How Europe is dealing with the migrant crisis – and how it could do better

Europe's aid and trade policies need to be coherent with the aims of migration policy


Yesterday I blogged about the situation in Calais, and argued for a greater sharing of responsibility for refugees and migrants across the EU, of which the UK must play a part. The unacceptable conditions faced by truck drivers, holiday makers and those living in Calais and Dover – including migrants themselves – require action.

This needs to take place in France and at Dover, but more crucially, ‘upstream’ in the countries of origin and countries of transit of migrants and refugees.

The residents of the ‘jungle’ camps in Calais come from many countries. There are many Syrians and Eritreans, and smaller numbers of Somalis, most of whom have fled war and human rights abuse and who might well qualify for refugee status. There are also many migrants whose main reasons for migration are economic: typically they are young men who have been unable to find work back home, from countries such as Nigeria, Egypt and Kosovo.

Their families may have pooled resources to pay smugglers, hoping that one day they will receive remittance payments.

But there are national groups where the push factors causing migration are both poverty and insecurity – so called mixed migration flows. Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Sudanese and Palestinians now in Calais are in this category.

Solutions to irregular migration have to deal with a wide range of push factors, some of which, such as the Palestinian situation, are longstanding and intractable. After leaving home, the Calais migrants will have made journeys of weeks or months, through transit countries: Niger, Libya and Italy for a Nigerian now living in Calais. There is scope for intervention in transit countries.

The EU recognises the importance of upstream action. In response to the growing Mediterranean crisis, the European Commission published its new Agenda on Migration in June this year.

This set out a plan for reducing the number of undocumented migrants trying to get into Europe. It promised to triple the budget for the Frontex-coordinated Operations Triton and Poseidon, maritime search and rescue operations off Italy and Greece. The Agenda on Migration also proposed two voluntary relocation scheme, resettling 20,000 Syrians and Eritreans and 40,000 migrants from Italy and Greece. The UK is not part of the latter programme.

And the EU migration plan committed to enhancing external border security, through Frontex and Europol operations.

A fourth and controversial component on the Agenda on Migration is military action against smugglers boats. These proposals are vague and have been subject to much criticism. While the media’s armchair generals argue for sea and air missions to destroy smuggler’s boats before they set off, in Libyan territorial waters if necessary, this is a not simple operation. It would require UN authorisation to be legal. Additionally, smugglers boats are often rented at the last minute from fishermen and it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.

The Agenda on Migration also proposes action further upstream. It has promised extra money for refugee protection and integration on the borders of Europe and proposed to build a pilot ‘multi-purpose centre’ (a detention centre) in Niger by the end of this year. There have been attempts by the EU to reduce transit migration through Niger for a number of years, but this work has largely been unsuccessful, due to endemic corruption among the police who frequently extort money to give migrants safe passage.

Meanwhile the EU plan makes token commitments to tackling poverty and insecurity as a root cause of migration. This area is the least developed of the Agenda on Migration. There is of course no magic solution to the conflict in Syria, but more could be done to stabilise Libya and support democratic processes.

We cannot expect development aid to halt irregular migration. But there is much scope for reducing the exodus of young unemployed men from Africa and the Middle East. We need to see irregular migration as the outcome of situations where there are too many people and not enough employment. Both our trade and aid policies need to create sustainable employment in low and middle income countries.

Above all, our aid and trade policies need to be coherent with the aims of migration policy.

One example of incoherence is that the EU’s agricultural export subsidies can add to unemployment in developing countries. About 220 million Euros are spent subsidising agricultural exports every year, among them beet sugar. This subsidised sugar destroys the livelihoods of those involved in cane sugar production outside the EU, increasing unemployment. At the same time, producers in Africa have limited access to EU markets. Ensuring that the EU’s aid and trade policy create sustainable employment must also be part of the solution to Calais.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. This is the first of two blogs on the situation in Calais

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