An unprecedented influx of refugees mostly from the Middle East has been arriving in Europe in the last years, causing a phenomenon that has been termed the European refugee crisis or, more generally, the migrant crisis. The Arab Spring, beginning in late 2010, may be considered the trigger that started the present wave of refugees. The events that had their beginning in that period led to the overthrow of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen as well as bloody civil wars in Libya and Syria, causing millions of people to flee their homes and seek international protection outside their homeland. Syrian refugees found their first refuge in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Beginning in 2015, the refugees started to arrive in Europe over the Mediterranean en masse. Three Mediterranean routes have been the main pathways to entering Europe: from Morocco to Spain; from Northern Africa, mainly Libya, to Italy; and from Turkey to Greece. In the spring of 2015, Turkey closed its border with Syria, putting an end to a four-year period of open-door policy. At the same time, Turkey opened its sea border with Greece, which brought the full scope of the refugee crisis to Europe.
The number of arrivals over the Mediterranean grew every month, reaching its apogee in October 2015, when 200,000 crossed the sea. By the spring of 2016, however, the numbers started to fall, after the EU-Turkey Agreement had been signed with Turkey, resulting in the number of arrivals to the Greek islands dwindling to just 100 persons per day. In 2015 and 2016, more than 1.3 million refugees arrived in Europe across the Mediterranean, 1 million of whom came in 2015, mostly from Syria, but also in significant numbers from Iraq and Afghanistan. This large number of refugees has brought migration to the centre of the stage of political debate, and caused considerable changes in the immigration policies of several countries that used to be very open (e.g. Sweden) and brought political forces opposing immigration to power or closer to power. The mass arrival of refugees has provoked debates about core European values as well as the legal side of migration. In other words, the migration crisis has also paved the way to identity and legal crises. This sub-chapter looks for answers to two questions: how does international protection differ from other types of migration and what are the social, political and legal influences of the migrant crisis on Europe and Estonia?
The number of refugees has been rising globally in recent decades even without the European migrant crisis. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 65 million people were forced to leave their homeland in 2015. This means that every 113th person of the 7.4 billion people living in the world is a refugee. There were 21 million refugees in the world in 2015. Despite the migrant crisis, only 6% of them have reached Europe, which is not very different from the share of the European Union (EU) in the global population. According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.
Immigration to the European Union and International Protection
Migration by refugees is different from other types of migration (related to work, studies or family) in that it is a forced, not voluntary, migration. Refugees are persons who have left their country of citizenship or permanent residence because of an extraordinary event (such as a natural disaster or a military conflict). States are obliged to review applications for international protection submitted by refugees and to consider them, but they are not obliged to unconditionally grant international protection. Still, sending people back to a country where their life or freedom would be endangered is prohibited. According to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, refugee status must be granted to a person who is forced to leave his or her home country because of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. In addition to refugee status, subsidiary protection is granted by the States of the EU to persons if there is reason to believe that expelling or returning them to their homeland may bring about a serious threat to their life or health.
International human rights organisations have fiercely criticised the wealthiest countries in the world for accepting too few refugees considering their wealth. Five countries (Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa), whose combined wealth accounts for less than 2% of the global GDP, have received almost half of all the refugees in the world. The six largest economic powers (the USA, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK) on the other hand, representing 60% of the global GDP between themselves, received under 9% of the refugees last year.
The overwhelming majority of refugees (86%) are thus living in the poorest countries of the world. At the end of 2015, the countries with the largest number of refugees were Jordan (2.8 million) and Turkey (2.7 million). Pakistan, which used to be first, has now fallen to third place (1.6 million). The reason why refugees are concentrated in these countries is that in the case of a conflict, people usually flee to the nearest safe area, which is often a neighbouring state. The main conflict zones are currently located in developing countries, which is why the largest numbers of refugees are in these countries.
A characteristic trait of Europe’s present refugee crisis is the very large number of refugees who have arrived in such a short time. In 2015, twice as many first applications for international protection were lodged in the EU compared to 2014, and in comparison to the years 2008-2010, the growth is even 6-8-fold (Figure 1.4.1). In the early 1990s, the number of applicants for international protection also grew significantly because of the wars in Yugoslavia, but the record figures of that time were still just half of the top figures at present: 670,000 applications were filed in 1992. Although the large number of applications puts great pressure on the migration, security, social and other systems of EU countries, what really determines the long-term impact is how many of the applicants are eventually granted international protection.
Figure 1.4.1. Number of refugees, first time applications for international protection, European Union, 2008-2016
Source: Eurostat, UNHCR.
