Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Opinion

Facing the EU's migrant crisis

  • "There should be an index ranking member states according to their ability to absorb migrants" (Photo: noborder network)

Almost every day, new reports emerge detailing the skyrocketing numbers of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. In the first three months of 2015, more than 31,500 people have made the crossing to Italy and Greece alone, with a death toll of over 1800.

Despite appeals from leaders worldwide for a solution to this humanitarian crisis, the European Union’s response has so far been woefully inadequate. While most EU member states have agreed that something needs to be done, when required to submit their own resources to help, those same states protest on the grounds that their particular migrant “burden” is already too large.

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  • EU leaders will meet Thursday (23 April) for an extraordinary summit to discuss the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

It is time for the European Union to take on the responsibility for solving the migration challenges it faces. Member states never want to concede additional powers to the EU, but in this case individual states have interests that are too diverse, too contradictory, and too tied up in domestic politics to address the problem effectively at the national level.

The EU already has a framework in place for processing asylum-seeking migrants, but it is ill-equipped to handle an influx of migrants like the one currently experienced by the member states bordering the Mediterranean. The Dublin Regulation stipulates that responsibility for incoming EU asylum-seekers be placed in the hands of the first “safe” country in which the migrant sets foot.

Unsurprisingly, this framework places a severe load on the countries at Europe’s southern border, as they are in the unfortunate geographic position of being the first country of arrival for the vast majority of incoming migrants.

If the Dublin Regulation holds, then most of landlocked Europe - the member states that are often much better-equipped to deal with an influx of migrants than Italy, Greece, and Spain- are completely off the hook for dealing with a problem with implications not limited to those states.

The EU desperately needs a new, comprehensive strategy for managing its migrant flows. First, instead of requiring the countries of first entry to bear full responsibility for incoming migrants, the EU should operate processing and reception centres in each EU member state along the bloc’s external borders.

Once a migrant reaches an EU territory, regardless of which member state that is, the EU should take over the handling of processing and registration to ensure that migrants are treated humanely and given equal consideration.

An EU-wide effort of this sort would also prevent individual countries from failing to register or process migrants, as Italy and Greece have been accused of doing in the past to circumvent the Dublin Regulation that requires them to accommodate all of the migrants that are first registered on their shores.

An index to rank member states

In order to solve the biggest flaw in the current EU framework, any new system also needs to address the distribution of migrants as well as their processing. An index which ranks member states according to their ability to absorb migrants, and applies a quota based on this ranking, would be a significant step forward.

An index of this type would ultimately allocate a maximum number of migrants that a member state could be obligated to accept each year, and would take into account not only the population of the receiving country, but other factors that would play into the member states’ ability to absorb and support asylum-seekers.

One component that has not been considered in previous proposals to distribute migrants across the EU, but which should be included in any real efforts at resettlement, is unemployment rate.

Member states with high unemployment will not only be unable to support a large influx of asylum-seekers, but the corresponding likelihood of anti-migrant sentiment in the native-born population will be high, making integration difficult. On the other hand, member states with robust economies and large populations should be able to absorb proportionately higher numbers of migrants without concern.

If the EU took on the responsibility for establishing and maintaining a system like the one detailed here, no individual member state would have a basis for claiming that they take on a greater burden of migrants than any other.

The handling of the Dublin Regulation across EU member states, along with the growing crisis in the Mediterranean, has showcased in a painful fashion that there is no perfect system. Without a new strategy for managing European migration, there is no doubt that the current situation will only continue to worsen.

Any policy changes will invariably have critics and detractors, but the migration crisis in the Mediterranean is a golden opportunity for the EU to create a better system for managing its increasingly-diverse population, and to have a real, positive impact on human lives.

Sarah Bedenbaugh is assistant director of Transatlantic Relations at the Washington-based Atlantic Council

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