September 1, 2015
By Ernst Stetter, FEPS Secretary General and Judit Tanczos, FEPS Policy Advisor
“Nobody in Brussels could have been surprised by the 2015 tragedies.” – states the FEPS policy brief European Migration Agenda: Quo Vadis? Indeed they followed the equally terrible catastrophes of 2013 and 2014, which pushed migration to the top of the political agenda – for a while. Then, as the weather got worse, the number of migrants fell, and the sense of urgency to find a long-term solution to the situation declined.
Yet there was every sign that the asylum situation would escalate. Conflicts such as those in the Middle East and Africa, particularly in Syria, steadily escalated, without any prospect of a solution. No answer was found to the severe asylum crisis in Greece, especially on the Greek islands such as Kos, Samos and Lesbos. Given the country’s alarming economic and social situation, asylum was not considered a priority. Alongside to the increasing numbers of boat people arriving in Italy and Malta, there has been a shift in mainland routes as well, turning migration from a non-issue into a highly visible and much abused one, provoking political hysteria in Hungary.
Thousands of people are left in inhumane conditions, yet there are several options to ease the situation. Some were proposed years ago, and include humanitarian visas for a safer journey, resettlement, and a relocation scheme governed by a quota system based on population, GDP, the number of spontaneous asylum applications and unemployment rates. FEPS has also put forward several recommendations since 2013, starting with its article Why not triple? Three pledges towards a progressive migration policy, and then continuing with the fourth edition of the Call to Europe conference “Building solidarity in asylum policy” and its follow-up document, the FEPS 12 proposals “Towards a solidarity based European asylum policy”.
The proposal for a temporary European mandatory quota system was rejected, however, after which the accepted voluntary relocation mechanism failed, in face of the resistance of the majority of member states. This scheme aimed to relocate 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, which does not even amount to 0.01% of the EU’s total population of 507 million. The figures are alarming: according to Frontex, in July 2015 a record number of 107,500 migrants crossed the EU, with the highest number recorded (50.000) in the Aegean Sea. Instead of finding a common European solution, emotional language again prevailed. Many examples can be cited. Rather than welcoming a mere 1,000 refugees, Hungary opted for a nationalist stance and spent hundreds of thousands of euros on an iron fence. A fence that can only divert the migration routes, creating a detour of few hundred metres into Romania before finally reaching Hungary. The incidents in Calais, which have taken the lives of several migrants already, show the results of this fortress approach and of the lack of solidarity between member states, where the issue is simply pushed, egotistically, a few kilometres away. The current European asylum system also pushes asylum seekers towards illegal border crossings, criminalising them and throwing them into the hands of traffickers. The truck found in Austria with more than 70 suffocated asylum seekers is just one of the many examples of the dangers and fatality of this approach. A shocking debate emerged around the Slovak government’s insistence on taking only Christian refugees. With such an approach, how is Europe to protect human rights for all and give asylum for everyone in need? It casts doubt on the EU’s founding values.
The discussion has moved away from migration policy and the stakes have become higher. Human rights, democracy and the EU’s global role in international protection are being questioned, with potentially dangerous consequences. In the meantime, the conflicts are not about to end and migrants continue their perilous journey.
Author : Ernst Stetter