The overlapping of irregular migration with refugee flows to the European Union (EU) requires an in-depth analysis of the current situation and a complex response from the different actors involved. Although the so-called refugee crisis appeared in 2011 with the Arab uprising (especially with the Syrian war), it was not until the end of August 2015 when it became central in the political agenda of the EU (Fargues, 2015). The heterogeneous political responses (particularly in border control, reception and the implementation of the European common asylum system) from the EU and its member states to the arrivals of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, the lack of understanding between EU countries in the implementation of relocation and resettlement agreements, or the absence of support for first countries of arrival and transit are some of the drivers that explain the ineffective domestic and external policies implemented (Carrera et al., 2015; Guild & Carrera, 2016; Mouzourakis, 2016).
« The heterogeneous political responses from the EU and its member states, the lack of understanding between them or the absence of support for first countries of arrival and transit are some of the drivers that explain the ineffective domestic and external policies implemented so far. »
By analysing the results that emerged from the 7th Euromed Survey, this short contribution focuses on examining perceptions of experts and stakeholders involved about the actions carried out by the main actors dealing with migration and refugee issues from the Mediterranean. To do so, the text looks, firstly, at the political responses by the main actors to the current situation. Secondly, it analyses the drivers shaping these political responses. Thirdly, it examines the potential source of domestic and regional instability. Fourthly, it focuses on the role of the EU in dealing with the phenomenon. The document will conclude with some final remarks.
Political Responses by Countries: From Bad to Worse
There is a general concern about how the different countries have responded to the current situation of mobility in the last few years. The experts agree that the political response from countries with an important role in the management of migration and refugee issues is in general terms bad or quite bad. An interviewee explains the situation as follows:
Germany reacted with delay; Italy and Greece are overwhelmed; EU transit countries and Western Balkan countries tried to get rid of the problem at the expense of others; Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon as receiving countries responded humanely, but inefficiently.Greek respondent
Nonetheless, most of them concur that there are some differences depending on countries. For example, the efforts of the main destination countries are recognised by all respondents, albeit with many criticisms of their policies. On the one hand, experts appreciate the accommodation and integration policies of some EU countries such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden. 54% of respondents report that the policy response of these countries has been good or very good. Moreover, 50% of respondents also assess positively the effort to accommodate millions of refugees by countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. In the same vein, the two most important EU first countries of arrival (Greece and Italy) are assessed positively by their role in the management of the phenomenon. Experts, civil society and policy-makers recognise the important role played by countries that are on the frontline and dealing with the biggest pressure with regard to the management of immigration and refugees, despite the adverse circumstances (see Graph 1). In contrast, more than 80% of respondents assess the policy of Eastern EU countries and Western Balkan countries as bad or very bad.
« Experts, civil society and policy-makers recognise the important role played by those countries that are on the frontline and dealing with the biggest pressure with regard to the management of immigration and refugees. »
Graph 1: How would you assess the policy response to the present migration and refugee situation by: (The graph below shows the % of good and very good answers)
Domestic Affairs in Migrant Management
Whatever the outcomes, it seems clear that, on the one hand, the policies implemented by most of the countries involved in the management of this phenomenon have been related to internal particularities. Public opinion, upcoming elections, the presence of far right parties or the strategic political use of the management of the situation are some of the drivers that have significantly affected the policies implemented. On the other, external factors, such as the total number of new arrivals or the support (or lack of it) from EU or international institutions for those countries most in need, have had a major impact. Therefore, the drivers conditioning policy responses have changed over time according to the context and there have been differences depending on the country.
« The drivers conditioning policy responses have changed over time according to the context and there have been differences depending on the country. »
In any case, some patterns can be found by group of countries depending on their role in the management of the migratory issue. In this respect, respondents state that the scope of the actions of all those countries that have to deal firstly with immigrants and refugees – mainly EU countries of arrival (Greece and Italy) and Southern Mediterranean receiving countries (Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) – is closely related to the capacities (or the lack of them) of the governments to cope with the inflows. In other words, these countries have done what they could, taking into account the number of people resettled, the internal resources and the external support received. Furthermore, most respondents note that for these countries humanitarian considerations underpin their political response to the critical conditions of the migrants. In contrast, when Eastern countries are assessed, although they have limited internal resources to cope with the inflow of migrants, internal factors reinforce their implemented policies (such as internal political discourses, electoral considerations or the concern to support favourable policies that may serve as additional pull factors for new arrivals).
« EU countries of arrival (Greece and Italy) and Southern Mediterranean receiving countries (Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) have done what they could, taking into account the number of people resettled, the internal resources and the external support received. »
Walking a Tightrope: In the Shadow of Instability
The complexity of managing the phenomenon creates a situation of instability for most of the countries. Drivers affecting every country vary depending on the political and socioeconomic context. Certainly, a transit country in the south of the Mediterranean does not face the same issues as Greece or Italy. The situation is not the same in host countries such as Germany and Sweden as in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey in terms of the number of refugees, the welfare state or political stability. In any case, the majority of the respondents point out some common factors of instability among countries:
1. The marginalisation of refugee communities. 77% of respondents note that marginalisation of refugees in host countries could be a factor of instability to a high or very high extent. As an interviewee notes, “if refugees are well integrated in the society, the chances of other instabilities will decrease.” This integration should be understood in terms of migrants’ opportunities to participate in society in socioeconomic, political and cultural dimensions.
2. Tensions between the local and refugee population. In a similar pattern to the previous one, 66% of experts mentioned tensions between local and refugee populations as a driver of instability. It seems that support is needed for social awareness campaigns and to combat racism and hate speech, which are increasing among the European population. Reducing potential instabilities extends to opposing the untrue equation that links migrants with danger, even terrorism.
