Migrant crisis: time for Europe to change tactics

The migrant crisis is challenging Europe to find a better way to help beyond economic aid.
Photo: Marienna Pope-Weidemann / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Source: Flickr

Europe’s migrant crisis was defined the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. The number of arrivals on Europe’s shores is kept up-to-date daily and European leaders’ statements resound on television, while on the screens flow images of migrants’ faces lost in an indistinct crowd.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) over one million refugees and migrants have reached European shores, mainly Italian and Greek ones. The crisis is triggered by conflicts and extreme poverty in African and Middle Eastern countries.

The crisis’ urgency set the EU bureaucratic machine in motion, although a lack of a common point of view and coordination among the member states has slowed down the managing process.

EU agenda

The EU agenda on migrant crisis focuses on specific aims: protecting EU borders, reducing the flows, relocation of asylum seekers, rescuing operations, and improving relations with countries of origin.

The goals, settled in 2015 by the European Commission presides by Jean-Claude Juncker, in 2017 are still far from being achieved. “The EU has underestimated the scale and severity of the crisis”, declared Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament in an interview with Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero.

Tajani warns that the current crisis involves thousands of people, but it will be millions if the EU does not plan a solid strategy. One thing that is sure is that the EU, hoping to stem the crisis as soon as possible, acts more practically and frantically rather than having a strong long term plan based on shared point of view.

Should economic aid be the main focus?

The modus operandi is strongly centred on economic aid. Since 2015 the EU Commission approved a 353 million euros in emergency assistance to support Greek authorities and NGO’s operating in Greece, a main port of arrivals for migrants, as reported in the EU Commission.

After the 2016 EU-Turkey Agreement, where the EU pays 3 billion euros aid to Turkey to take back the irregular migrants arrived in Greece, the number of arrivals and illegal immigration on Greek borders strongly reduced. At the same time, Italy, another main port of arrival,  experienced a new record of arrivals. +32% in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016, especially from Libya.

To the insistent call for help coming from Italy, the EU responds with the promise of an extra 35 million euro aid. The Rome government however still feels “left alone” by fellow EU Members, who reluctantly fulfil their relocation responsibilities. Beyond economic aid, the EU needs unanimity and collaboration among it own Members. How can Europe welcome refugees if it cannot even show support to its own people?

Beyond economic aid, the EU needs unanimity and collaboration among it own Members. It is unthinkable that Europe can welcome refugees if it cannot even show support to all member states.

On March 2016, a 700 million euros plan was settled for humanitarian aid over three years, EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides announced.

The EU is undoubtedly the strongest power involved in the crisis and its economic activity is fundamental, but financial plans and economic support turn out to be insufficient to face this or any,  humanitarian tragedy.

“Strengthening security at the borders in order to contain migration has nothing to do with helping the population suffering from poverty and dealing with extremely inequality” as denounced by Sara Tesorieri Oxfam’s EU migration policy advisor.

No Solution found

Despite Europe being the hotspot, the refugee crisis  has involved the entire International community and has been on top of the agendas of many international meetings.

During the G7 summit, hosted by Italy in Taormina on May 2017, the migrant crisis was one of the hottest topics, however, no turning point was settled between worlds leaders. In fact, the final statements about the issue released by the European Council were vague, where leaders called for “coordinated efforts to address the large-scale movement of migrants”.


One month later, Hamburg G20 summit disappointed expectations for a more concrete action plan about the crisis.

Again, the participants agreed on a common effort and a long term solution, although the importance of ensuring “sovereign right of each country to control its own borders” was highlighted. This remark surely reversed the declarations of intent made about refugees’ relocation within the Members and it compromised a real unified EU border and security policy, crucial in a crisis of this scale.

What is clear is that the EU sees the fastest solution in funds and economic deals rather than facing the deep roots of migration flows and its inescapable consequences on the EU future.  

“We give you the money, now you keep the refugees”

Lastly, the most obvious example is the EU-Turkey agreement. The agreement received several critics, from been defined “controversial” by The Economist article to the heavier accuses moved from the UNHCR saying the deal would violate the International Law on Human Rights.

Despite critics and accusers, the EU approved many other similar deals, called “migration pacts” with African countries such as Nigeria, Sudan and Mali.

The EU Investment program and Development in Africa of 62 billion euros should ensure thousands of people from reaching EU borders thanks to filter measures taken by the countries of origin. These pacts have been strongly questioned and defined as “out of sight, out of mind” by The Observer.

Critics raised questions also within the EU members, Guy Verhofstadt declared that the EU is sending an unethical message “We give you the money, now you keep the refugees”.  

It’s not all about the money

The bureaucratic organization, legal framework, political arrangements supported by economic commitments are necessary, but too often the humanitarian nature of the crisis is forgotten.

The EU’s approach sees in migrants as a legal procedure, an economic weight, but not as human beings. Reducing the flow of migrants might be the best solution for European borders, but is it doubtful whether it is one for people escaping from wars and poverty.

Since the 2007 financial crisis, the EU is been all about money. It is time it becomes all about the people. The EU’s first and most important duty should be to welcome these people who risked their lives in a journey, hoping to arrive on a shore where they can finally find dignity, freedom and a future. The issue should not be whether to let them in or not, or reduce the number of arrivals or sending them back.

The issue is to make the risk of the journey worth it. These people, escaping from hunger, abuses, death, deserve the EU institutions and citizens’ sincere and unselfish help for whatever is necessary to build a new life.

Stefania Mascolo

Stefania is a Master student graduate in International Security, working in International Affairs and Military Defense field, but also involved in Human Rights protection. She combines her area of expertise with journalistic skills and teaching experience in Latin America.
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