Thursday 16 June - 1115-1215

What are the long-term drivers of migration and what are the best policy responses to demands to re-impose borders across Europe?

Human mobility – comprising today both refugees from conflict and humanitarian disaster and migrants driven from their homes by lack of economic opportunity and environmental degradation – has become one of the defining elements of European politics, raising demands to build up external and internal EU borders. What should a long-term European response look like?

Session Report

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees talked about the recent increase in the number of people displaced by conflict and the key part that the Syria conflict has played in this rapid escalation. He outlined a number of factors that had contributed to a spike in numbers fleeing to Europe in 2015. The Syrian conflict is also putting a huge strain on neighbouring countries. He quoted figures from UNHCR and the World Bank saying 90 per cent of Syrians in Jordan and Lebanon live below the poverty line.

Mr Guterres also spoke about the shift in public sentiment across Europe, from a sense of solidarity to a perception of the flow of refugees being an uncontrollable situation, an invasion. This has  in turn led to progressively tougher policies and the closing of borders. Far right groups have profited from the chaos and the fear it has created, forcing even mainstream parties farther to the right of the political spectrum. The speaker made the point that those leaders who try to imitate more extreme views to gain votes in the short term only legitimize these extreme views. 

When asked about the Turkey-EU deal, Mr Guterres said this problem would not be resolved by such measures. Four aspects need to be addressed. The first, and obviously the most difficult, is peace in Syria. It’s creating regional instability and feeding terrorism and has become a global threat. The second is increasing support to neighbouring countries, Lebanon and Jordan in particular. The third is to organise the movement of people, to leave it in the hands of people smugglers is unacceptable. This should be done through a global resettlement programme. Finally, for those still arriving via the Mediterranean we need adequate capacity to deal with registration and security screening and an organised distribution of refugees within Europe.

Mr Guterres said that those political leaders who say they cannot accept Muslim refugees should be aware that they only serve to increase radicalisation by offending and alienating the approximately 30 million Muslims in Europe, making them feel they are not part of the community in which they live. During the Q&A, the role of Islam was brought up again and the speaker and audience members discussed the need for dialogue between the West and the wider Muslim world and the need for powerful counter-narratives to extremist propaganda. Those with more moderate and progressive views who do speak out often face threats and there is also a problem of authoritarian regimes suppressing such movements, regimes often supported by the West.

Also discussed during the Q&A was the fact that those flee Syria and make it to Europe are the strongest, the well-educated and those able to pay smugglers while the most vulnerable people stay behind. The speaker made the point that while such arrivals can make a very important contribution and solution to a demographic problem in their new countries, this should not be the objective when accepting refugees. The objective should be to protect the most vulnerable. 



Key Quotes

'Mainstream politicians who try to imitate more extreme views just to win some votes in the short term only legitimize the more extreme views in the long term.'

'The global labour market is not yet recognized as such. Globalization is assymetrical. Money moves freely, goods and services tend to move relatively freely but people still face lots of obstacles in moving. To avoid smugglers and traffickers regulating the global labour market we need development cooperation policies that address the root causes of migration and and we need to manage the movement of people, replacing the smugglers and traffickers as the managers of human mobility.'

António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002)