The Great European Migration Challenge




Our November 5 presentation on the current global migration crisis featured a stimulating and proactive discussion with François Crépeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, joined by Ambassador Inigo Lambertini, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN.

The overview provided by Mr. Crépeau was based on various reports he made to the the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. These included reports on his visits to many countries affected by the migration issue, such as Tunisia, Turkey, Greece, Malta and Albania, as well as two major reports on the situation in Italy. These detailed many aspects of importance that factor into the consideration of plans of action regarding the migration issue, including local and national laws in the countries affected, border control and management, labor exploitation, practices and policies involving detention, accommodation and discrimination.

Ambassador Lambertini, who spoke afterwards, offered some additional views on how developments have been unfolding in Italy in recent years, and how his country is dealing with this challenging situation, including the rescuing of refugees as well as adjusting its laws.

In May of this year, Mr. Crépeau issued a special report entitled "Banking on Mobility Over a Generation" (available here), which followed up a regional study on external border management of the European Union and its impact on the human rights of migrants and refugees.

According to Mr. Crépeau, the bottom line of why migrants and refugees continue to approach developed countries seems to elude authorities insisting on keeping borders closed and highly regulated, and some major issues remain unacknowledged. As a response to views that the current downbeat economy widely prevalent in many countries has not produced enough work for the local populations, he maintains that since there are always jobs which locals don't want to perform, migrant workers have always been able to step in and fill those spots, and will continue to do so. Also, there has been an underground labor market in the West which has drawn migrants over time.

"Either you take over these markets," he said, "and provide the mobility solutions that these people need — and they will use them, since they are safe and legal migration avenues — or they will be looking for other avenues, and that's where the smugglers come in." Smugglers and criminal elements control the fate of the many unfortunates who wind up not only spending large amounts of cash to escape economic and political predicaments at home, but also perishing en route to their destinations.

The question of territorial sovereignty should not prevent countries from establishing new methods for regulating the mobility of migrants.

"Territorial sovereignty is not the capacity to stop people at borders — because people will go through no matter what — it's knowing who comes in. Getting a passport, getting an ID, putting that in a database: that's territorial sovereignty, you know what's going on at your border. But with the prohibition policies that we've collectively adopted, we've created a market for smugglers, and we have no idea what's going on at the borders… we don't know who's coming in, or in what condition, or if they need protection…"

However, if safe and legal avenues are offered, migrants won't face twenty thousand euro smuggling costs or risk the lives of their children. "In the case of political refugees, you already know they're out there," Crépeau said. "And if you can announce that you will resettle them, that there is a safe, legal and cheap way to come, they will wait for it. And then we share the number of refugees, and send delegations who work with the UNHCR to identify refugees." In establishing various criteria, such as age, education and physical abilities, people can be chosen at their points of origin or detention, and quotas can be shared. "You announce, for example, that Canada will take 30,000 for the next five years — that's 150,000, for Canada alone… people will wait in line. It's not risky, and it's organized."

He is confident that the global North, as well as countries in Latin American, can easily absorb 2 million refugees over the next five years. "Germany would take 60,000 instead of the 200,000 that recently landed there… It would be organized, and not chaotic, and populations will accept it."

Mr. Crépeau also warned against political discrimination between "legitimate" political refugees and "economic migrants," for the purpose of denying and sending back the latter. There is the "survival market" which includes ex-pats and earlier refugees already established and working in various countries, pulling in more family members and relatives from home countries, offering ample proof that there are already jobs for those who want them. "Migrants are not stupid — they won't come if there's no jobs out there."

But since unethical labor practices do exist in these underground labor sectors and exploitation of migrant workers continues, a more open and transparent migration process can only serve to produce more favorable conditions for workers who would be coming in seeking employment legitimately, and through legitimate avenues.

"And there's no problem of unfair competition. All the studies on labor markets show that migrants do not steal jobs. They either have a neutral effect on the job market, or they'll contribute to the creation of wealth and of jobs — things politicians can't say at the moment, because of their impact on elections. And in the general discourse in Europe, whether they're on the left or right, on migration they're saying the same things. But the more extreme parties have tried to take over the discourse on this issue."

Mr. Crépeau's contention is that "we are all migrants — we are a migrating species… this is what we've always done, and we are probably going to always do it. We've tried to stop people at borders at different times in history, and with different things like the invention of identity papers… But even though we don't recognize ourselves as migrants, we are always moving around — therefore, migration can't be stopped."

And so, countries at large need to recognize that fact, and the fact that for the human psyche, borders don't exist, before they can begin to implement new ways of dealing with the situation.

"What we want to do is not stop it, but to manage it. You'll see more foreign faces on the streets, more minority faces on the streets, and you'd better get used to it. Because that's what mobilization is all about — and that's what will make us wealthier, more dynamic, and more competitive in the global market — that's how it works. And it will come."


reportage: Paul Martin