Irish Times view on reforming EU migration policy
Fresh opportunity to develop a more humane and rational approach as new European Commission takes office
Migration figures across the Mediterranean from North Africa and the Middle East to European Union member-states like Greece, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Spain are down over the last three years. But those trying to make that perilous journey are dying in much greater numbers proportionately than before. And those who want to make it are held in bleak and dangerous EU-funded transition camps in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco to which many have been returned by coastguards after having tried. Meanwhile the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon strain public resources, despite EU funding, since they make up far greater proportions of the local populations than in Germany, where one million of them found refuge.
The figures tell the story of a determined EU effort to stem the migration flow since the Syrian refugee crisis of 2015 by outsourcing or externalising policy. Responding to hostile public opinion, rescue operations for victims at sea were abandoned, deals were struck with these neighbouring states to process, return or house migrants and unsuccessful efforts were made to distribute those who did make the journey within the EU fairly. While the reduced number arriving in the EU has defused political tension it has been at the cost of dishonourable agreements, hypocritical norms and practices and a failure to tackle the underlying forces driving migration effectively.
There is a pressing need to review these policies and an opportunity to develop more humane and rational ones as a new European Commission takes office with a fresh mandate for the next five years. Reforms should concentrate on creating a more sustainable, reliable and permanent approach to search and rescue facilities in the Mediterranean based on EU resources and subject to international law and norms. A more comprehensive agreement with neighbouring states is needed on joint disembarkation, processing and relocation procedures. And a much more committed and determined effort can be made to challenge myths and fears about migration and making a positive case for it to aging European societies.