EU leaders could soon come to regret having crossed their fingers and moved the refugee crisis off the urgent pile in their in-tray.
As part of his final UN General Assembly, President Obama hosted a leaders’ summit on refugees. In his speech he termed the global refugee crisis one of ‘the most urgent tests of our time’. But the list of commitments coming out of the summit did not live up to this description. The Bratislava EU summit earlier this month barely touched on refugee issues among the list of priorities to address, and there seems to be a general sense that Europe has more or less weathered the refugee storm that appeared so threatening in 2015.
There is some truth to this – for now. The number of sea crossings to the EU in the first nine months of 2016 was indeed down, at around 300,000, compared to 520,000 in 2015. But despite this there are a number of worrying trends that EU leaders would be foolish to ignore.
Many asylum seekers who choose assisted return are from a country destroyed by war and conflict. More than half of those who return to countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq plan to migrate again. Assisted return is a viable type of support to assist with the return, but is not sufficient to prevent large numbers of people once again leaving insecure countries of return. Only minor changes are required, however, to increase the potential for permanent return.
One important political objective in Norway is to encourage asylum seekers who do not have a valid residence permit to return to their country of origin. To this end, a major initiative is for the Norwegian Government to offer support for assisted return. In 2015, approximately 1,200 persons accepted the offer. This involves practical assistance with the application process and with the journey back to the country of origin. On arrival, the persons who have accepted assisted return receive financial support with a cash payment. They also receive support in the form of various reintegration measures in some countries. An evaluation – initiated by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and conducted by the CMI, PRIO and the Institute for Social Research – focused on Kosovo, where persons who chose assisted return received financial support only, and on three specially developed programmes for Afghanistan, Iraq and Ethiopia. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the financial support is administered by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), whereas a separate governmental body has been set up for this purpose in Ethiopia. The results of the evaluation are based on personal interviews with 79 persons who returned to these countries, supplemented by telephone interviews.
The Syrian refugee crisis has finally grabbed the world’s attention and is testing the sustainability of the European Union and its common asylum adjudication procedures. Policymakers are struggling to find solutions from under a complex latticework of administering and securitizing refugee and immigration admissions policy.
This struggle is amplified by the revelation that the influx may represent only the tip of a much larger cohort. As president of the European Council Donald Tusk predicted at a recent EU leaders summit: ‘The greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come.’ These future asylum seekers are not only from Syria but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other impoverished, violent, and at-war states.
Political scientists have long identified a paradox in the immigration policies of wealthy Western countries. Although governments typically condemn irregular migration, assuring their electorates that they are working hard to stem any ‘illegal flows’, they often tolerate the entry and residence of substantial numbers of irregular migrants due to structural labour market demands.
In South America, on the other hand, over the course of the past 15 years many governments have turned away from the previously often openly racist ‘criminalization’ of irregular immigrants and adopted surprisingly liberal discourses of universally welcoming all immigrants, irrespective of their origin and migratory status. Instead of distinguishing between desired ‘legal’ and undesired ‘illegal’ immigrants, South American politicians stress non-discrimination, the universality of migrants’ human rights irrespective of their status.
This blog is republished here as part of our special holiday selection.
At the height of British imperialism, the problem of overpopulation was solved through the transportation of society’s outcasts – those the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described as ‘wasted lives’ – to less populated parts of the empire. What was then a global solution to a local problem has now been reversed; in its search for solutions to the global production of refugees, Australia, which was once a destination for these ‘wasted lives’, has sought to delegate its responsibilities for their welfare to local and regional partners. Despite having rowed back on many of the most troubling aspects of its asylum policy in recent years, the panel of experts appointed by Prime Minister Julia Gillard to tackle the issue in June this year has recommended a series of measures which look increasingly regressive.
As Matt Gibney has described, until John Howard’s Liberal government came to power in 1996, Australia had often exceeded its international obligations to refugees and considered tackling the problem of forced migration as a key way to demonstrate that it was taking its international responsibilities seriously. Over the last twenty or so years, however, Australia’s has become one of the most punitive asylum systems in the developed world. Governmental efforts to evade its obligations to the international refugee regime reached crisis point in 2001 when a Norwegian freighter MV Tampa,which had picked up 438 ship-wrecked Afghan refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat, was denied entry to Australian waters. The country’s wide-ranging practices of detention have also come under international scrutiny. Woomera detention centre in South Australia, which closed in 2003, provoked an outcry among the Australian public after the extent of its mistreatment of detainees was revealed.