Anna Triandafyllidou is Professor at the Global Governance Programme of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) at the European University Institute.
On 17 September the European Parliament voted to support the measures proposed by the European Commission for relocating 120,000 asylum seekers from Italy, Greece and Hungary. This gives the green light for bringing the proposal of the European Commission again to the negotiation table on 22 September with the MS’s internal affairs ministers. This is a critical moment for Europe and the international community as Hungary uses water cannons and tear gas to fend off refugee families trying to get in the country. Serbia (not an EU country yet) and Croatia (the EU’s most recent member state) assure that they will provide hospitality to the refugees as much as possible.
The Syrian crisis is one of the many expressions of a radically changing landscape in the field of international migration and asylum that the EU needs to deal with boldly. The earlier watertight distinction between refugees and economic migrants no longer holds.
We need to provide for a wider range of categories: Refugees in the Geneva Convention sense (people who are individually persecuted in their country of origin); asylum seekers (people in need of international protection) like those fleeing countries where there is civil war or protracted violence (e.g. Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan but also Somalia or Eritrea); environmental migrants (people who lost their means of livelihood because of environmental degradation); poverty migrants (people fleeing abject poverty and destitution – even though those are unlikely to be international migrants as they do not even have the necessary resources for moving); and opportunity migrants (those seeking a better job/income/life prospects for themselves and their families).
Smugglers are not a root cause of population movement – they are just an intermediate factor. Migrants and asylum seekers consider policies as hurdles to overcome and the smugglers make that possible, upon receipt of substantial amounts of money. The smuggling business cannot be defeated with military measures. It requires international cooperation, exchange of information and intelligence. At the same time the most effective means for breaking the business is creating alternative routes that take into account the special characteristics of different migrant and refugee populations. Thus while a UN plan for international relocation of refugees is necessary for people fleeing war and protracted violence, intra-regional migration schemes are appropriate for environmental migrants (seeking to recreate their livelihoods and jobs in neighbouring regions with similar geographical and climatic conditions that would not disrupt radically their lives. Innovative schemes tailored to specific groups of economic migrants (whether opportunity or poverty motivated) are also required to meet the long term demographic decline of Europe and the demographic expansion of Asia and Africa. Such schemes should boldly acknowledge that even if European societies are moving towards knowledge-based economies, they also need medium and low skilled workers. The aging of European societies leaves important gaps in several sectors such as care work, agriculture and medium skill services (transport, tourism, catering) that can be filled by migrants with a double advantage for both origin and destination economies and societies.