This Is Europe’s Last Chance to Fix Its Refugee Policy
The EU’s piecemeal solutions are coming apart. Only a surge of financial and political creativity can avoid a catastrophe.
Fourth, the crisis must be used to build common European mechanisms for protecting borders, determining asylum claims, and relocating refugees. Some modest progress is underway: Legislation establishing a European Border and Coast Guard was adopted this month by the European Parliament. But the Dublin III Regulation — the basis of determining which country bears responsibility for processing and hosting asylum-seekers — prevents solidarity among EU member states by putting most of the burden on the country of first entrance; it needs to be renegotiated.
A European solution is currently emerging on the ground in Greece, where the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) de facto examines asylum applications in order to assist the overwhelmed Greek authorities. A single European asylum procedure would remove the incentives for asylum shopping and rebuild trust among member states.
Fifth, once refugees have been recognized, there needs to be a mechanism for relocating them within Europe in an agreed way. It will be crucial for the EU to fundamentally rethink the implementation of its stillborn resettlement and relocation programs; a tentative step in this direction was taken last week in new proposals put forth by the European Commission. The union cannot coerce either member states or refugees to participate in these programs. They must be voluntary; a matching scheme could elicit preferences from both refugees and receiving communities so that people end up where they want to be and where they are welcome. EASO has begun to develop such a matching scheme.
These programs should be deeply anchored in communities. Mayors across Europe have shown a remarkable willingness to receive refugees but have been thwarted by national governments. Public-private sponsorship programs — wherein small groups of individuals, community organizations, and companies support newcomers, financially and otherwise, as they negotiate schools, job markets, and communities — could benefit from the untapped goodwill of citizens throughout Europe.
Canada provides a good role model (although its geographic context differs from Europe’s). In just four months, it admitted 25,000 Syrian refugees and is integrating them through public-private partnerships and local nonprofits. The government has promised to accept another 10,000 Syrians by year’s end and 44,000 refugees in total in 2016. (At the same time, it is admitting 300,000 migrants in total every year; this would be the equivalent of the EU accepting 4.5 million migrants annually.)
The process by which Canada resettles refugees has been refined through repeated use over a long period of time and passes even the hyperstringent security standards of its southern neighbor. The vetting of Syrian asylum-seekers was meticulously carried out by some 500 consular and military officials mobilized immediately after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office last November and made the project a top priority. Both the public and media responded positively, despite the shock of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, which occurred at the height of Canada’s Syrian refugee program. Determined leadership from the top, close coordination with receiving local communities, robust screening and resettlement procedures, and honesty in confronting inevitable problems — these were the main ingredients of success. Compare that to conditions prevailing in Europe, and you get an indication of the distance that the EU has to travel.
Sixth, the European Union, together with the international community, must support foreign refugee-hosting countries far more generously than it currently does. The required support is in part financial, so that countries such as Jordan can provide adequate schooling, housing, training, and health care to refugees, and partly in the form of trade preferences, so that these countries can provide employment both to refugees and to their own populations. It simply does not make sense for Europe to commit upwards of 200 billion euros between 2015 and 2020 to deal with the crisis on its own shores — this is the amount member states are on track to spend on refugee reception and integration — when a small fraction of that amount spent abroad would have kept the influx of migrants to manageable proportions.
Equally, the EU must be more generous in its approach to Africa and not merely offer financial aid in exchange for migration controls, as the European Commission proposed last month. This approach simply empowers African leaders to wield migration as a threat against Europe, much as Erdogan has done. Instead, it must focus on real development in Africa. This means free trade, massive investment, and a commitment to rooting out corruption.
Some leaders in Europe have called for a Marshall Plan for Africa. This is an admirable ambition. But when it comes to the details, Europe is far away from such a vision. After World War II, the United States invested 1.4 percent of its GDP to help rebuild Europe — every year for four years. An investment on the scale of the original Marshall Plan would require around 270 billion euros a year for the next four years, a number we are very far from.