Tuesday

16th Jan 2018

Opinion

Europe's new migrant policy comes at a moral price

  • Brussels' solutions to the migration crisis - such as more money for holding camps - may cut the headline numbers, but thousands are still drowning. (Photo: Frontex)

The European Union has sought to absolve itself of addressing what many of its leaders have described as the "migrant crisis" with a quick-and-easy-fix that will have—and already has had—severe consequences.

Its new containment policy deflects its own legal obligation to migrants onto the gatekeepers of popular migration routes like Libya, which is already struggling from a myriad of its own issues.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

On top of the rise of ISIS and other radical extremist groups, divisions between two warring governments and a crumbling economy, not to mention its own internally-displaced people, Libya has now been tasked with upping efforts to prevent migrants from reaching Europe by sea, as well as hosting them while they undergo preliminary review for asylum.

Last month, European leaders met with African leaders at a mini-summit in Paris to discuss incorporating more countries with major migrant travel routes into its containment policy. Like Libya, the EU is now providing Niger and Chad with funding to host migrants in camps and asylum centers, in addition to more funding for border controls.

Unsurprisingly, the bloc's attempts to expand its new approach towards migrants have been met with criticism by human rights groups, who argue that it would unfairly burden Niger and Chad while doing nothing to address the underlying causes of migration. Most importantly, while Europe's containment policy may have curbed the number of migrants crossing over its borders in the short-term, it comes at expense of weak states – and the lives of migrants.

Dozens of migrants are feared dead after another overloaded boat capsized last week off the shores of Libya en route to Europe. Although the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean between January 1st to September 13th this year has dramatically declined (to 128,863 from 293,806 during the same period in 2016), some experts say that the proportion of those dying at sea has risen.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), if this trend continues, one out of every 50 migrants who try to make the journey will die. Last year that rate was one out of every 90 migrants.

The Mediterranean graveyard

Already, more than 2,550 refugees and migrants have died while making the dangerous crossing to Europe. This is largely the result of greater restrictions on international aid organizations operating in the Mediterranean, which means less search-and-rescue missions for capsized boats. Similarly, Italy's injection of funding into Libya's coast guards has pushed smugglers to take more dangerous routes with smaller, even more overcrowded boats.

Instead of focusing on a containment approach to the "migrant crisis," Europe must prioritise the development needs of the countries that these migrants feel compelled to leave as a strategy to curb the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, rather than leaving them stranded in countries like Libya—or worse, at sea.

Of course, one plan of action is already underway thanks to the efforts of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Inspired by the US Marshall Plan that helped rebuild the European economy after World War II through foreign investment, Merkel announced earlier this year a similar plan to help stimulate the African economy. The plan's backers argue that boosting aid and promoting private investment in Africa will help give aspiring migrants a reason to stay home. While the 'Merkel Plan' is a commendable start, simply pumping in money without finding ways to combat deeper issues won't be enough to truly make an impact.

A viable tactic Europe should pursue in addition to the 'Merkel Plan' would be reforming the global remittances market. In Africa, total revenues from remittances are higher than from foreign investment and aid.

One report claims that a 10 per cent increase in per capita remittances leads to a 3.5 percent decline in the number of people living in poverty. This is because for millions of Africans, remittances are a much-needed lifeline.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for reducing the cost of sending remittances to 3 percent, or 5 percent where there is no corridor.

Remittances come at a price

However, dominant money transfer operators like Western Union and MoneyGram charge high fees for migrants to send money back home to their families, and have exclusive agreements with local agents that drive the fees even higher.

This year, the average cost of sending remittances is 7.45 percent, far higher than the SDG target, and fees are highest of all in sub-saharan Africa. European leaders should pressure these firms to reduce fees and end anticompetitive agreements, which will maximise the impact that remittances have on developing countries. By injecting a larger proportion of migrants' hard-earned money into local economies, the EU could help improve economic conditions in host countries and drive down the pressure to migrate.

To be fair, both of these strategies are long-term, and it may take years before their impacts are felt. However, walling off Europe and deflecting its responsibility to countries like Libya is only a short-term, politically motivated strategy that will only end by endangering the lives of migrants.

Europe needs to understand that Libya does not have the capacity to humanely detain migrants as they await preliminary review for amnesty. It also needs to recognise that restricting international aid vessels from conducting search-and-rescue missions is immoral, even if it does limit the number of migrants reaching European shores. For a short-term strategy, Europe should shift from a strategy focused on turning Libya and other countries into holding zones to instead opening legal avenues for migration and helping to improve economic conditions in these countries.

Otherwise, migrants will only continue to find ways to cross the Mediterranean, even if it means in rickety boats, and even if it means a greater chance of drowning.

Dina Yazdani is a reporter for Fair Observer

Afghan migrant returns unlawful, says charity

Thousands of people are being returned from Europe to Afghanistan as the country undergoes some of its worst violence in years. Amnesty International is accusing the EU of "willful blindness" for backing the returns.

EU to step up migrant returns

After Juncker's state of the union speech, the EU Commission is set to propose many new measures on migration before the end of the year, with an emphasis on returns, legal routes, and "solidarity" with African states.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  2. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  3. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  4. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  6. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  7. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  8. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  9. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  10. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  11. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  12. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology

Latest News

  1. Post-Brexit trade roll-over not automatic, EU paper says
  2. Oettinger pushes plastic tax but colleagues express doubts
  3. MEPs target exports of cyber surveillance tech
  4. Kosovo killing halts EU talks in Brussels
  5. ECB withheld information on 'flawed' bank supervision
  6. Fewer MEPs than visitors turn up for Estonian PM
  7. EU names China and Russia as top hackers
  8. Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  2. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  4. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  6. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  7. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  8. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  9. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  10. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  11. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  2. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  3. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  4. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  5. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  7. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  8. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  9. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaPresident Sargsyan Joined EuFoA Honorary Council Inaugural Meeting
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics