In this contribution, our first aim is to analyse the Survey participants’ perceptions of the migration and refugee situation in the Mediterranean, looking at common elements and discrepancies. Therefore, we will situate these insights in the broader framework of the mobility context. Our goal is to understand which elements seem to have a deeper influence on participants and which seem to be overlooked.
At first glance, there is a need to differentiate between structural elements – associated with long or mid-term paths of mobility, political and economic relations and demographic imbalances in the region – and temporary elements – linked to recent evolutions in this area (Arab Spring, conflict in Syria, destabilisation of Libya, etc.) – and beyond (post-war instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, among others). Only by disentangling these two different elements conditioning the perceptions is it possible to identify and define possible solutions.
“Only by disentangling structural elements from temporary elements conditioning the perceptions of human movements is it possible to identify and define possible solutions.”
The combination of the results of the first three questions1 shows at least three important elements concerning respondents’ perceptions of mobility in the Mediterranean. First, structural migratory flows persist beyond the refugee crisis; second, perceptions of migration and refugee flows are significantly conditioned by the country of residence; and, third, refugee, migratory and transit flows are increasingly overlapped.
Structural Migratory Flows Persist Beyond the Refugee Crisis
The main elements explaining the present situation are mainly linked to the existing war in Syria. However, beyond the refugee crisis, there is an important migratory system in the Mediterranean, which follows a deeply rooted historical path and has specific structural causes. Henceforth, this migratory system constitutes a structural feature of human mobility landscape in the region.
“The main elements explaining the present situation are strictly linked to the existing war in Syria. However, there is an important migratory system in the Mediterranean, which follows a deeply rooted historical path and has specific structural causes”
The fact that many respondents emphasise the importance of the lack of sustainable livelihoods in origin countries as a cause of flows confirms the need to take these root causes effectively into account (see Graph 1).
Graph 1: The migration and refugee situation in the Mediterranean is unprecedented. To what extent do the following elements explain this situation? Respondents by group of countries. (The graph below shows the % of high and very high extent)
In this respect, the Emergency Trust Fund2 launched in November 2015 at the Valletta Summit on Migration indicates that the EU would be taking root causes more into consideration. However, official statements and effective projects so far selected for funding seem discordant if we look at their objectives. EU projects are more often focused on control of flows and borders than on fostering societal development and promoting deeper democratic governance (Gabrielli, 2016). A similar remark can be made about the case of the EU migration partnership frameworks with Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia, among others. Moreover, a longterm or mid-term approach should be at the core of the action on root causes of migration, through development instruments, and not short-term oriented measures on buffering migrants.
“The destabilisation of Libya is also indirectly related to structural causes of migration. In the last decades, Libya has had a specific role as destination and transit country, and as a partner of Europe in controlling mobility.”
Furthermore, respondents’ perceptions about the importance of the destabilisation of Libya as a key cause of the actual situation (see Graph 1) are also indirectly related to structural causes of migration. In recent decades, Libya has had a specific role, first as an important destination of immigrant workers from Sub-Saharan countries and, secondly, as a transit country and thus as a partner of Europe in controlling mobility.3 In the case of Libya, similar to other North African countries, the European externalisation of mobility control toward third countries has transformed the neighbours into key pieces of the buffering systems of mobility (Gabrielli, 2016). When a regime change occurs, as in the case of Tunisia after the Jasmine revolution, instability increases in these countries, the existing cooperation framework collapses, mobility controls relax or disappear and suddenly flows reappear. Moreover, according to a report of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNSML & OH CHR, 2016), the present situation of refugees and migrants in the country constitutes a “human rights crisis”, where human rights violation, arbitrary detention, abuses, torture, sexual exploitation, unlawful killings and other ill-treatment are commonplace.
In these contexts, the idea of supplying Libya through funding, equipment and training, introduced during the informal EU Council meeting held on 3 February 2017 in Malta, can be seen as an important threat to the rights and physical integrity of migrants and refugees in the country, as it is known that “migrants are held arbitrarily in detention centres run mostly by the Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM )” (UNSML & OHCHR, 2016).
“It is important to consider the issue of sustainable livelihoods in origin countries in relation with the existing external dimension of European migration policies.”
It is important to consider the issue of sustainable livelihoods in origin countries in relation with the existing external dimension of European migration policies. Democracy, respect for human and civil rights, as well as of national minorities and foreigners in these countries, has to be considered as a key element of sustainable livelihoods. However, cooperation on migration control and readmission with illiberal or “not-so liberal” regimes in the region is characterised by an increasingly extensive use of “migratory conditionality”, namely a subordination of development aid concessions to cooperation on migration issues (Gabrielli, 2016). These practices can then be questioned firstly in normative and ethical terms, as they entail a serious degradation of human security (Zapata-Barrero & Gabrielli, 2017). Secondly, these practices can also be questioned in terms of worsening conditions of sustainable livelihoods, both for nationals and foreigners (Carrera et al., 2016; HRW, 2014) and then acting perversely as a driver of mobility.