3. Impact on the political stability of host countries. The rise of the extreme right parties or the anti-immigrant/refugee discourse across the EU leads 65% of respondents to see migrants and refugees as a fundamental factor of instability. Migration is already a top issue in many electoral campaigns and it will be even more so in future campaigns. As mentioned by one respondent, “in almost all the countries affected by the migratory phenomenon, political instrumentalisation remains the most threatening element.”
4. Impact on the socioeconomic stability of host countries. 62% of respondents also add the effect of migrants on the socioeconomic situation of the transit and host countries to the previous drivers. This means that great efforts should be made in order to avoid socioeconomic gaps between newcomers and local communities or any competition for public resources or a restricted labour market. In the words of one expert, “the main source of instability is the struggle for limited welfare resources between refugees and the poor of the host countries.”
« The unilateral decisions by EU countries are identified as the biggest factor responsible for the negative management of the migration and refugee situation. »
EU Management of the Migration and Refugee Situation
In this framework of shared responsibilities in migrant and refugee management, the prominent role of the European Union deserves a special mention. As far as the member states are concerned, the Union has played an important and inefficient role in the definition and implementation of policies. Only 20% of respondents assess the role played by the Union as positive or very positive. Indeed, most respondents (close to 60%) assess the EU’s management of immigration and refugees negatively or very negatively. As one of the respondents pointed out, “the refugee crisis is a notorious EU management inefficiency crisis.” It is interesting to note that respondents from EU countries have a more negative opinion of EU management than those from Mediterranean Partner Countries (see Graph 2). This is directly related to the general perception of many European experts (De Bruycker, 2017; Chetail, 2016, among others), who maintain that it is a policy crisis rather than one of numbers.
Graph 2: How do you assess the European Union management of the migration and refugee situation since 2014?
Several interesting conclusions regarding the role played by the different actors within the EU1 can be drawn from the results that emerged from the 7th Euromed Survey (see Graph 3) Firstly, the unilateral decisions by EU countries are identified as the biggest factor responsible for the negative management of the migration and refugee situation. Secondly, in a similar pattern, the decisions taken by the European Council (by member states) are more negatively assessed than those by the European Commission. Thirdly, the development of ad hoc country groups inside the EU (mainly the Visegrad Group) has also undermined the common response of the Union. Fourthly, there is an agreement that the main country on the frontline of the phenomenon, Greece, is viewed as a victim of rather than responsible for the negative management of the situation (only 30% of respondents believe that Greece is responsible to a high or very high extent).
Graph 3: To what extent do you consider the following actors within the EU responsible for its negative management of the migration and refugee situation since 2014?
There are some issues that attract negative analyses of the role of the EU institutions and the segmentation of policy positions and initiatives: 1) the absence of an efficient asylum and migration policy implemented commonly by EU member countries; 2) the lack of a mechanism to impose EU policies and agreements, such as the quota system to redistribute refugees among countries; and 3) the absence of a quick reaction mechanism to respond to new situations, such as the arrival of millions of people from the Mediterranean. In any case, as some of the respondents point out, this specific situation is part of the general weakness of the Union. A respondent referred to the “institutional weakness of the EU vs. national prerogatives or lack of vision and long-term strategies” as the main issues related to the EU’s inability to deal with the mobility phenomenon.
Final Remarks: Some Policy Orientations
The increasing concern about immigrants and refugees in the Mediterranean is, first, closely related to their unstable and vulnerable situation in the region (from the origin to host countries); second, the ineffective management of the situation by the different actors; and, third, how the phenomenon is putting to the test some of the most fundamental values in the EU framework. In this regard, following the data from the 7th Euromed Survey, some issues should be particularly addressed, especially by the main actors responsible for managing the phenomenon:
• The vulnerable situation of migrants and refugees. Active policies of reception and integration of migrants and refugees that can address their situation: mainly, access to the labour market and education.
• Anti-immigrant/refugee discourses. Social awareness and mobilisation of civil society against xenophobia and Islamophobia discourse must be encouraged.
• The lack of cooperation between EU and Mediterranean Partner Countries. A harmonised policy to deal with the immigration issue is needed between transit and destination countries.
• A more united EU. It is also necessary to enforce a common EU response to the crisis. EU institutions with a leading role in this issue should work closely together with member states. Similarly, a policy coherence framework is needed to coordinate migration (integration and flow issues), security and external policies.
« The absence of an efficient asylum and migration policy, the lack of a mechanism to impose EU policies and agreements and the absence of a quick reaction mechanism are considered to be behind the negative assessment of the EU institutions’ role. »
Carrera, S., Blockmans, S., Gros, D., & Guild, E. (2015). The EU’s Response to the Refugee Crisis: Taking Stock and Setting Policy Priorities. CEPS Essay, 20. Centre for European Policy Studies.
Chetail, V. (2016). Looking Beyond the Rhetoric of the Refugee Crisis: The Failed Reform of the Common European Asylum System. European Journal of Human Rights, 5.
De Bruycker, Ph. (2017). A Happy New Year for Migration and Asylum Policy? A Critical Review of the Legal and Policy Developments in 2016 in Relation to the Crisis of the European Union. EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy.
Fargues, Ph. (2015, December). 2015: The year we mistook refugees for invaders. Policy Brief. Migration Policy Centre.
Guild, E., & Carrera, S. (2016). Rethinking asylum distribution in the EU: Shall we start with the facts? CEPS Commentary. Centre for European Policy Studies.
Mouzourakis, M. (2016). The reception of asylum seekers in Europe: failing common standards. EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy.