash, however.

The United Kingdom has said it won’t participate. France, Hungary, Poland, Spain, and the Baltic countries have also opposed receiving predetermined numbers of asylum seekers.

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