EU needs greater input from refugee groups
Last year was another prolific one in the field of European migration and refugee affairs, both in terms of the levels of flows (and in particular the rising numbers of deaths at sea) and the launch of several new EU policy initiatives.
However, despite their often innovative nature, many of these initiatives, in particular the EU-Turkey migration agreement and the externalisation of the EU’s border control strategy through the negotiation of Migration Partnerships with a range of largely undemocratic countries of origin and transit, have attracted severe criticism from a number of migration policy experts and NGOs.
This is in addition to the continuing failure of the EU Relocation Plan and the suspension by a number of member states of some of their key legal obligations in the field of EU migration policy, not least the implementation of the Dublin and Schengen rules.
Why have most recent EU policy decisions in the field of migration met with such mixed reactions among experts and public opinion?
One question that has rarely been addressed is whether the current EU decision-making processes have sufficiently involved all the key players. In particular, the effects of the very limited involvement of refugee organisations and local authorities and the extent to which their full engagement could build greater consensus on the future directions of EU migration policy, have largely been overlooked to date.
This is despite the fact that a number of refugee organisations in Europe are already contributing to the reception and integration effort in most member states, albeit on a mostly ad hoc and largely uncoordinated basis. What is more, they have first-hand knowledge of, and practical insights into, a number of areas covered by EU policy initiatives.
Similarly, local and regional authorities are clearly at the forefront of reception and integration policies in such critical areas as housing, education and employment for recognised migrants and refugees.
The need for new mechanisms to involve refugees and local authorities in some of the EU policy decision-making processes on migration and asylum policy has therefore become more pressing than ever.
One such mechanism, which would need to be duly laid out and refined, would consist of establishing, in each member state, a task force bringing together representatives from local authorities, refugee organisations and relevant humanitarian NGOs and international organisations (UNHCR and IOM).
The task forces would provide advice on the design of new EU policy initiatives, and give feedback on ongoing policies and programmes. They would meet regularly at the EU level in order to agree EU-wide policy positions and proposals, and would advise in such areas as:
- The types of programmes, specific geographic areas and implementing entities that would benefit the most from new EU aid interventions in the refugees’ countries of origin (particularly under the recently adopted Migration Partnership Framework).
- The selection of EU-funded projects in the member states, particularly under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) which was allocated €3.1 billion for the period 2014-20.
- Practical insights into the constantly evolving modus operandi of smugglers in key countries of origin and transit.
- Ways to facilitate the resettlement of new refugees, including on the basis of their employability and therefore on the basis of practical insights from local authorities and employers, taking account of the fact that over 80 percent of first-time asylum applicants in Europe are under the age of 35.
- Advice on/contribution to media reporting on the ongoing EU refugee crisis, particularly in terms of fact-checking and terminology.
The establishment of the national task forces and of such a systematic consultative mechanism would not require any EU legal amendment or entail any significant financial cost. However, it would no doubt contribute to extending the range of qualified and legitimate voices that could aptly input into the design of future EU migration policy initiatives and therefore could reduce potentially the current level of dissension in this critical policy area.
Solon Ardittis is managing director of Eurasylum and a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). He is also co-editor of ‘Migration Policy Practice’, a bimonthly journal published jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).