The European Agenda for Migration from a Global Perspective: An Interview with Mr. Eugenio Ambrosi, IOM Regional Director for the EU

The European Agenda for Migration aims on one side at stopping the human tragedies occurring at EU’s external borders, on the other side at ensuring a better migration management in Europe. What is the international context within which the European Agenda for Migration is being implemented?

After 2015, the international scenario has witnessed a significant change, when it comes to migration. In particular, two main elements should be taken into account.

First of all, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. For the first time, Migration is included in the global development framework, recognizing well-managed migration’s integral role in and immense contribution to sustainable development.

The second element is the approval by the UN General Assembly of the The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a series of principles and standards that have been set and agreed by the world leaders expressing their political will “to save lives, protect rights and share responsibility on a global scale”.

Both these elements are crucial as they contain commitments made by the international community, as well as standards and principles that every signatory country has committed to adhere to.

For us here in Europe and for all the countries that have subscribed to these international commitments, this means that when we talk about the Implementation of the European Agenda for Migration, we are at the same time bound by the commitment that we have taken at the International level within the United Nations General Assembly.

These international commitments are also an evidence of coherence and reliability by the EU and its Member States towards the international community, and a sign of EU willingness to remain a relevant and a strong trustworthy global actor.

What are in your opinion the strong and weak points of European Agenda on Migration as it is now? And what do you believe could be improved?

What we have seen so far in the implementation of the European Agenda for Migration, is that it is a pretty balanced document to begin with, containing 4 pillars,  touching upon the issue of improving legal channels as well as combating irregular migration, the promotion and the upgrading of the Common European Asylum System as part of the strategy.  At the same time, we believe there is an excessive focus on the first pillar, namely the one on “Reducing the incentives for irregular migration: the focus is on addressing the root causes behind irregular migration in non-EU countries, dismantling smuggling and trafficking networks and defining actions for the better application of return policies”. Instead, not enough attention is given to the fourth pillar on Developing a new policy on legal migration.

In general, the debates that have been taking place since the issue of the European Agenda on Migration, and some of the related decisions that have been taken since the Agenda is in force, show a certain level of confusion on the meaning of “legal channels” of migration to Europe.

Another relevant aspect is related to the status of those migrants that do not fall within the UNHCR Convention of the Status of Refugee.

Therefore, I believe the European Agenda for Migration should integrate the following points:

  • We need to rebalance the implementation of the European Agenda for Migration, by giving equal attention, resources and policy strategy to all the four pillars to all the pillars that compose it;
  • We need to have very clear in our mind that there are different categories of migrants that come to Europe, and that these different categories require different attention and different measures to respond to their needs, and to allow them to enter Europe and get integrated appropriately;

One of the greatest challenges that we currently face is that we need to start putting in place mechanisms, policy and programmes that bring about structural changes in the way that migration is managed, at the European level as well as at the international level.

The European policies towards migration seem to have been so far mainly driven by a crisis response mode, rather than by a mid-long term structural plan. Would you agree with that? If yes, how could

Yes. We have been to some extent scared of the number of people that were arriving to Europe and we have reacted in a way that we thought it was adequate to respond to an emergency. But by now, this is not an emergency. What is happening and what has been happening in Europe which is a very small fraction of the movement of migrants and refugees across the world, is not an emergency, is not a passing moment or a crisis due to some specific circumstances, but is a structural issue. It is a structural issue that is dictated by a few very clear elements of evidence that we can find both in Europe and in the neighboring region, especially in Africa.

The first very clear evidence of this structural situation is the demography in Europe which is dramatically going down, as stated by Eurostat: the demographic curve in Europe is declining, despite some exceptions in certain EU countries. At the same time in other regions of the world we see the opposite trend so somehow these two opposing trends will need to be re-balanced and managed in a way that is positive for both sides.

The other relevant element related to the demographic curve in Europe is that our labor market in the next few years will suffer of important gaps in the labor force. In a few years, we will not have enough workers to fill the labor market’s gap of our systems. Of course, the only reasonable and possible way of filling those gaps is to put in place
an appropriate programme to allow economic migration to come into Europe in a legal, controlled, safe way.

What do you think can be the main challenge for Europe when it comes to put in place such programme?

I think it is important to notice a key point. We have been too much driven by the misconception that the best way of ensuring proper border management and security to Europe is to have a closed-door policy. If we close the door, nobody comes in, we are safe. This does not work because doors can never be closed completely, we are seeing that not just in Europe but everywhere else. So, the flow of migrants cannot be simply stopped.

An excessively closed-door policy and an excessive reduction of legal channels for economic migration, has a direct result on those people who migrate to Europe, and very often this forces them to come irregularly. In doing so, we actually increase the risk to security, because we do not know who is coming in. Instead, a structured regulation of legal migration would allow them to appear in our visa information system database: they would be identified. So, when we talk about securing the external border of the EU, the possibility of having an appropriate programme and policy for allowing a certain level of legal economic migration will be the most efficient way to better secure and manage EU external border. And I think that this is a consideration that needs to be kept in mind as we move forward in the management of both European and international migration.


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