Simple changes to EU immigration policy would alleviate Europe’s migrant crisis.
In June, I had the misfortune of missing my train and spending an uncomfortable, rainy night outside Keleti Train Station on Budapest’s eastern edge. The station’s only other occupants that evening were a few weary travelers. Today, that small station is a transit point for thousands of frustrated migrants hoping to move deeper into Europe. As a result of Hungarian resistance and anti-immigrant sentiments elsewhere in the European Union (EU), however, many will be unable to do so. The congestion at Keleti Station is just one of Europe’s latest blunders in the immigration crisis¬¬—a crisis that, although unprecedented, is not insurmountable. European leaders must focus on three action points: revising the Dublin Regulation, creating a fair and binding distribution of migrants, and enacting a Europe-wide public education campaign highlighting the necessity of this cooperation.
During the first six months of 2015, the UNHCR estimated that 137,000 migrants entered Europe via the Mediterranean, an 83% increase from the same period in 2014. Most of these migrants are refugees from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya who are using Italy and Greece as entry points into Europe, hoping to reach more robust economies in the north. This recent influx has caused a public and political outcry throughout the EU. Indeed, Czech Finance Minster Andrej Babiš recently called these immigrants the “largest threat to Europe,” and petitioned NATO for support in the crisis. While the tide of immigration has the potential to become a catastrophe, migrants are not foreign enemies warranting NATO intervention. Contrary to what Mr. Babis says, the crisis is not the migrants themselves, but rather the nonexistence of a single European policy on immigration.
The lack of EU uniformity is embarrassingly self-evident. Hungary is building a border fence. Slovakia says it is accepting only Christians. Denmark is restricting rail travel from Germany. This divergence in policy and practice undermines the European project’s cooperative ideals. Fortunately, the solution to this quandary is already in Europe’s hands.
First, the Dublin Regulation—implemented to streamline Europe’s approach to immigrant processing and resettlement—needs to change. Under current rules, migrants are registered and settled in the country they arrive. Given current refugee numbers, this policy is unsustainable. This policy is also why Italy and Greece pass migrants to northern countries without processing them first. Migrants should continue to be registered upon arrival, but must also be distributed throughout the European Union. This change will reassure Italy, Greece, and Hungary (as well as, to a lesser extent, Spain) that registration does not guarantee settlement. Further, this change will significantly reduce the number of undocumented migrants spreading throughout Europe. Importantly, any plan for stricter enforcement of registration should funnel EU funds and immigration personnel to affected border countries. The cash-strapped economies of Italy and Greece, for example, have neither the infrastructure nor the money to register the migrants alone.
Secondly, EU states must also come to a fair and binding agreement on the future distribution of migrant populations across the bloc. In May, the European Commission proposed using a formula, which includes GDP, population, and unemployment, to determine migrant distribution numbers. However, these proposed quotas were voluntary and the plan was rejected by member-states. This obstinacy has led to the current disjointed response, in which Germany plans to accept 800,000 immigrants and Denmark is running newspaper ads in Lebanon telling migrants not to come. Policymakers should end these contradictory approaches, and the old quota system should be revisited, possibly revised, and quickly ratified. Most importantly, any new quotas should be binding so that member states are forced to comply.
Finally, an EU-wide educational campaign to foster public support for unity should be developed. The campaign should explain the reasons behind the migrant surge and why a pan-European response is necessary. As long as there is war in Syria, ISIS in Iraq, and anarchy in Libya, these large migrations will continue. The problem cannot be ignored. It is also imperative that Europeans understand that the majority of “migrants” are actually refugees fleeing wars and persecution. In fact, the UNHCR says that 49% of migrants come from Syria, a country torn by civil war. According to Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, refugees have the right to asylum and cannot be turned away. Therefore, those promoting anti-immigration demonstrations and violence are flouting European ideals. An education campaign can help combat this misinformation and xenophobia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she spoke of the need for united action by saying, “the world is watching us.” Although the recommendations listed here are not a panacea for immigration, they do represent a foundation on which policymakers can begin negotiations. It is likely that the European Union will weather the immigration crisis. Once the storm passes, however, policymakers should recognize the painfully clear pattern forming: further European Union integration is needed to address 21st century problems.
Tyler West is a second-year graduate student in the Global Communication program at the Elliott School for International Affairs. He graduated cum laude from Elon University in 2011 with bachelor degrees in International Studies (European concentration) and Broadcast Journalism. Tyler spent this spring 2015 semester at Sciences Po, Paris studying Eastern European politics, and he recently served as Communications Trainee at The European Parliament Liaison Office with the U.S. Congress (EPLO). Tyler’s research interests include 21st century transatlantic relations, and also the relationship between Internet communication and public diplomacy.