A large number of the applicants for international protection are not granted permission to remain in the EU after their application has been reviewed. In the years 2008-2014, the share of positive decisions out of all the applications remained around 27-33%. This shows that two-thirds of the people arriving in Europe as refugees did not actually meet the conditions set for granting international protection. The conflicts near Europe have significantly increased the percentage of positive decisions in recent years (52% in 2015, 61% in 2016). Almost a third (28%) of the first time applicants for international protection in the first 9 months of 2016 were Syrians. To arrivals from other countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, the positive decisions were not granted so easily. In the case of Afghanistan, Europe’s attention is more directed to providing humanitarian aid in the country of origin. For example, the EU has promised to support the development of Afghanistan with €13.6 billion in the years 2016-2020. In return, the EU expects Afghanistan to cooperate more effectively in combating irregular immigration and to take back its own citizens.
Figure 1.4.2. Share of positive decisions for applications for international protection, European Union, 2008-2016
Eurostat statistics show that EU countries have issued an average of 2-2.6 million initial residence permits to immigrants from third countries in the recent years. A comparison of reasons for migration reveals that the numbers of people reuniting their families and those who have arrived in the EU for study or employment, are much larger than for those who receive international protection. Family-related migration into Europe has been 700,000 persons per year; labour migration 600,000; and study migration 500,000 annually. Although the number of beneficiaries of international protection has grown considerably in the last years, the figure is still less than for the other main types of migration.
According to the results of Eurobarometer 2016, people in the EU see migration and terrorism as the biggest challenges the Union has to face. Almost half (48%) of the inhabitants of the EU see immigration as the main challenge. Terrorism is seen as the main challenge for the EU by two-fifths (39%) of the inhabitants. Thus, issues related to migration have surpassed concerns related to economic problems and the labour market, which have been seen as the most important in past years. Seeing immigrants, including the beneficiaries of international protection, as a threat is related first and foremost to the unexpectedly rapid increase in their numbers, amplified by the different cultural background of the refugees as well as the somewhat inept way the leaders of the EU and its Member States have been handling and solving problems related to the immigrants. The concerns of the citizens of the European Union about immigration should not be seen as the public being insufficiently informed, rather they should be an incentive to develop more efficient and better-considered migration-related action plans.
The main challenges that researchers have associated with immigration, including the large influx of refugees, are a potentially growing burden for state social insurance systems; the economy and labour market; threats to political stability and public order; as well as the threat of terrorism and growth of extremism (Huysmans 2006, Guild 2009, Lucassen, Lubbers 2012). Another important problem is the impact of immigration on the national identity and culture of the destination country, as well as the segregation of immigrants, resulting in a weakened cohesion of the society as a whole (Heisler & Layton-Henry 1993; Bolt et al. 2012). These areas may become problematic if the immigrants have not been adequately integrated into the society of the recipient country.
The Socio-Economic Aspect of the Refugee Crisis
The public tends to see immigrants, especially the beneficiaries of international protection, as a burden to the social insurance and welfare system of the receiving country and they are often perceived as abusers of the country’s welfare system (Huysmans 2006). Societies are concerned that the number of people arriving in the country is too large or that there are too many poor people among them, which will make them a heavy burden not just for the social system, but also to the housing market and the educational system, as well as a threat to economic prosperity (Asari et al. 2015). It is difficult to assess the economic impact of immigration involving beneficiaries of international protection because the research looks mainly at all immigrants, not just at beneficiaries of international protection. Researchers have found that in countries where beneficiaries of international protection comprise a large segment of immigrants in total, the contribution of immigrants to the state revenues tends to be smaller than in countries where labour migration dominates (Liebig & Mo 2013; Dustmann & Frattini 2014).
According to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF 2016), receiving a large number of beneficiaries of international protection supports the economic growth of Europe, but the impact may vary in the shorter and longer terms. In the short term, the immigration of refugees increases the GDP moderately, mostly because while the expenses of the state in supporting the beneficiaries of protection increase, the number of consumers and those in the workforce increases as well. For instance, the Government of Germany has allocated over €20 billion for the reception of refugees, which has brought along additional demands on the domestic market (e.g. the residential market) and increased the country’s economic growth by 0.3% in 2016. In the European Union as a whole, the increase of GDP generated by the beneficiaries of international protection has been estimated at 0.13%. According to the IMF, the long-term effect of the arrival of refugees depends on how well the beneficiaries of protection are integrated. It must be noted in the case of the analyses of the IMF and the OECD that the short-term enlivening effect of immigration on economic growth is deduced from the volume indicators of the GDP. Whether immigration affects the productivity of European economies, and how, is not answered in the studies by these international organisations. Also, integration programs require considerable public-sector expenditures on people with different cultural backgrounds arriving in Europe, and these expenditures compete with other challenges of the receiving country, first and foremost the pressure exerted on the social system by an aging population.
