EU has witnessed an increasing inflow of migrants in the previous two decades. Period ranging from 2015 and 2016, as a matter of fact, has seen an influx of migrants and refugees crossing 1 million marks as per EU commission factsheets (UNHCR news, UN Refugee Agency). The primary cause for this migration crisis relies heavily on the political breakdown in countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq resulting in the forcible displacement of people in the Middle East further exacerbating the crisis. Other factors including demographics, climate change, conflicts and also, economic push leading people to shift from one geographical location to another.
Globalization has acted as a catalyst in speeding up the immigration phenomenon in Europe. As globalisation integrates various National economies, it has led to an increase in ways of migration networks. These networks have grown to facilitate people to relocate for seeking asylums, reunite with family and in the process also spreading illegal migrants across Europe as well.
The significant challenges in European migration observed in the past decade links demographic patterns with migration and labour market. The labour market needs reflect more demand for skilled migrant workers compared to their unskilled counterparts. The concern of integration poses another challenge in European migration. With governing rules and regulations of the labour market, the state becomes an essential actor in drafting legislation and policies to combat concerns of intolerance, racism and xenophobia. Vulnerable groups such as refugees and immigrant women and immigrants with low education face serious integration problems. Female asylum seekers have to face difficulties concerning insensitive staff handling asylum and inadequate implementation of formulated guidelines concerned to their needs. Trafficking of women for sexual purposes is also rampant that requires to be addressed better.
Therefore, the need for a common EU policy on migration and asylum has become the need of the hour. With a stark difference of opinion among members of EU and the question of equal responsibility sharing in absorbing migrants has been a point of contention between the member states.
EU POLICY ON MIGRATION
With the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean and millions crossing the sea, the situation is highly unstable. The core principle that lies at the centre of EU migration policy is managing legal migration and at the same time combating illegal migration. The European Commission proposed measures which could help in coping with the immigration crisis. The future policy plan was to be devised in a way that it could manage the inflow of immigrants into the EU, at the same time also respect the spirit of fundamental rights. As per the European Commission guidelines, the border management was to be carried by saving the lives of those crossing the borders fleeing from persecution, economic crises, while also securing the external borders. Framing a comprehensive and robust policy on asylum seekers for ensuring better access to migrants and be informed about the asylum policy and procedures. Establishing new policies on irregular immigration and better focus on the integration of migrants is what EU looked forward to bringing the crisis under a proper management system.
IMPORTANCE OF LISBON TREATY
The Lisbon Treaty, signed by 27 member states served as an international agreement to update regulations of EU and streamlining the process for enacting new policies. It was adopted in 2007 which came to force two years later in 2009. It amends two existing treaties, the Treaty of Rome, facilitating one single market for goods and the other, the Maastricht Treaty, for establishing pillars of EU.
The Lisbon Treaty went one step further to expand roles and bring out legal procedures. Moreover, creating a system that was now uniform. This meant that there would be a uniform status of asylum, subsidiary protection, temporary protection. Earlier emphasis was laid on minimum standards to a common asylum which was getting replaced with a more comprehensive and uniform system. Additionally, it involved proper mechanisms for determining which member state is responsible for considering an application. This Treaty to an extent forges partnership and cooperation with third world nations (Lisbon treaty, Article 21).
Although this treaty is praised for maintaining checks and balances, it is criticised for unbalanced power concentration in few hands, ignoring the needs of smaller nations. An argument based on the weight of voting among member states that increased the chances of passing legislation, at the same time making it difficult for countries with a smaller population to block it. Moreover, the policy was designed in the manner to be dominated by the majority rather than unanimity.
With the enforcement of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament has been actively involved in the adoption of new legislation on immigrants( Resolution of 12th April 2016). The Stockholm Programme, adopted by European Council on 10 December 2009 reaffirmed the objective of solidarity based on common asylum procedures and the uniform status for those granted international protection.
By taking account of migrant remittances, their reunification with family, accessing information regarding their rights in the host country, this has created a more comprehensive approach concerning migration(International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families, 1990). Despite initiatives at the International level, concerning International Convention on Migrants, including both documented and undocumented migrants and Conferences like joint initiatives by European Commission and OECD(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), discussions are not materialising on the ground. Due to different ideologies, opinions and lack of cooperation among EU states, these are still struggling to align on one uniform policy on migration.
POLITICAL TUSSLE BETWEEN EU STATES
With several points of contention in the EU, immigration approach in the form of Dublin Regulation obliges EU states to take responsibility for assisting asylum seekers and make the application in the first EU nation they arrive in. Disputes arose between the contending states on account of disproportionate share of responsibility. Most EU states view it as an unfair burden on countries like Italy, which has so far witnessed a substantial increase in immigrants arriving from Libya and other immigration states like Greece that have to bear the unregulated inflow of immigrants every year. Due to policies that were being drafted by EU at the time, member states were facing challenges of regulating and managing the migrant crisis on their borders. It was observed that conformity in adopting a uniform policy lacked on their part.
Italy, witnessed a change in political leadership, bringing further stiffness in its approach to immigrants. By building more detention centres and to further review EU’s Dublin Regulation. It has narrowed the scope of international protection by bringing down jurisdictional guarantees. This has affected the status of illegal immigrants in the country who still struggle to secure legal protection. There has been a drop in the arrival of migrants in 2018 since Italy signed a deal with Libyan Coast Guard to intercept boats, take them back and detain those on board.