At the same time, the fact that many respondents emphasise the role of conflict in the current situation of mobility in the Mediterranean underlines once more that the EU also has to develop a stronger and more unitary conflict prevention strategy in the Mediterranean as the main tool to prevent forced movements in the region. Therefore, it could be positive to include this in the “integrated approach to conflicts” when implementing the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy.
“Another element that shows signs of the importance of the structural dimension can be seen once the Survey specifically asks about migration drivers for the next ten years on the different Mediterranean routes.”
Other causes of the current situation in the Mediterranean related to the international refugee protection system and European migration policy appear as less relevant to respondents. However, Spijkerboer (2016), among other scholars, signals that the serious underfunding for hosting refugees in the region – depending on both international donors and the EU –, the minimal resettlement of refugees, and the “ripple effect” of visa requirements for Syrians have played a major role in this situation.
Another element that shows signs of the importance of the structural dimension can be seen when the Survey specifically asks about migration drivers for the next ten years on the different Mediterranean routes (see Graph 2). These results link to the need for differentiated policy responses (Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean), and to develop them according to the main drivers affecting human movements and the mid-term estimates.
“Answers on the situation of the respondent’s own countries show that much of the Mediterranean structural migratory flows persist simultaneously to the refugee crisis.”
Graph 2: Ranking key possible drivers of migratory movements for the next ten years in the Euro- Mediterranean region. (Answers as most important element in % by corridor)
The European tailor-made approach is already set up through the model of EU “migration partnership frameworks” with selected third countries. Nevertheless, there are at least two main limitations to the existing differentiated policy framework on mobility in the Mediterranean. First, there is a lack of a real peer relationship with partners, in the sense that priorities of non- EU countries are not effectively taken into account, beyond the rhetorical level (Limam & Del Sarto, 2015). Secondly, this unilateralism in agenda setting generally results in short-term and security-inspired measures addressed at containing flows that finally produce a differentiation of negotiation tool but not a differentiation in measures.
The need for differentiated policy responses can also be seen when Survey participants are asked to assess their own country situation. The results for Maghreb countries on transit migration, which is more important than the inflow of refugees (see Graph 3), reinforces the need for a differentiated geographical approach when analysing present migratory and refugee movements in the region, and can also be seen as an indicator of the persistence of structural migratory flows in the Mediterranean simultaneously to the refugee crisis.
Graph 3: To what extent is your country affected by the following human movements? (Mean 0 – very low to 10 – very high)
Perceptions of Migration and Refugee Flows are Significantly Conditioned by the Country of Residence
The Survey shows how perceptions about the present situation vary depending on the country’s position in the human movement geography of the Mediterranean region. This has already had an impact on policy-making, as the EU has been unable to implement the already limited quotas of the relocation process. Moreover, each country follows its own timing and political agenda and some countries even refuse to implement it, as can be seen in the “flexible solidarity” concept after the Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap, by which member states can decide on the form of contribution to the distribution mechanism. This voluntary nonmandatory character contradicts the relocation decision of 2015 made by a qualified majority in the European Council against the opposition of Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic.
“In implementing the relocation process, each country follows its own timing and political agenda and some countries even refuse to implement it, as can be seen in the “flexible solidarity” that came out of the Bratislava Declaration.”
These national biases concerning perceptions are surely related to the diverse mobility situations of the countries around the Mediterranean, but they are probably also linked to the different frameworks established by political discourses and debates in each country, as well as by media coverage and approach. Indeed, the present debate is making a very confused and confusing use of terminology: migrants and refugees are often used as synonyms, migrant stocks and migrant flows are frequently mixed up, and the management of culturally diverse societies is increasingly confused with the policy needed to effectively manage the arrival of refugees.
Furthermore, there is also a growing risk of losing a regional perspective, where member states make it difficult for the EU to develop a common regional approach, and in their turn Southern and Southeast Mediterranean countries prefer to use bilateral instruments in order to regulate migration and refugee movements. This can lead to ineffective policies since action is needed in all countries given that today the Mediterranean shares areas of origin, reception and transit of human movements.
This can be contrasted with the results for Q25 on the role of the ENP , which show that there is room (particularly for the Southern neighbourhood) for a regional perspective and a broad format of collaboration with all countries. Results show (see Graph 4) that the Southern and Southeast Mediterranean does not rely on the ENP on the same terms as the EU countries. The most preferred option for both North and South is the one that sees the ENP enhancing a broader collaboration of EU and ENP countries with ENP neighbours (that is, neighbours of neighbours) as well as relevant international organisations.
