A way for Europe to remove chaos from the migration crisis

February 1, 2016
A police officer escorts migrants from a train at Hyllie station outside Malmo, Sweden. Picture taken November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Johan Nilsson/TT NEWS AGENCY       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY         ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. NO COMMERCIAL SALES.      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTX24DBH

A police officer escorts migrants from a train at Hyllie station outside Malmo, Sweden. Picture taken November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Johan Nilsson/TT NEWS AGENCY

ISTANBUL — The last year shattered any belief that the European Union was immune to the global refugee crisis. The desperation of people fleeing conflicts and violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and repression in Eritrea proved greater than the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean, particularly as people, aided by social media, discovered smuggling networks exploiting the proximity of Turkey’s coast to the Greek islands.

The chaotic mass movement of people that followed left some 4,000 dead at sea, including at least 250 in January. Meanwhile, the successful arrival of a million people fueled fears that Europe’s borders had become indefensible.

In fact, one million asylum-seekers, representing 0.2 percent of the EU’s overall population, would be manageable if the EU implemented its common asylum policy and distributed responsibility for processing asylum claims fairly among its members. The burden obviously grows when most asylum seekers concentrate in one or two countries. But even if all settled in Germany, that would still represent only 1.25 percent of its population, less than the 3 percent of the population that Syrian refugees comprise in Turkey and the 25 percent in Lebanon, neither of which has Germany’s capacity to receive and integrate refugees.

However, the disorderly nature of the flow has itself spurred anxiety. The threat of terrorism has so far proven much greater from disaffected second-generation Europeans of immigrant background than the first-generation refugees who are overwhelmingly grateful to have found a safe refuge. But the Paris attacks prompted concern that the Islamic State (or ISIS) might profit from the chaos to slip in its own operatives. Citing crimes against women in Cologne and elsewhere, populist politicians in Europe also sought to stoke nightmares of endless arrivals radically changing Europe’s economic, religious and cultural nature.

It is time for the EU to recognize that the mismanaged, chaotic nature of the recent refugee flow is as much — if not more — of a threat than the number of refugees itself.

The answer lies in creating a safe and legal route for refugees to find their way to Europe. If refugees were given the option of having their claims for asylum heard in countries of first refuge such as Turkey and Lebanon, many would exercise that option rather than risk their lives — and the lives of their families — on rickety boats at sea. Their willingness to pursue that option would require their confidence that those with valid asylum claims would be moved to a place of refuge within a reasonable period, which in turn would depend on EU member states finally agreeing on genuine responsibility for sharing and creating adequate capacity to process and resettle large numbers of people.

Generous resettlement and humanitarian admission programs would put the EU in a better position to ask other nations to assume a more proportionate share of the burden, rather than the modest (or non-existent) numbers currently being accepted by such countries as the United States, Brazil, Russia, and the Gulf states. These other states would have less ground to insist that the refugees are Europe’s problem alone before the asylum seekers actually arrive in Europe.

A screening process would also provide better assurance that the refugees ultimately accepted for Europe are not would-be terrorists. ISIS might still try to infiltrate attackers into Europe, but a reduced flow of people arriving chaotically at sea would make that more difficult.

By filtering out economic migrants, refugee screening would help to demonstrate that the flow of people to Europe will not be endless. Economic migrants would still try to reach Europe, as they always have, and Europe will need some of them, but irregular migration would be harder without a flood of refugees to hide among.

Moreover, while the number of genuine refugees fleeing war and repression is substantial, many of them hope ultimately to return home. They could be convinced by more generous humanitarian assistance to stay in countries of first refuge, so long as they were assured of the right to work and send their children to school. Such voluntary enticements are far preferable to coercively blocking people’s right to flee.

Finally, a more orderly process for asylum-seekers will help to undercut Europe’s demagogues. Politics are often more about perception than reality, so even though Europe can handle the refugee flow to date, the chaos has provided powerful fuel to the fear-mongers.

Establishing safe and legal routes for asylum-seekers to reach EU can thus be a win-win for all. Many asylum-seekers could find safety without first risking their lives. And the EU could reassert more control over its borders without sacrificing its values.

4 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

How could you say “generous”? The welcome in Europe never been generous but always accompanied by racism. What is the use of hypocrisy? The refugee think they may enter while everywhere the growing nationalism is tagging mosques, throwing explosives inside
home for foreigners, splitting the families, hijacking the private goods asa….

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive

The vast majority of Europe’s population did not vote to open its doors to Middle Eastern refugees, so where is the mandate for spreading the people invited in by Merkel across the EU? Why should the EU taxpayer be expected support people without asking them if they actually want to? Of course the reason this has never been voted on is everyone knows what the answer will be.

It is thinking like this that will drive the UK into leaving the EU and once that happens, others might be emboldened to follow suit.

Posted by evilhippo | Report as abusive

Address the real problem. Almost all wars and problems in the Middle East has been caused by religion. At some stage don’t you people in the Middle East realize that you and your children and your country would be much better off if you were to become atheist and implement athiesm into your country.
Apart from that why don’t you move to Russia or Iran, the countries that want to help Syrians.

What would do if peace landed on your doorstep?

Posted by privateer | Report as abusive

Politicians left and right agree. Screw the middle class. Middle class citizens are robbing the rich and the poor. The rich can withhold donations and the non-working poor will hit the streets. The middle class don’t have the time or the money for this kind of “participation”.

Posted by arnoldripkin | Report as abusive