Present experience shows that people who have received protection tend to integrate with the employment market to only a moderate extent, and thus their contribution to state revenues is smaller than that of the immigrants who have come to the EU to find work (Liebig & Mo 2013). Their participation rate increases, but rather slowly. It is hindered by several factors. Beneficiaries of international protection are more vulnerable than other immigrants, because they do not speak the official language and often have a lower level of education. Because of the forced nature of refugee migration and the traumatic experiences often associated with it, beneficiaries of international protection often suffer from psychological ailments (Steel et al. 2009). It is harder for the beneficiaries of protection to enter the labour market of the receiving country and their achievements are surpassed by other immigrants. In countries where refugees form a significant part of all immigrants (e.g. the Nordic countries), studies indicate that they are more likely to remain dependent on social support for a longer time (Ekberg 2006).
Providing generous social services to immigrants may cause discontent among the local population, who perceive the effect of immigration as predominantly negative. For example in Belgium, Italy, France, Sweden, Germany, Hungary and the United Kingdom the majority of the population finds that immigration has put pressure on the accessibility of public services, and immigrants have made it more difficult for the locals to find employment. The citizens of Europe perceive immigration as posing an actual threat (e.g. competition for jobs and social benefits and increase in crime) as well as a symbolic threat to values, worldview and identity.
According to European Social Surveys, the number of people who think that the EU should not receive any people from poorer countries has grown in the recent years. The main fear is that the arrival of low-skilled persons who have received protection may have a negative impact on citizens who are unemployed or in low-paid jobs. The beneficiaries of protection compete with the native population and earlier immigrants for participation in training and skills improvement. Studies conducted in Sweden show that the influx of beneficiaries of international protection in 1999-2007 did not affect the position of the native population on the labour market, but worsened the chances of those who had immigrated earlier (Ruist 2013). In several Member States, the beneficiaries of protection mostly have low-skilled, low-salary jobs and have positions lower than their education level.
Considering the small number of beneficiaries of international protection, it may be assumed that their impact on the economy and social system of Estonia is negligible. Still, it is important to support their quick entry into the labour market to help stave off social tensions. The successful adaptation of people who have presently been resettled or relocated will have a significant effect on the attitude of the people of Estonia towards immigration and immigrants in the near future.
The Political Aspects of the Refugee Crisis
Security, especially terrorism, is one of the main topics in the focus of public debate in connection with the refugee crisis. The mass arrival of refugees has been seen as an issue of security since the beginning of the crisis in 2015, because it is perceived as being out of control. The present wave of immigration brings mostly refugees to Europe, but also people who are prone to radicalisation. The phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, however, is not directly related to the present crisis. It is the descendants of people who have immigrated earlier, born in the new homeland, who tend to radicalise, as well as the inhabitants of the destination countries who have converted to Islam (Vidino & Hughes 2015; Schuurman et al. 2016) and one of the reasons behind it is social inequality. Therefore, solutions for the long term have to be local, directed towards decreasing inequality, improving mutual relations and integration between communities, helping vulnerable young people, etc.
The refugee crisis of 2015 has brought along an antagonism between and within communities. Some mainly see the threats related to immigration (changes in the cultural identity of the society, rising crime rates, terrorism), while others do not pay sufficient attention to the threats and tend to emphasise only the positive side of immigration for the societies of the receiving countries (additional workforce, respect for human rights, a display of humaneness). Opposing attitudes towards immigration are about to rearrange the present political landscape, which used to be based on a liberal consensus. As a result of the changes, political parties in Germany, Sweden and France, which have traditionally opposed each other, are now forced to cooperate and form coalitions in order to keep the anti-immigration protest parties away from power. Mainstream parties that used to oppose each other have become allies.