“The present debate is making a very confused and confusing use of terminology: migrants and refugees are often used as synonyms, migrant stocks and migrant flows are frequently mixed up, and the management of culturally diverse societies is increasingly confused with the policy needed to effectively manage the arrival of refugees.”
Graph 4: One of the thematic priorities of the ENP review is to offer an intensified cooperation on both regular and irregular migration. Do you agree with the following statements? Respondents by group of countries. (The graph below shows the % of agree and completely agree answers)
Refugee, Migratory and Transit Flows Increasingly Overlap
The growing overlapping in the Mediterranean of different typologies of mobility, such as refugees and migratory flows, is a phenomenon reflected in the Survey responses. This fact, also underlined by scholars, reinforces the need to take it into account at the political level, and particularly to tackle the phenomenon in a differentiated way. Today, international and regional structures have been unable to develop a really comprehensive and coherent response to manage this.
In Europe, the prevalence of externalisation tendencies toward Southern Mediterranean countries has produced an indiscriminate impact on all the different flows, considering the impossibility of defining who is effectively a “transit migrant” ex ante; that is, before that migrant has last attempted to leave the transit countries (Collyer, Duvell & De Haas, 2012). This has serious consequences for refugee’s access to asylum and more broadly on human rights of people on the move (Amnesty International, 2014; HRW, 2014 and 2009; UNH CR, 2015) and, at the same time, EU countries and institutions have serious responsibility for it (McNamara, 2013).
“In Europe, the prevalence of externalisation tendencies towards Southern Mediterranean countries has produced an indiscriminate impact on all the different flows.”
Moreover, non-EU Mediterranean countries need to prove to European partners their willingness and engagement in effectively controlling mobility and accepting readmission. On certain occasions, this can result in a “number policy” (politique du chiffre) pushing states to operate indiscriminate expulsions of foreigners, generally from Sub-Saharan Africa, regardless of their condition as UN CHR-based refugees, as long-term immigrants or students in the country, or as supposedly “transit migrants” (Gabrielli, 2011). The most recent example of this is Algeria, which at the end of 2016 organised indiscriminate expulsions of black Africans5 (REF).
With more specific reference to the issue of refugees, these practices underline the primacy of border control and state-oriented security strategies over human security and asylum seeker protection (Zapata-Barrero & Gabrielli, 2017). This should be taken into the account, and particularly at a time when EU policies to manage migration (European Agenda on Migration) and refugees (Common European Asylum System – Dublin IV) are under construction or reform. First drafts unfortunately seem to reinforce the current trends.
Conclusion. Towards a Necessary Ground-Breaking New Agenda for the Future of the Mediterranean
Firstly, a strong need for a political turnaround in approaching mobility in the Mediterranean emerges both from the Survey results and from existing literature on the topic. Nevertheless, this ground-breaking turnaround in mobility policies must go beyond rhetoric and discursive formulations and reach the measures implemented in order to solve the various existing issues related to human security of peoples on the move, as well as human and asylum rights.
“It is necessary to consider mobility in the Mediterranean beyond the framework of crisis, bearing in mind that crisis related to mobility has become a structural feature of the Mediterranean.”
This new agenda has to take in account “innovative” solutions to the current situation, such as the establishment of humanitarian corridors for refugees and formal channels of labour mobility, both low- and high-skilled. These measures will be beneficial in order to drastically reduce the number of people who died in the attempt to enter the EU and find asylum, but will also be very effective tools to fight against smugglers and traffickers by restricting their markets (Heaven et al., 2016: 65-ff).
Secondly, there is also a need for a genuinely balanced political framework in the region taking into account the needs and proposals of non-EU Mediterranean countries, not only in the agenda but also in political agreements. Moreover, there is also a need to seriously consider the sustainability of developed patterns in the region – both at general and environmental level – in order to prevent more sources of displacements in the mid-term.
Thirdly, coherence between the different European policies aimed at the Mediterranean is needed. If mobility is really a key priority for European countries, this has to be considered as the main element on which to build the coherence of other foreign policy dimensions (Heaven et al., 2016; Cosgrave et al., 2016).
To summarise, it is necessary to consider mobility in the Mediterranean beyond the framework of crisis, bearing in mind that crisis related to mobility has become a structural feature of the Mediterranean (Gabrielli, 2015). On the one hand, there is a need for a deep and pragmatic rethinking of the policy framework to consider mobility, and particularly irregular migration in the region, as a structural feature of the Mediterranean and to apply more pragmatic policies. Therefore, the need emerges to finally open some formal channels of mobility, an immigration policy tool that has been practically abandoned in Europe since the oil crisis of the mid-1970s, with the partial exception of the not very successful experiment of the “blue card”. On the other hand, all crisis-related and unexpected flows of refugees and migrants have to be addressed through a rights-based framework.
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