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“Migration is not a problem to be solved; it’s a reality to be managed”

 Photo Flickr Coast Guard News CReative COmmons

12 May 2015 – In terms of deaths of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea, the year 2015 looks to be even worse than 2014, when some 3,300 migrants have perished.

“I don’t want to prescribe what the EU Member States should or should not do”, says IOM Director William Lacy Swing in an interview with UNRIC. “But sharing the responsibility – responsibility rather than burden – would send a signal of the union acting like a union.”

The European Commission has presented a new European agenda for migration, which includes ways to better manage migration and strengthen resettlement efforts among Member States. This is to be followed by discussions on a new European Common Security and Defence Policy on May 18, including ways to tackle human trafficking and smuggling.

“Today, we have 16.7 million refugees in the world. That number has probably gone up since I uttered those words. You have a country like Lebanon, of 4 million people, who have hosted over a million Syrian refugees. You never probably can do “enough” – but the EU’s new agenda is a good initial step”, says Lacy Swing.

Migrant workers picking cabbages in Ohio. Photo Flickr Bob Jagendorf CC

Mixed flows of people

“Yes, we have refugees crossing. But also people seeking family reunifications, economic migrants, unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking – and perhaps others”, says Swing. “They shouldn’t have to go to a smuggler and risk their lives to have their case heard and find out whether you have a chance to stay.”

“That’s why IOM has set up a migrants resource and response mechanism; centers along migrants’ paths where a migrant can go, talk to someone, get legal counsel, a referral. Our sense is: let’s try to help people stay alive and save lives that way, along the migratory path”, says Swing.

Migrants and refugees increasingly make use of the same routes and means of transport to get to an overseas destination. If people composing these mixed flows are unable to enter a particular state legally, they often employ the services of human smugglers and embark on dangerous sea or land voyages, which all too many do not survive.

Migrants. Photo Flickr COast Guard News CC

Legal ways through labour?

“In all fairness, the European Commission is doing about as much thinking on migration challenges and needs as anyone”, stresses Swing. “But they have to decide the channels. I think, for example, that much more could be done in terms of labour migration, matching demand and supply.”

“There, one needs to be in close touch with the private sector. Much of the unemployment of youth in Europe is structural unemployment. The more difficult jobs tend to be done by migrant”, he says.”With an ageing north in need of employees and a youthful, unemployed south, countries are bound to become more multi-ethnic. Migration is not a problem to be solved, it’s a reality to be managed.”

“You need to exchange the word migration and use the word mobility instead. I’m not talking about a borderless world - that would never sell”, says Swing. “But small measures would make a difference, like portable social security systems, multiple entry visas, legal measures that allow for multiple nationalities…simple things”.

“Our policies are so far behind this virtual world that we live in today where 3 billion people are connected to the internet. Our migration policies still focus on security and border control. We need a better balance between national security and individual freedom.”

Connected migrants. Photo Flickr Sasha Klmel CC

Catching the big fish

Using military action to combat the smugglers is no sustainable way forward, according to IOM. “Quite simply, who knows who you’re bombing?” says Swing, referring to comments made by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini during her briefing of the Security Council yesterday. “You might have a lot of collateral damage. We all agree that we need to be much more consequential in arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning the criminal smugglers. But military means are always indiscriminate and are no way to go about it.”

“Three things are needed to combat the smuggler’s networks. There needs to be preventive measures; large information and awareness raising campaigns that make the young people realize the risk they are taking. Secondly, there needs to be better protection for those who do fall victims to smugglers and traffickers. That we do through shelters that we help governments operate around the world, where people can get counselling, and receive a bit of money in order to get back home. But the third is the one where we’re weakest: prosecution. There has been, as far as I know, no significant breakthrough in prosecution of traffickers and smugglers in recent memory. Yes, we catch small middlemen, but we never catch the big fish.”


The new European Agenda is composed of: 

Immediate Action

There is political consensus in the European Parliament and the European Council following the recent tragedies in the Mediterranean to mobilise all efforts and tools at our disposal to take immediate action to prevent more people from dying at sea. Today the Commission has set out the concrete and immediate actions it will take, including:

Tripling the capacities and assets for the Frontex joint operations Triton and Poseidon in 2015 and 2016. An amending budget for 2015 was adopted today to secure the necessary funds – a total of €89 million, including €57 million in AMIF and €5 million in ISF emergency funding for frontline Member States – and the new Triton Operational Plan will be presented by the end of May;

Proposing the first ever activation of the emergency mechanism to help Member states confronted with a sudden influx of migrants under Article 78(3) TFEU. By the end of May, the Commission will propose a temporary distribution mechanism for persons in clear need of international protection within the EU. A proposal for a permanent EU system for relocation in emergency situations of mass influxes will follow by the end of 2015;

Proposing, by the end of May, an EU-wide resettlement scheme to offer 20 000 places distributed in all Member States to displaced persons in clear need of international protection in Europe with a dedicated extra funding of €50 million for 2015 and 2016;

Working on a possible Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation in the Mediterranean to dismantle traffickers' networks and fight smuggling of people, in accordance with international law.

The Way Forward: Four pillars to manage migration better

The migration crisis in the Mediterranean has put the spotlight on immediate needs. But it has also revealed that our collective EU migration policy has fallen short. Looking forward, the European Agenda on Migration develops President Juncker's Political Guidelines into a set of mutually coherent and reinforcing initiatives, based around four pillars, to manage migration better in all its aspects.


(Article updated 13 May 2015)

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