Spain is witnessing an influx in the arrival of migrants from Africa crossing the Mediterranean. Given the present situation and as a member of EU, it is trying to negotiate a common policy on the issue.
Hungary has long been aligned on its stricter policies based on European migration. Not taking account of the fundamental Human Rights of people, it has shared no responsibility in this regard. The rise of the populist government adopting anti-immigration policy has further heated the debate on migration. In a recent statement, Hungary alleged that EU’s migration policy threatens the sovereignty and cultural identity of Hungary.
Poland, like Hungary, has also shown reluctance to immigration policy of EU which allows the integration of migrants in its system. Migrants are viewed as a problem to Poland’s homogeneous setup, and the reason is due to its fear of lack of integration and the non-acceptance of culture by the immigrants. It wants to control as to whom they should invite to their home territory, which contradicts the European Union standards.
Austria, again, another nation headed by conservatives and far right is in the process is of implementing restrictive immigration policy. With more vigilance at the border, it aims for cutting down refugee and migrant numbers as per their policy. United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights criticised the Austrian government for its approach to migrant policy. Germany and Austria have now agreed to boost EU border force, patrol to combat illegal migrants.
On the contrary to other member states, Germany has shown a positive approach towards migrants over the last three years. With the government providing vocational training to asylum seekers and integration courses of language learning mandatory for refugees and asylum seekers. It has notedly speeded up work permit for asylum seekers. Furthermore, Germany took the highest number of asylum seekers compared to other member states. These asylum seekers are provided with basic housing, food, education and health. Each asylum application assessed on an individual basis can take years as per the current procedure. At the end of the process, asylum is granted only to those who can prove they fled war or some persecution.
Countries of origin and transit countries are reluctant to take back people. They might even demand some compensation for the same.
A string of demographic challenges faces Europe in the form of an ageing population and low birth rate, not because they don’t want to have more children but the cost of raising that child has significantly increased over time. Even though migrants available to provide temporary labour inputs in the labour market appears like a beneficial idea given the circumstance, but, the same cannot be said from a long view perspective. For instance, the migrants can take up low skilled jobs or work in sectors not considered very lucrative by the natives. In a way, they occupy those positions that are lying vacant, however, from permanent job perspective where if unemployment persists for a reasonably long time, such replacements for positions by the migrants can exacerbate economic crises to an even greater extent.
STATUS OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN EU
The top asylum seekers list compiled by BBC indicates to Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, all these countries either with recent or ongoing conflicts. More than 919,000 applied for asylum in EU between 2014-2017. Countries like Syria, Iraq are marked as having an unstable situation in the home country, thus pushing people to migrate for safe havens and seek better opportunities regarding shelter, food and employment.
AVAILABILITY OF HOTSPOTS AND ADOPTION OF DISEMBARKATION AGREEMENT
With pressure at EU’s external border, a hot-spot approach for identification of migrants on outer EU borders was adopted by the European Commission to control exceptional migratory flows. A way of filtering the common European asylum system, the member status turned around migrants that would result in a lower number of claimants for asylum. These hotspots need to be used effectively to address the needs of asylum seekers or else it will act as another tool to externalise Europe’s protection responsibility. With respect to facilities to process migrants and asylum seekers in non-EU countries, it will give positive outcome if these facilities meet European standards. UNHCR and IOM(International Organization of migration) indicate that mere operation of these centres does not guarantee fairness of the procedure.
EU leaders have proposed the Disembarkation Agreement in the wake of disproportionate sharing responsibility for asylum seekers. They have agreed to create regional platforms, centres outside EU where migrants rescued can apply for asylum. Though it shifts the responsibility, its success will depend on the implementation. Whether this agreement serves as an effective solution for long-term or it is merely temporarily settling of a rift among EU states.
Whether it is perceived as an unequal share of responsibility among member states or one member’s vested political interest aligning with party’s agenda, the consensus on EU policy is failing to see a common ground. Regulation and vigilance on external borders with EU’s mandate has increased now, it's being adopted by more EU states. Asylum provision can better be managed through the proper dissemination of information by the host country alongside catering to the needs of asylum seekers, work towards family reunification of migrants, all such essentials laid down in a detailed manner. Not to mention, more assistance regarding providing financial and other aid to the place of origin is required with initiatives in line with International agreements and conventions on migration. Otherwise, all these efforts to combat and better managing different sets of migration remains meaningless, unless the participants are willing to accommodate and redesign their policies in a way to effectively overcome the challenge rather than aggravating it.
- Muus, Philip. The Economic And Social Aspects Of Migration, Conference jointly organised by The European Commission and the OECD, Brussels, 21-22 January 2003. Retrieved from, https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://www.oecd.org/migration/mig/15579866.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiT1dm4gsPdAhXRXysKHUXmBQkQFjADegQIBhAB&usg=AOvVaw0a_NDDwb7zHydGHKK7qwBh
- BBC NEWS. (11 September 2018).Migration to Europe in charts. Retrieved from, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44660699
- Investopedia, Lisbon Treaty. Retrieved from, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/lisbon-treaty.asp
- Zeidan, Sami. (2018,September 17). Is the far right shaping EU’s migration policy [video file]. Retrieved from, https://youtu.be/yHHwT2CrHUU
IMAGE CREDIT: ERR
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