Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Opinion

EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too

EU leaders are preparing for another summit (28-29 June) with a heavy migration agenda. Migrants, potential migrants and smugglers will be listening carefully. Have we anticipated their reactions?

There are some big ideas for change at the EU summit.

Read and decide

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  • A future protection system would cover fewer people arriving in Europe but provide more cover outside of Europe. (Photo: Henrik Berger Jorgensen)

Many citizens seem to have lost faith in existing frameworks on borders, asylum and migration.

EU leaders are scrambling to rearrange the furniture to make Europeans feel comfortable, with their efforts constrained by the walls of the Refugee Convention and the roof of the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, there are many outside the house of Europe looking in, listening intently for a clue about how decisions will impact their ambitions to reach Europe by invitation or irregular migration.

Some politicians get tired of migration and asylum policy, but it's a rare topic of EU politics that interests young men in Nigeria and refugees in Ethiopia.

For example, a Nigerian man trying to migrate irregularly to Europe told us: "My preferred destination is Sweden because it is one of the best countries that cares for and helps the migrants".

Similarly, an Ivorian in Libya explained: "I do realise very well that each country has its own policies regarding migration. This is why I chose the countries that don't have strict rules towards migrants".

What these people do in response to summit decisions will be just as important as what EU citizens think.

Non-citizens from Nigeria to Afghanistan get a binding vote on whatever the EU's internal debates submit to them. They will vote with their feet on whether to keep trying their luck when faced with a new system.

Politicians tend to spend a lot of money testing policy positions on citizens, but in migration and asylum cases, they need to devote the same attention to anticipating reactions from people beyond Europe.

If reforms focus too much on developing crisis response mechanisms, then it's likely the crisis will be permanent.

For example, there may be a lot of effort dedicated to rapid processing and repatriation of people arriving at the EU's borders. This is important to increase integrity of the asylum system. But the strains on countries like Greece in recent years are already beyond crisis levels.

Such surges are likely to occur again.

Beyond the surges, a future protection system for Europe would reduce the probability of permanent settlement for irregular arrivals and expand the attraction of third countries for people who have left home and may now plan a trip to Europe.

Wider than Wilders, smaller than Soros

A future protection system would calculate member states' fair share of contributions based on their effective support across this twin-track system.

Such a system requires a lot more attention to improving the impact of refugee-related aid in third countries, especially its impact on migrant and smuggler decisions.

The basis for an agreement is clear.

A future protection system would cover fewer people arriving in Europe but provide more cover outside of Europe.

It is more globally liberal than right-wing crusaders may like. But it is less stingy than refugee advocates may fear. It is a change in the balance of generosity, but not necessarily the total sum.

In other words, the new approach would be wider than Wilders, but smaller than Soros.

The tough challenge for EU leaders is that the system's nuances are extremely important.

Nuances become opportunities for smugglers and potential migrants to challenge the EU's broad policy ambition.

When there is strong demand for irregular travel, 'small' successes of a few hundred people arriving and settling in Europe become motivations that sustain a smuggling industry for tens of thousands.

As hard as they may try to stay at a high level of debate, the brutal logic of this industry will force EU leaders to keep tinkering with the details.

To make this work, they will need to pay more attention to anticipating how migrants and smugglers respond to specific policy and practical changes in the system.

Jacob Townsend is the CEO of Seefar, a social enterprise with a mission to improve the international protection system for displaced people.

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