EU seeking 'quick answer' to 'wrong question' in migration debate

Nicolas Beger outlines three key measures for a 'fundamental shift' in EU migration policy.

By Nicolas Beger

13 Jun 2014

As I write, the sun is shining, grey clouds are lifting, faces are smiling, and thoughts are turning to the holiday season. Some will book exotic trips. Others will stay closer to home, bathing in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

But for many, the Mediterranean is far from the picture postcard experience some enjoy over summer. Instead, this period marks a peak for perilous sea crossings by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from North Africa to the European Union.

With the arrival of the summer 'boat season', the Mediterranean risks once again becoming a graveyard for those fleeing conflict and poverty, hoping to protect their families abroad, when all options have been exhausted at home.

"Human mobility is not new, especially for those in dire situations. Nor sadly is the loss of life in the Mediterranean"

Human mobility is not new, especially for those in dire situations. Nor sadly is the loss of life in the Mediterranean. Yet EU governments are repeatedly failing to protect the rights and lives of those most vulnerable at its shores.

Despite promises of action from EU leaders, who last October stood in solidarity and sadness after more than 500 people died off Lampedusa, there are few signs that this summer will be any different.

As mythical images of migrant invasions dominate public and political discourse, and xenophobic rhetoric seeps into governments' migration policies, Europe is raising its fences in an attempt to prevent migrants from arriving.

Between 2007 and 2013, the EU spent €1.8bn on its external borders fund, with individual countries collectively spending more. Dangerous interception operations by coastal patrols and the illegal practice of push-backs are also carried out in some member states.

But despite the money, barbed-wire, and walls, the number of people embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe is growing.

Since the beginning of 2013, 50,000 people have risked their lives trying to reach Italy from North Africa. Over 13,000 people have embarked on dangerous journeys to Greece, and over 2000 have crossed from Morocco to Melilla, Spain.

"Frontex's recent risk analysis report highlighted a rise in irregular boat crossings, with men, women and children fleeing mainly war-torn Syria"

These numbers surpass 2013 totals. Frontex's recent risk analysis report highlighted a rise in irregular boat crossings, with men, women and children fleeing mainly war-torn Syria.

Expensive and preventative migration measures have done little to deter desperate people seeking safety and refuge. And the EU is essentially seeking a quick answer to the wrong question, asking how to stop the inevitable.

Leaders urgently need to ask and respond to how people can reach Europe safely and legally before further tragedies occur at their shores - desperate people will always find a way to circumvent the system, even risking their own lives.

Before EU leaders take summer leave, they have an opportunity to make things right.

At the June EU summit, leaders will agree the strategic direction for future migration and asylum work. Here they can turn their October words into action, ensuring the necessary protective rather than preventative measures.

Measures should include, firstly, increased resettlement places for refugees and ensure other safe routes so people avoid embarking on unseaworthy vessels in the first place.

EU countries should, secondly, share responsibility for search and rescue capacity to prevent further loss of life at sea - countries such as Italy can't carry this alone.

And thirdly, EU leaders must stop outsourcing migration control to countries with deplorable human rights records.

The new European parliament, the new commission, and member state governments must collectively work to protect both rights and lives at Europe's shores. Without a fundamental shift in Europe's migration policy, the coming months won't be remembered as the summer season - but rather the drowning season for those simply seeking sanctuary and a better life.

Read the most recent articles written by Nicolas Beger - EU has 'unique' opportunity to return to founding principles

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