What A Solution To Europe's Migration Crisis Could Look Like

The region has struggled to cope with the men, women and children desperately seeking to enter.

08/22/2015 02:55 pm ET
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press
A Syrian boy wearing a swimming ring stands on the beach upon his arrival by dinghy at the Greek island of Kos, Aug. 20, 2015. 

Every week, The WorldPost asks an expert to shed light on a topic driving headlines around the world. Today, we speak with Demetrios Papademetriou about Europe's migrant crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and searching for a better life have crossed into Europe this year, often by perilous means. This ever-increasing influx of migrants from nations such as Syria, Eritrea and Iraq has left European countries struggling to cope with a growing humanitarian disaster. 

Scenes of thousands of migrants held in sports stadiums or makeshift encampments, sometimes lacking food or water, show how dire and inadequate current conditions are for people arriving in Europe.

The crisis has also left states both domestically and internationally divided over how to respond to this rise in migration. Asylum applications are extremely unevenly distributed among EU nations, and some political parties' framing of migrants as a security concern and economic issue has renewed nationalist tensions.

As the number of migrants entering Europe soars, aid agencies and prominent EU leaders have called for a unified policy to address migration. But such attempts have so far resulted in dead ends, and with more people arriving on Mediterranean shores each day, the pressure is on to find a solution.

To better understand what action Europe needs to take to sufficiently address the crisis, The WorldPost talked with migration expert Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute Europe.

A woman carries a baby during a clash between Macedonian police forces and people trying to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia near the town of Gevgelija on Aug. 22, 2015. 

What should a European migration policy look like? 

This is a complex crisis. There are humanitarian elements, a border protection crisis, an integration crisis and a financial crisis. If you do nothing to address each of them, each wave of migration will be bigger than the last. Any nation has an obligation to rescue people. That is a given, it is not a policy. 

Europe will have to invest in creating real opportunities for refugees, in particular from Syria, so that they can stay in neighboring countries. We have to create opportunities for refugees to make a livelihood, get an education, and access health services. We also have to create opportunities for the local populations in these countries who have been affected on a day-to-day basis by the massive number of refugees. Otherwise, more Syrians are going to come to Europe out of sheer desperation.

Europe should also try to work with countries that are a launching pad. Afghans, for example, have to pass through a lot of countries to get to Europe. We could target three or four key countries on the pathway and do as much as it takes to get their cooperation -- to stop traffickers, to create opportunities for people to stay, and create a safe pathway.

It's very difficult to solve the Syrian problem. So, let's make sure there's not another Syria. We need to invest political resources and financial incentives to make sure that the next country that might have a problem doesn't become so bad that people have to flee for their lives. By the time the exodus takes place, you've already lost the game. This has already happened in Yemen. I'm very concerned about Egypt. A foreign policy that tries to just put out fires is not a foreign policy, it's a reaction.

It's very difficult to solve the Syrian problem. So, let's make sure there's not another Syria.

What about people who have already made it to Europe?

There are three "baskets" of people: those judged to be refugees, who have a real fear of persecution; those who receive "subsidiary protection," who come from countries with authoritarian regimes but are not themselves specifically targeted; and illegal immigrants. We have to protect refugees, make sure subsidiary protection is not open-ended, and return illegal immigrants and do it quickly. Europe needs to send a message to the next wave of immigrants, as well as to assure the public that someone is "minding the store." In order to protect refugees, you need to make sure that those who are not refugees are sent back.

 It's the people who receive "subsidiary protection" who are the most difficult category. They're not refugees, but they come from countries that are not particularly safe. For example, Eritreans are fleeing a pretty nasty regime and forced conscription. Does that mean every Eritrean who makes it to Europe should get full protection?

Credit: Arno Burgi/dpa via Associated Press
Police stand beside demonstrators outside a shelter for asylum seekers in Heidenau, south of Dresden, eastern Germany, Aug. 21, 2015.

What does the future hold for migrants integrating into Europe?

The effects of the latest wave of migration are going to be felt for the next five to 10 years. Despite what people in the U.S. think, Europe has made enormous progress integrating migrants, especially in Germany. This has happened through investing in integration -- language and civics classes, for example, and integrating people into the labor force. It's possible to do this when you have 30,000 people arriving, but what do you do about 1 million people, as looks possible in Germany? Meanwhile, Greece is completely broke. Macedonia has closed the border and an awful lot of people may end up being stuck in Greece. How will the people of Greece react? There have been a lot of very nasty reactions to immigrants in Greece in the last few years.

Unless we have a strategic response to this crisis, a lot of countries are going to be overwhelmed.

What needs to happen for Europe to adopt a more strategic migration policy?

If a few of the more powerful and wealthy countries in the European Union get together and decide to push Brussels, it could happen. Each one has a comet tail of other countries that would support them.

Is there political will to do that?

The simple fact is that if [European leaders] don't take control, they will lose their jobs. Governments will fall if the reaction gets even more hostile. People always say it's just extremists and racists and try to sideline the issue. But if this hostility becomes mainstream, some of the politicians' rhetoric and policies will have to move further to the right, and then it's too late.

Unless we have a strategic response to this crisis, a lot of countries are going to be overwhelmed.

What do you expect Europe to do next?

They seem to be moving in the direction of a greater police response. The U.K. and France forged an agreement over [the migrant crisis in] Calais on Thursday that focused on police enforcement. It's likely that the next set of initiatives will fall more on security rather than a complex set of integrated activities.

However, Germany's development minister recently called for 10 billion euros to support Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan -- countries that are hosting nearly 4 million Syrian refugees. This suggests that Europe could be beginning to think more strategically.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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