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The new European Agenda for Managing Migration: How to find the needle, and not destroy the haystack

Dilip Ratha's picture
Earlier this week, the EU announced a new agenda to address the latest wave of migration through the Mediterranean. Some 30,000 migrants are estimated to have arrived in Europe this year already, and over 1,800 have died in the sea. Last year Syrians and Eritreans were the two largest groups of such migrants. Most of them took to the sea from Libya.

The European agenda rests on four pillars: (a) reducing the incentives for irregular migration; (b) border management; (c) a full and coherent implementation of the Common European Asylum System; and (d) a new policy on legal migration, keeping in mind the demand that’d arise due to Europe’s demographic decline. On second reading, though, the first pillar appears to be more about disrupting smuggling by sending EU liaison officers to North Africa. Thus, the three functional pillars of the EU agenda are disrupting smuggling, sharing of the burden of refugees among European nations, and managing the EU demand for skilled migration.

In the immediate term, Europe and the global community must significantly expand rescue efforts to prevent more tragedy, go after people smugglers, and campaign to educate people about the dangers of taking to the sea. Also it’d help to interpret the current migration crisis as a global problem and look for global burden sharing. After all, hazardous border crossings are taking place all over the world. In the medium term, more legal channels should be opened for asylum-seeking and economic migration (especially for low-skilled people). In the long term, any durable solution, however, must address poverty, unemployment, conflict, human rights violations, and political instability.

“Maximising the benefits of migration policy to individuals and countries of origin”, the fourth pillar of the European Agenda, provides a silver lining to the complex problem of migration across international borders. This pillar specifically includes “facilitating cheaper, faster and safer remittance transfers.” Beyond remittances, Europe and the global community should endeavor to reduce recruitment costs for low-skilled migrants worldwide. That could severely undercut irregular migration and isolate people smugglers. Besides, facilitating remittances and regular migration for low-skilled migrants, lowering remittance costs and eliminating illegal recruitment costs can generate nearly $50 billion of savings per year in the hands of many poor persons – see Migration and Development Brief 24. Mobilizing diaspora savings through diaspora bonds could generate an additional $50 billion in financing for job creation in the developing countries.

Refugees and asylum seekers make up less than 7% of the current international migrant stock; and the top host countries for refugees are not the high-income countries, but developing nations such as Jordan and Pakistan. The rest, more than 9 out of 10 international migrants, are economic migrants who work for an employer in the destination country, often at a wage rate below the market rate, and send home a large part of their income to families back home. (International remittances to developing countries amounted to $436 billion in 2014, more than three times the total of official aid.) The households and businesses in the destination countries benefit from the cheaper and often indispensable services provided by these migrant workers. Most economies, rich and poor, would grind to a halt without international migrant workers. And in the future, demographic balances imply a growing need for and supply of international migration, especially of the lower-skilled people.

Against this backdrop, the recent images of boats laden with people may be exploited to evoke a specter of invasion of European borders. The political discourse could become anti-immigration, and there is a risk that irreversible changes in immigration policy could be introduced to the detriment of many if not all. Deaths at sea, and on land, must be prevented. People smuggling must be disrupted. But the anti-immigration rhetoric must not erect permanent legal barriers against much needed economic migration in the years to come. 

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