EU Policies for Refugee Protection and Immigration: Why We Need Productive Engagement with Our Neighbors, Not Border Fences

Recent debates about asylum and immigration policies in the EU have showcased many ways in which key policymakers are in denial – not only of the complexity of the challenges posed by irregular (illegal) immigration, but also of the glaring shortcomings of the current EU asylum system, of the significant progress already made through cooperation with neighbors (e.g. EU support for three million Syrian refugees in Turkey under the EU-Turkey Agreement), and of the opportunities that well-managed immigration offers for Europe’s aging societies.

The conclusions of the end-June 2018 European Council are a good place to start to understand the conundrum. Few will disagree with the Council’s “particular focus” on education, health, infrastructure, innovation, good governance, and women's empowerment in Africa (although one may wonder just how many objectives any one individual or organization can hold in focus simultaneously). However, most of the remaining conclusions involve shutting out irregular immigrants from the EU (by making borders more secure), confining them to “controlled centers” in EU member states (no takers yet), or “disembarking” them onto “platforms” in North Africa or other third countries (no ready host countries yet) – with little apparent regard for the human rights of migrants (although EU member states, together with all other UN member states except the US, have just recently re-emphasized these rights by finalizing, on 13 July 2018, the text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration).


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Photo : Syrian immigrants walk on a railway track
after they crossed the Hungarian-Serbian border
near Roszke, Hungary. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh