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Europe must take control of the migration crisis

Submitted by on 30 Mar 2016 – 12:43

Will 2016 be a better year for migrants? It will be, if we take urgent action to stop Europe from falling apart. Demetrios G. Papademetriou, Founder and President, Migration Policy Institute Europe, offers a five-point-cluster which when acted upon in an integrated manner will bring us back to normality

Demetrios G. PapademetriouTwenty fifteen was a year in which both the European institutions and EU member states proved decidedly unequal to two of the biggest tests Europe faced — the border and migration crisis, and the asylum crisis. That failure has set the stage for a massive challenge that must be addressed in 2016. If not, the damage to the very idea of Europe will be difficult to contain, let alone repair. Here is a roadmap that holds the key to a better 2016 for Europe. It requires coordinated action on five policy clusters if the policy whole is to be much larger than the sum of its parts. There is evidence that Europe, pushed by Germany and probably without the consensus that it craves, is moving toward the goals outlined below.

Restoring Europe’s mediterranean borders
Europe’s Central and Eastern Mediterranean borders have been disappearing for a while now. In fact, the Mediterranean search-and-rescue operations, however legally required and morally responsible, have amounted to a unilateral suspension of borders by bringing those rescued to Europe and virtually allowing all of them to stay almost indefinitely. Europe must thus make border controls both a first priority, as Council President Turk has insisted, and a truly collective responsibility. That means, inter alia, Europe must provide all funds necessary for controlling the Union’s external borders and care for, vet claims, and relocate those who merit asylum to the rest of Europe, and increasingly to other safe countries. It must acknowledge that policies of individual member states, by fueling additional flows and/or taking stark, ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ initiatives, make solutions more difficult.

Many of these ideas are now on the agenda, but implementation is where Europe fails consistently. One is thus forced to ask the hardest of questions: Does Europe fully understand that if it cannot solve the border/migration/asylum challenge, its other accomplishments will be deeply imperiled? If it does, re-instituting border controls, vetting (not just registering) entrants at the point of entry, detaining and removing, quickly, systematically and without undue process or elaborate ‘reintegration’ assistance (which can be used to attempt to re-enter Europe), those who are not bona fide refugees are all elements of what is needed to regain control.

Stopping deteriorating conditions in Syria
Syrians make up the largest group of entrants. Virtually all of them are likely to receive some form of protection. Addressing the Syria issue is thus absolutely essential. After Assad was allowed to turn parts of Syria into killing fields (lately with active Russian engagement), there now seems to be an opening for a possible deal whose outlines are becoming clearer but whose outcome remains uncertain. It all starts with stopping the deterioration of conditions in Syria and gradually reversing them so that hope can begin to return and, with it, the exodus can slow and returns can become a reality. Progress on this will require a global response.

Turkey at the controls
Even if the first two policy clusters are pursued with extreme diligence, they will not be nearly enough to diminish dramatically the spontaneous flows through the Greek islands without the fullest cooperation of the one country that holds the key to managing the crisis: Turkey. Only Turkey can change the calculus that now leads migrants to get to Europe regardless of cost and by any means, by creating hope and opportunity for the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees spread throughout Turkey.

To begin to turn things around, three things are paramount: educating Syrian children (two-thirds of whom, well over 400,000 —are not in school, virtually guaranteeing that they will be a ‘lost generation’) regardless of the outcome of the crisis; offering adults the opportunity to work legally; and assisting them with starting their own businesses. In order to avoid inevitable frictions, the same assistance must be offered to the host population, and Jordan and Lebanon must be included in this effort. This will require massive resources; but it will also create powerful virtuous cycles for the local economies that can benefit everyone.

Turkey must do more difficult things
Defeat the criminal networks and smugglers that move would-be ISIS fighters and arms to Syria, as well as waves of migrants to Europe, with complete impunity. No doubt, smugglers will not disappear. They will move underground and charge more. However, another outcome is equally certain: the numbers that can be moved will only be a fraction of the 2015 total.

All this will require large sums of money—making the 3 billion euros Europe has promised a mere downpayment. Turkey is already asking for 6 billion euros and is likely to get it because investing ‘over there’ can translate into a return to order and social peace in Europe while meeting humanitarian obligations; because it is much more cost efficient to take care of Syrians in countries of first asylum versus doing so in Europe; and because doing so dramatically increases the probability for Syrians to return to their country and begin its reconstruction.

Large-scale resettlement
A commitment to large-scale resettlement will give Europe the spine and moral high ground to do the things the first three policy clusters require for success. It also addresses the security and related concerns that have enormously gained in importance by vetting would-be refugees through well-developed and constantly updated security protocols, returning order to migration and protection systems, creating opportunities for first-world employers to develop specialised training programs so refugees can hit the ground running when resettled or upon their return to Syria, and generally give Europe the breathing space to do things more smartly than it has to date.

Only if analogous progress is made in the four clusters above will the relentless flows shrink markedly. However, it is the fifth cluster —integration — that will determine whether Europe avoids a scenario where the handful of member states that absorb virtually all newcomers struggle with long-term burdens of dependency, un-and underemployment, social marginalisation and even exclusion — as well as a culture of self-isolation — that create the conditions for anomie and worse. The successful integration of such large numbers, however, requires a fundamental rethinking of how to deliver large-scale programs and will necessitate a deep adaptation of labour market, educational, and civic engagement institutions.

None of this will be easy. Furthermore, it will be extremely expensive in terms of the political and financial capital, patience, and the required expenses that will most likely be borne as unequally as the effects of the migration crisis have been. We have spent a year watching the alternatives unfold. Heart-wrenching deaths and human suffering; the disappearance of solidarity in responding to the crisis; the erosion of the rule of law all along the migration arc; the rise of political opportunism in the form of growing support for populist parties, right and left; deepening divisions between citizens willing to open their hearts, wallets, and even homes to newcomers and those who have withdrawn their initial welcome as the social and economic costs became clearer; and perhaps most significantly, the ascendancy of fear and the massive loss of confidence and trust toward government and the political elites that seemed to have no strategy other than ‘taking them all in’ or ‘keeping them all out.’ It is now time to pull together, even if the burdens are shared unequally.

Demetrios G. Papademetriou is founder and President of Migration Policy Institute Europe, a nonprofit, independent research institute that aims to provide a better understanding of migration in Europe and thus promote effective policymaking.