Increased polarisation is caused by the dissatisfaction of the native population with the increasing immigration on the one hand, and the dissatisfaction of the immigrants and their descendants with their subsistence in the new homeland on the other. The refugee crisis has had a negative effect on the relations of the EU countries and raised numerous legal issues. A good example is the decision of Slovakia and Hungary to challenge, at the European Court of Justice, the decision of the European Commission concerning the relocation of beneficiaries of international protection among the Member States. On an everyday level there is the political choice as to whether and to what extent concessions can be made in the functioning of the rule of law, in the respect for fundamental rights and the rights of minorities, and in the openness of the society. Controversies on the level of ideas hinder the cooperation of EU States in practical matters and make it difficult to reach a consensus in implementing efficient measures to control the migrant crisis.
In Estonia, the refugee crisis has also brought migration-related issues into the political debate. Estonia has not participated in the resettlement and relocation programs before, and therefore the relevant action plans and supporting measures had to be constructed from scratch. The need for information (on how the resettlement and relocation program works; how many people will be arriving in Estonia and when, etc.) of the people of Estonia was considerable, but the decision-makers often did not have accurate information to share. In 2015, local authorities were unsure about how the accommodation of the beneficiaries of protection would be organised and declared that the state’s communications activities were insufficient.
The crisis and the reception of people who had been granted international protection divided the public sphere of Estonia into two camps. A study carried out by the Government Office in June 2015 showed that more people (42%) were against receiving people who had been granted protection than in favour of it (32%), and this antagonism was also expressed in social media. To express and explain opinions, Facebook communities called ‘NO to Refugees’ (over 18,000 likes) and ‘Tolerant Estonia’ (over 10,000 likes) were created. By the end of 2016, Estonia had received 77 persons under the European Agenda on Migration and the procedures planned in the Relocation and Resettlement Action Plan were implemented accordingly. Partners have also been found who will be providing the support services (health checks, support persons and translation services, teaching Estonian and finding accommodation) to the beneficiaries of protection and facilitating their adaptation. By the end of 2016, the attitude of the inhabitants of Estonia towards immigration and the beneficiaries of protection had also changed for the better. Fifty-six per cent (56%) of the people of Estonia were in favour of receiving people who are fleeing from war.
The Legal Aspects of the Refugee Crisis
Legislation sets the limits and the framework that has to be taken as the basis when political decisions are made about the migrant crisis in Europe or elsewhere. The refugee crisis that has hit Europe in recent years, however, is in many respects also a legal crisis on three levels: international, European and constitutional law. In connection with migration, arguments and disagreements over the contents of international law have become more pronounced. Governments often employ a creative-interpretation approach to applying laws. Thus, interpretation and application of international law has become a battleground for political and ideological struggle.
The moral reproach has often been heard over the recent years that European countries are not willing (or enthusiastic enough) to fulfil their obligations in the field of human rights and are not doing enough to ensure the right of asylum to refugees, most of whom come from the Middle East and Africa. The critics most often refer to the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was originally applicable to persons who fled in or from Europe before 1951. Later, in 1967, a protocol extended the applicability of the convention outside Europe and the time limitation was removed. To bring an example, a group of international legal experts signed a pubic letter at the annual conference of the European Society of International Law in September 2015, calling upon European countries to adhere to the legal obligations arising from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that they had taken upon themselves: to refrain from impeding refugees from settling in Europe and to not send them back to unsafe countries. According to this logic the countries that have physically closed, to a large extent, the Western-Balkan migration route have violated the rights of refugees, and some even find that the whole of the European Union is to blame for signing an agreement with Turkey in March 2016 to limit the migration flow towards Greece. When governments are accused of violating human rights to such an extent, this is a crisis of international law.
Legal challenges on the European Union level
The refugee crisis has split the EU, placing on one side the European Commission, who sounds the call for solidarity and wants to start allocating hundreds of thousands of refugees among the EU countries, using a mandatory quota system - and on the other side most conspicuously a number of Eastern European countries (the Visegrad group, i.e. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary) who were decidedly against this solution. Those in favour of the redistribution of refugees have been citing solidarity as a key principle of the EU, but the limits of solidarity as a legal principle can be disputed. There is a general principle in law: what has not been agreed to specifically is not (yet) law and thus not binding.
In 1990, the Dublin Convention was adopted, which declared that a seeker of international protection arriving in the EU must remain in the first Member State and register there. This current law was temporarily suspended and seekers of international protection were allowed to travel on in the EU, and were essentially allowed to pick their favourite destination country (Germany, Sweden, etc.). This put significant pressure on the validity of the Schengen Agreement guaranteeing movement without border controls within the EU. The first major recipients of immigration, especially Greece, were not able to cope with the migration pressure coming from the south on their own and had let most of the seekers of international protection move on north.
