Two years after the start of the refugee crisis, migration flows to Europe via Libya are increasing while deaths in the Mediterranean have skyrocketed. Over 60,000 migrants arrived from Libya and Egypt in the first five months of 2017 – approximately one quarter higher than the same period last year. This increase has taken place despite an unprecedented level of EU coordination on migration policy.
The problem, according to a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, is that European policy suffers from the misguided assumption that we can close our borders to economic migrants.
In fact, shutting down avenues for legal economic migration has only resulted in more people smuggling, with undocumented migrants living on the margins of European societies. This has contributed to the rise of anti-immigration parties, which have ridden the wave of anxiety arising from the perceived link between immigration and crime or terrorism.
To counter this, the EU and its member states need to manage flows, rather than aiming to cut them to zero and getting more illegal migrants every year. To do this, legal migration channels need to be opened in exchange for a series of readmission agreements that shut down the illegal ones.
European states should offer legal migration visas for citizens of a given country of origin in exchange for a commitment from the government to swiftly take back all citizens of that country who have arrived illegally on EU territory. In terms of the number of visas that should be issued, the paper suggests that one quarter of illegal arrivals in 2016 would be both realistic in terms of absorption in EU countries and attractive for countries of origin. That would equate to around 45,000 additional work visas issued by EU countries each year.
Legal migration arrangements would have the benefit of undercutting human smuggling, because only migrants who have never attempted illegal migration would be granted visas. Moreover, these arrangements would also create large remittance flows from legal migrants in Europe to countries of origin. This kind of development funding costs nothing to EU taxpayers and far outweighs European aid budgets.
The EU does not control the issuing of work visas, but it could incentivise member states to get on board with its plans. This system could be implemented through a ‘coalition of the willing’ under the ‘enhanced cooperation’ procedure, or through a multilateral agreement between countries of origin and destination countries.
The report also makes recommendations on how to have quick and fair asylum processing; create safe channels for refugees; support Libyan institution-building and Libyan communities facing the migration challenge; and boost the EU Border Assistance Mission in Libya.
The full report can be accessed at http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/dont_close_borders_manage_them_7297