EU migration talks: What EU governments can do to help solve the crisis (Anna Triandafyllidou)

EU ministers are meeting on 14 September to discuss measures aimed at tackling Europe’s migration crisis. To coincide with the talks, Anna Triandafyllidou writes on the key measures that are required to help manage the crisis. She argues that EU governments need to broaden their focus beyond the Mediterranean, recognise the mixed motivations that underpin migration, acknowledge the regional realities within individual countries, and better understand the booming smuggling business that facilitates migration routes.

The whole of Europe has been moved by the picture of three year old Alan Kurdi who drowned along with his five year old brother and their mother while trying to cross from Bodrum in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos on 1 September. It was as if Alan has suddenly given a wakeup call to governments and international organisations even though the Syrian refugee crisis has been evolving for well over three years now. Indeed before Greek authorities despaired at the arrival of over 150,000 refugees in the first 7 months of 2015, it had been Italy with its Mare Nostrum operation that had borne the brunt of arrivals both from sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

Migrants arriving to Lampedusa. Credits: Sara Prestianni / Noborder Network (CC BY 2.0)
It was probably a “death foretold” before Syrian refugees would be driven out of the Middle East region, where they had found temporary refuge in neighboring countries (Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan) in the hope of soon returning home. As the war continues and nothing is left but devastation, families gather their resources, and with the help of relatives already living in Europe or North America, try to move on to safe and prosperous countries where they hope they can build a future for themselves and their children.

This is a critical moment for Europe and the international community: both because the emergency has escalated and because European citizens have mobilized in a spectacular expression of solidarity and compassion. As a woman from Munich interviewed on television recently put it: “We have so much. We can share some of it with these people”. At the same time, local authorities and journalists warn that citizens distinguish between refugees that are welcome and considered as deserving assistance, and economic migrants in search of better life prospects that should be discouraged from arriving undocumented and should actually be returned as soon as possible to their own countries.

The Syrian crisis is one of the many expressions of a radically changing landscape in the field of international migration and asylum. There are epochal changes taking place, some of which have been noticed by politicians and policy makers, others which are slowly emerging mainly before the eyes of researchers and experts digging in the field. It is therefore worth summarizing these changes and suggesting some policy actions that the EU must consider in this new geopolitical and socio-economic context.