The statement by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel made at the peak of mass migration in 2015, saying that seekers of international protection are welcome in Germany and “we can do it” was actually made outside the law applicable in the EU up to that time (the Dublin Regulation). Some influential German lawyers even said it contradicted both EU law and the applicable (specifically German) constitutional law. The German Government replied to this critique by saying that in a state of emergency, EU law had to retreat temporarily before humanitarian considerations and the need to protect the human rights of refugees. Still, the German Government has been severely criticized, for instance by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who reproachfully reminded Merkel that this was not a decision for Germany’s Chancellor alone to make, as it brought along consequences for all the countries of the EU.
At the same time, European law and its interpretations have had significant influence on management of the refugee crisis. As we know, European law operates on two levels. The first is European Union law, created in Brussels and interpreted in Luxembourg, where the European Court of Justice is located. This is the level where the Dublin Regulation belongs above all. The voluntary agreement of the Member States for redistribution of refugees within the EU who have been granted international protection is also on the EU level. A few people who have been granted protection under this scheme and their families have started arriving in Estonia as well since spring 2016.
The second level of European law is the European Convention of Human Rights, interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Some rulings by the ECHR have influenced the policy of the Member States of the Council of Europe (many of whom are also members of the EU) in the refugee crisis. Thus, the ECHR deemed on February 23, 2012 in its decision concerning the Eritrean and Somali refugees Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy that Italy had violated the human rights of the seekers of international protection as defined in the European Human Rights Convention by intercepting their vessels on the Mediterranean and directing them back to Libya without checking their right to apply for refugee status.
The former Professor of International Law at Cambridge and judge of the UN International Court of Justice (elected from Australia) James Crawford, for instance, has pointed out that with the Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy decision, the ECHR had interpreted the application area of the convention as extending outward, and that other international courts would probably not have interpreted an international treaty (which is what the European Human Rights Convention is) this way. However, the Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy decision has had significant impact, narrowing down the political choices and room for decision of Italy and other EU countries bordering the Mediterranean (and actually all of the states of EU) in the refugee crisis.
The decision has forced countries of the Council of Europe to become protectors of human rights outside their own territory, especially on the Mediterranean Sea. The vessels of refugees and seekers of international protection are transported to Italy from the Mediterranean, although establishing European Union refugee centres in Northern Africa could be a more efficient way to limit illegal migration. This solution has been blocked by the sovereignty and opposition of these countries (another factor arising from international law), and also by the fact that state authority has collapsed in the source countries (e.g. Libya).
The refugee crisis and constitutional law
The wavering of international as well as European law has brought along a certain crisis of constitutional law within the EU, because all three levels of justice are deeply intertwined for EU Member States, including Estonia. The central question of constitutional law is sovereignty, i.e. the question of who is taking decisions that are important for the state and the people. For example, the European Commission tried to seize some power from the EU States, in the spirit of a federal state, with their initial extensive compulsory quota plan. This has decreased certainty as to who actually has the right to say the last word in the meaning of constitutional law: is it the Member State or the institutions of Brussels (or Strasbourg)? In the framework of constitutional law, the primary task and the source of legitimacy of every state is ensuring the security and safety of its citizens. Simultaneously with the refugee crisis, gruesome terror attacks have become more common, and therefore this task has not been fulfilled satisfactorily.
The refugee crisis is far from over and many people think it will remain a part of our lives in the future. Therefore the European Union, as well as Estonia, will have to face serious discussions on how to continue with the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is sometimes rhetorically torn out of the general framework of international law, creating an impression that the countries of Europe have no other choice but to accept extensive immigration as the new reality. However, the Geneva Convention is not the only treaty in international law and the rights of refugees are not the only legal right protected by international law. The sovereignty of states is still a central principle of international law, and therefore the states have in principle the right to review agreements signed earlier, if needed. This would be unprecedented in the case of human rights, but not completely unthinkable.
The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is related to the idea of the universality of human rights, according to which human rights are applicable equally, regardless of race, origin, residence, etc. It should be noted that, at least from the viewpoint of an extensive seeking of international protection, the idea is quite fresh in a historical perspective, even somewhat experimental. The Geneva Convention was extended at the wave-crest of decolonisation in 1967 to be also applicable outside post-WWII Europe. However, it is unlikely that those who were discussing it could imagine that millions of people from outside the European cultural area wishing to get into Europe, whether because of wars and violence or for economic reasons, would start relying on the convention. After all, the idea behind decolonisation was to enable nations who had gained independence to build their own statehood, not to let nations move over to Europe en masse.
