Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Written by: Karina Matvienko
Constant and unchecked inflow of information nowadays demands a particular skill called “critical thinking” in order to interpret current developments in the world. Unfortunately, this skill does not come automatically with reading media and informing yourself about some facts. Each topic has to be thought through and discussed from various perspectives in order to build a comprehensive picture of the issue. The migrant issue in Europe is exactly that topic which requires more understanding of our own rather than what we get by the “gate keepers” called “media.”
Usually we refer to the high influx of asylum seekers coming into Europe in 2015 as “migrant crisis”, “refugee crisis” or “asylum crisis”. The sheer lack of unanimity in terminology indicates our different understanding of the events in 2015. Pay attention to the opening sentence of this paragraph, I also use the word “asylum seekers” instead of “refugees” or “migrants” because I have my own perception of the problem which I would like to elaborate in this post.
“The migrant issue”, as it has been usually described, has been heavily mediated for years in Europe. When the amount of asylum seekers reached its peak in 2015, the media labelled the events as “European migrant crisis.” This is where we have to stop and take a closer look at the word “migrant.” Migrant is an overarching term which includes different categories of people moving across international or within national borders and does not confine to “asylum seekers.” This can also be an economic or an internal migrant who have clearly not been on the agenda of the “European migrant crisis.” Therefore, I will refer to the developments of 2015 and their repercussions as to the “asylum seekers crisis” from this point on.
The issue has also been skilfully manipulated by the anti-EU and nationalist political groups what has significantly fuelled their popularity afterwards. In such countries as Poland and Hungary these are not just opposition parties but the ruling ones, which are basically the “nation voices.” They argue that refugees of non-European cultures put the European civilization in peril and Hungary, for example, frames its migration agenda as “a bulwark in a clash of civilizations, with Muslim migrants threatening Christianity and Christian values.” Poland and Hungary have taken no refugees within the relocation scheme and the negative sentiments towards refugees are known to be the highest in these two countries. Interestingly enough, according to one of the surveys conducted by Global Attitude Survey in 2018 only Hungary opposes taking more refugees (56% against) whereas in Poland 49% (with 36% against) have expressed their support. Moreover, according to the Economist public polling 2018 on the positive sentiments towards non-EU migrants, the EU average has increased in a positive direction up to 40% since 2014 with Italy and Germany - one of the main asylum application recipients - having one of the most significant improvements among the EU-28.
Given these arguments, the problem seems to be just in the governments which are strictly against the human rights-oriented EU policy. However, this is more a symptom rather than a cause. The problem is in the EU regulations. Europe’s migration institutional framework was unfit for the purpose of 2015. The document which regulates the procedures of asylum applications and further steps is the infamous Dublin Regulation. The problem with the Dublin Regulation is that it has not been designed for the scale of asylum applications which Europe faced in 2015 and has been facing ever since. It does not address the issue of relocation and resettlement. Everything it regulates was actually put right in the name of the document: Regulation No 604/2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person. If you go through the document, you will stumble across neither the situations when a country is overloaded with applications nor the mechanism which is applicable in this case. This is exactly the stumbling block of the whole issue. The EU has been proposing the distribution key which would ease the burden of the coastal states Italy, Greece and Malta.
They suffer most because the Dublin Regulation states that asylum seekers should register and apply for asylum in the first country of entry. Provided that the most popular routes the asylum seekers take are the sea routes, this is clearly unfair towards the EU coastal countries.
Inability of the EU institutions to handle the asylum seekers issue has resulted in an increase of the negative sentiments towards people who seek refuge in those countries who shouldered most of the burden (Greece, Italy, Germany, Sweden) and anti-refugees countries Hungary and Poland. This contributes to a median of 51% of people who believe that there should be fewer immigrants. Nonetheless the problem is not of the cultural origin but in the system which cannot properly take care of the issue. Different public pollings prove this point. A median of 53% of people across the EU believe that migrants make country stronger since they are hard-working and talented. And a median of 77% of the EU citizens across Europe support taking in refugees.
Europe has now been struggling for the united policy which would solve the issue. Answering the question raised in the heading, we should bear in mind all of the aforementioned arguments and add one more. Europe is more than a geographic unit, it is a whole civilization with its own values and principles. Civilizations rise and fall because at some point they cannot respond to the challenges they face. The “challenge and response” approach in history studies allows us to look at a broader picture and see that asylum seekers issue is one of the challenges the EU has to deal with, and it is too early to make conclusions if the game has been lost. It is much more important to understand where the problem is and how to fix it. It is impossible to build a perfect mechanism which would be resilient to any jolts. It is, however, possible to build such a core of that mechanism which would allow for adaptation and change in times when it is needed. We shall see if the EU cosmopolitan core endures the challenge.