Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Opinion

Migrant crisis is just beginning

  • "Small wonder Germany supports any policy that will divert migrants away from its borders" (Photo: Bundesregierung)

Mandatory quotas have become the main issue in the European debate on the immigration crisis.

In proposing them, the European Commission has sparked a political debate and made even those states which previously acted as if the crisis didn’t concern them rack their brains for a solution.

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The commission initiative also brought into the foreground one particular aspect of the crisis: xenophobia.

This ignores the fact that immigration can have very positive effects for society and the economy if it is well managed and the right integration policies are adopted.

People had warned the European Commission that mandatory quotas will increase public support for xenophpobic populism and euroscepticism.

Why, then, is Germany, and some other EU countries, still calling for the relocation of asylum seekers?

Last year, 170,000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East arrived by sea to Italy. However, only 64,625 of them applied for asylum.

We can assume that about 100,000 of them used Italy as a transit country to apply for a protection in a different state, many of them in Germany.

This explains why Germany registered more than 200,000 applications, even though, with regard to Schengen external borders, it is an inland country.

This year, Germany expects more than 400,000 asylum applications.

Small wonder that it is pressing Greece and Italy to strictly apply EU asylum rules which oblige them, as points of entry, to process all asylum claims.

Small wonder that it wants the EU to move toward a quota system that will, it hopes, redirect Germany-bound claimants.

It’s natural for countries like Germany or Italy to push for swift action.

Heart of the matter

But this shouldn’t steal attention from the heart of the matter: the crisis comes from the zone of instability and chaos in Europe’s conflict-troubled neighbourhood and it has only just begun.

Expert analysis projects that the situation in Africa and the Middle East isn’t going to get better.

It’s a region which is facing demographic pressure, poverty, competition for natural resources, the rise of sectarianism, and the growth of terrorist organisations under the flag or on the model of Islamic State.

In the next 35 years, the population of Africa is going to double to 2.4 billion people.

Already today, more than 25 million refugees are on the move on the fringes of Europe. Not all of them want to settle in the EU, but many do.

This means that not hundreds of thousands, but perhaps over a million of migrants will be heading to Europe every year. The current EU asylum system is not prepared and the quota mechanism will not help.

EU leaders must have an honest discussion on how many migrants their societies are able or willing to accept. But they must also try to improve the situation abroad.

Foreign policy

This is why we have to concentrate our foreign, development, and humanitarian policies, as well as the appropriate financial resources, on these regions.

The European solution has to include making every diplomatic and, if necessary, military effort to co-operate with north African countries to establish safe zones, where people fleeing violence and famine from other parts of the region would find shelter.

These are places where the hundreds of thousands of people who will fail to meet the requirements for EU protection could safely return to.

Last year, 55 percent of asylum seekers did not qualify for any form of protection in the EU and should have been returned to their home countries. However, only 40 percent of return decisions were implemented.

In order to be able to grant protection to those most in need, as well as to restore the confidence of the European public, we have to strictly follow the existing rules, which includes return and readmission.

This will only be possible if EU-funded safe zones in our neighbourhood are created. This will require substantial financial and political investment.

Radko Hokovsky is director of European Values, a Czech think-tank. Jakub Janda is deputy director

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