The crisis of international law in the context of the refugee crisis is first and foremost a crisis of interpreting the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The convention has several ‘holes’ allowing it to be interpreted in different ways by different countries. For German courts, for example, Greece is not a safe destination country these days and Turkey, in turn, is not a safe destination country for Greek courts. Analysts have pointed out that as it stands, the convention makes promises and encourages hopes that will be impossible to fulfil later. Distinguishing between political refugees and economic migrants - one of the premises that the Geneva Convention rests on - is often very hard. So maybe it makes more sense to accept the situation for what it is and do something about the applicable law?
That’s why calls to reform international refugee law have become more common. Top-level politician, Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Lokke Rasmussen, called in December 2015 for changing and supplementing the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees if the uncontrollable mass immigration continues, although he did not specify how it should be done. In the eyes of the citizens of several European countries, an interpretation of the Refugee Convention that enables mass immigration from conflict zones bordering Europe has started to contradict their political will, so that from some point, it will also be contradicting the principle of democracy.
Even if the 1967 protocol of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees declares the right to seek international protection to be a potentially unlimited universal right (provided that certain conditions are met), people do not agree (anymore) to its unlimited application. Other legal benefits protected by law also merit attention in this context, for example the right to safety, the right to decide for oneself and the right to uphold the historically-developed cultural identity of the nations of Europe. Therefore an unprecedented situation may arise, where two of the basic values of the Western World collide: human rights and democracy. Still, it seems that if protection of human rights and the principle of the universality of human rights are to be maintained, it will not be possible to ignore the migration-related concerns of a large number of Europe’s citizens. At the same time, this kind of tension may bring along a schism in the EU, as the nations of Europe have different views on the refugee crisis, depending on their geography as well as history.
Considering the present immigration flows, the mass influx of refugees in 2015 is likely to remain a short-term shock. First, control has been established over the migration pressure on Europe, largely due to Turkey. In 2016, the number of refugees arriving in Europe from Turkey and Northern Africa over the Mediterranean was just a third of the number of the year before. There were over three million refugees staying in Turkey at the end of 2016. Achieving control over the mass migration of refugees will probably mitigate the fears that migration causes, which will in turn decrease the antagonism between communities.
Secondly, the number of refugees in Europe is bound to decrease because a many of them will not be granted international protection and they will be sent back to their country of origin. Thirdly, despite the different views of the Member States on the best way to solve the refugee crisis, solutions have nonetheless been found for mitigating the present crisis and dealing with similar situations in the future. It is true, though, that these solutions have not yet been fully implemented.
Of these solutions, the relocation and resettlement quotas for all Member States to be applied in cases of emergency have earned the most attention. It is important to note in this connection that relocation within the EU is not going to help mitigate the causes of the refugee crisis, nor decrease irregular immigration to Europe. Resettlement from third countries will let certified migrants enter Europe legally, without resorting to dangerous migration routes and human trafficking.
The roots of the refugee crisis are outside of Europe. Therefore, for minimising the impact of the crisis, it is not only important to develop a common reception system, but also to cooperate with the source countries. The European Commission is paying more attention to developing the new migration partnership framework that will help administrate the process better. The aim of the migration partnership agreements is to allocate more means to external activities and to cooperate more closely with the main source and transit countries (Jordan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Tunisia, etc.), linking the delivery of development aid with preventing irregular immigration. Efforts are also being made to find diplomatic and political solutions to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya. Migration pressure on Europe will not decrease until life is normalised in these regions.
To control immigration, Europe’s external borders will have to be monitored better than they have been so far. A joint Border and Coast Guard Agency of the European Union was established for that purpose. Besides a more efficient control of the border, it is also important that the refugees that are not granted legal grounds to stay in Europe should be sent back to their country of origin. To achieve better efficiency with the return procedure, the EU will compile a list of safe countries of origin that will make it possible to review the applications for international protection submitted by persons from these countries faster, and send the persons who have been given a negative decision back to the country of origin.
It is up to the European Union to find sustainable solutions to control migration - solutions which would ensure a safe living environment in Europe while also saving the lives of refugees; increasing the number of returnees; letting refugees stay in their neighbouring countries; and helping third countries deal with the causes of irregular migration. Meeting this task is probably one of the most serious challenges for Europe since the Second World War: how to reform the organisation and implementation of migration and refugee protection so that moving to Europe would not be seen as everyman’s right. The right to asylum must remain, but it has to be kept in mind that since its very beginning, it was devised as a temporary, alleviating and life-saving measure, not as a right for nations to move.
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