Europe is on the verge of a political crisis over the issue of how to respond to the recent increased migratory flows, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean. Governments lament the human losses that occur while boat people try to reach Europe. Yet leaders seem to disagree on the measures needed to contain the crisis. Civil society organisations in Europe highlight the humanitarian emergency, yet are often sidelined by the voices stressing the security aspects of such influxes. Populations and governments in Western Europe seem to be reluctant in sharing, even partially, the burden resulting from the influx, currently borne by Southern Member States whose borders are also the EU borders in its periphery. Lately several governments have outright rejected a timid new European Agenda on Migration adopted by the European Commission. The latter toys with the idea of relocating some 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy, Malta and Greece to the rest of the EU on the basis of a quota related to the population and the economic situation of individual member states. In the meantime, the flux of boat people, now mainly coming from Syria, Eritrea and other African countries, continues – same as the death toll of those drowning in the Aegean or in the seas below Lampedusa. South European governments have openly stated their inability to cope with the increasing flows without substantially sharing this common challenge with the rest of their European partners. While the number of asylum seekers to be relocated is a very small percentage compared to the mounting numbers of refugees and migrants, the agenda avoids addressing the pressing but politically thorny issue of the hundreds of thousands of irregular immigrants residing already on European soil who will not be able to return in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, even if not much welcome, the new agenda appears to open a debate which has long being a taboo in EU politics as well as new perspectives and space for alliances and political moves. During the last days, deaths of smuggled refugees and racist attacks inside the western European countries, and the bursting of border securities, have provoked new proposals by governments and experts on broader and more sustainable ways of addressing the challenge.
Symbiosis, the Civil School of Political Studies in Greece, Network of Council of Europe, organised the Migration Policy Lab on “Safeguarding fundamental rights in the midst of increasing migratory flows and social crisis” in Syros from 3 to 7 September 2015. The Lab brought together important actors in the field, aiming to discuss these issues of deep political concern for Greek and European policy makers and produced a series of remarks and recommendations to be addressed to the Greek and EU authorities. The policy lab consisted of roundtable discussions on subjects related to the European and Greek migration policy in times of crisis.
During the “Framing the European context” session the speakers set the basis of the overall discussion elaborating the European institutional and legal framework and tracked EU policies for mixed migratory flows regarding asylum, return, detention, family and minors, as well as the Council of Europe approach. Following the introductory remarks, the “The crisis of mixed flows and the reactions of European states to the intensification of flows: Tragedy in the Mediterranean, asylum policies and security concerns” session demonstrated the elements of the humanitarian crisis of mixed flows in the Mediterranean and the reactions and security concerns of European states. The speakers were concerned with border enforcement and the management of mass flows by security authorities in the interior, namely verifications, surveillance and enforcement of mass movements, closed pre-departure centres versus reception centres. Other subjects elaborated by the speakers were smuggling and trafficking, deportations, urgency and overload of asylum procedures in the South, the challenges of relocation and the German initiative.
Beyond the critical reflection on the European policies on asylum, the seminar immersed in how the European societies reacted to the mass flows. How did the civil society mobilised and what was the effectiveness of solidarity actions? Which are the challenges of (non) dependency from the central state for the local authorities and societies? and what are the implications of political resentment of local populations that lead to rise of the extreme right, xenophobia, racism and exploitation? Further, speakers discussed the dimensions of the crisis on the geopolitical context and the challenges imposed on Europe related to the foreign policy agenda.
In addition, the more practical dimensions of the issue in the European scale were examined during the Migration Lab. The “What does it practically mean to accept that addressing mass refugee flows is a matter of European scale?” session explored the differences and relations between levels of action and the role of the involved actors, namely State versus non-State, National versus Local, European versus Regional versus Member States and European Union versus EEA versus Balkan periphery, using as tools the legal instruments and the institutional mechanisms and funding. Lastly, the speakers elaborated on whether a new migration policy is necessary in the case of Greece. What role for regions and municipalities? What role for civil society? Is funding the crux of the issue?