Over 1,100 people died off the coast of Lampedusa during the night of 19-20 April 2015, which brings the number of migrant deaths to 1,800 since the beginning of the year. This tragic record adds to the recurrent disasters related to current events in the Euro-Mediterranean region: 220,000 people risked their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in 2014 and in 6 months, in 2015, 54,000 migrants have reached Italy, 48,000 Greece, 920 Spain and 91 Malta. One point has to be made over this persistent human tragedy: the European Union is not radically changing its approach to the issue of migration and stubbornly sticks to repression, whereas there are other alternatives, writes Catherine Wihtol de Wenden
The principle of solidarity is being eroded faced with the reality, with Member States being reluctant to share the burden of receiving migrants, which is mainly borne by Italy and Greece. They are paralyzed by a public opinion attracted by extreme rights with xenophobic tendencies and are hidebound by sovereignist and anti-immigration principles. Their reactions to the Commission’s proposal for a system of quotas for asylum seekers per country is an excellent example of the short-termism of policies which only aim to address the issue of migration in emergencies.
Immigration: A question of internal security?
Up until the 1990s, in Europe the issue of migration was intimately linked to that of labor market needs. Family reunification, for its part, was accepted. Refugees were treated separately and did not mobilize public opinion. The latter did, however, show solidarity towards victims of civil wars, for example, the Vietnamese or Chileans.
Since the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, immigration and asylum policies have come under the European Union’s “Security and Home Affairs” pillar. It is therefore a question of security addressed as the other competences of this pillar: the fight against crime, repression and typical means of control of defense organizations. The respect for fundamental rights has been relegated to second place and the Europe of internal security has become that of insecurity for entrants without visas. Despite this, Europe has become the world’s first destination for North-South migratory flows.
Why these flows?
The general application of passports in most countries in the world since 1989 has liberalized the right to leave countries, while the volumes of revenues from remittances (USD 400bn in 2013) have led many countries of departure to accept the reality of migration, which has partly accentuated the growth in economic migrations. However, the rights of entry have been made stricter and there is talk of the “Fortress Europe” for those who do not manage to obtain a visa.
In the South, crossing the Mediterranean has become a dream to be achieved, which is not unrelated to access to new technologies, youth unemployment, their desire to change their lives and the absence of hope in the countries of origin, which are poorly managed and corrupt.
Crises and conflicts (Arab revolutions, Horn of Africa, Syria, Iraq), particularly in countries close to Europe and with which it has historical ties, exacerbate migration dynamics which are already strong. In addition to those who leave to look for work, there are consequently also asylum seekers. Germany received 240,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and France 61,000. Among the countries most in demand, Sweden and the UK are not far behind them.
As legal entry is only open to the affluent, the traffic of illegal crossings is thriving: pateras, zodiacs, old cargo vessels and recycled trawlers crisscross the Mediterranean at the risk of passengers, who are often abandoned by their smugglers. The costs of crossing are extremely high. They are often paid by the savings of the harraga’s family, which are invested in this trip. This leaves the violators of borders no other choice than to succeed and explains why they are not willing to give up their race to reach Europe.
This post was first published on the Ideas for Development blog.
Catherine Wihtol de Wenden is the CNRS Research Director at CERI.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.