EU leaders will meet in the Maltese capital, Valletta, on November 12 to discuss (yet again) how to respond to the migration and refugee crisis that threatens to pull the EU apart. Their summit will follow a meeting on November 11–12 of EU and African leaders, who will focus specifically on the question of migration from Africa. In October 2015 alone, a record 218,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean.
Strategic Europe asked five Carnegie Europe scholars, each with expertise on a particular region, to respond to a specific question about how the refugee crisis is affecting different parts of the globe.
- Does the refugee crisis expose the vulnerability of the Western Balkans?
- Will countries in the Middle East and North Africa cooperate over the refugee crisis?
- Is Russia exploiting European disunity over the refugee crisis?
- What does the refugee crisis mean for Turkey’s new government?
- Is the EU prepared for huge migration flows from Africa?
Coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees constitutes an enormous additional burden for poor Western Balkan countries with huge social problems. Their administrative capacity is often not up to the task. International assistance is inadequate and slow.
Societies in the region are mostly not prepared for the inflow of masses of foreigners. The legacy of the ethnic conflicts of the 1990s is still alive. As long as the refugees move on rapidly to Central and Northern Europe, this doesn’t pose a big difficulty. But expect severe problems should the refugees be forced to stay in Southeastern Europe for longer.
The crisis has exposed the fragility of relations among Western Balkan countries. Recent weeks have seen breakdowns of coordination and angry exchanges of accusations. And while military conflict between the states in the region is not a plausible scenario, the necessary civil cooperation among neighbors isn’t likely either.
The crisis also impacts on the region’s EU perspective. People in the Western Balkans once again experience the EU as weak and divided. Realpolitik toward Turkey undercuts the EU’s moral authority in pushing for reforms. However, as the leaders’ meeting on the Western Balkans migration route on October 25 confirmed, the states of this region are essential parts of the crisis management. This shared experience in confronting a big challenge could in the longer term bring the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans closer together.
The MENA countries most concerned by the crisis—mainly Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya, but also Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia to a much lesser extent—will be hit by new, often unpredictable arrivals of refugees. No doubt, Russian military operations in Syria and continued violence by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the self-proclaimed Islamic State will be determining factors for Syrian refugees heading to neighboring states.
For other countries of origin, the tactics of human traffickers will have a major influence. Networks that channel migrants from places as far afield as Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have shown an extremely high ability to adjust their routes to local situations, emerging conflicts, and EU border controls.
In this complex but well-documented pattern of migration flows, it is essential that all policymakers concerned—in MENA countries, the EU, Turkey, and Iran—understand they are facing very similar challenges. Desperate people who are running for their lives or for better opportunities will keep coming, while agile, reactive traffickers will keep offering the migrants diversified “services.”
The refugee crisis is not a game that pits the EU against the MENA countries, Turkey, and Iran, but a confrontation between all of them and the traffickers, who will make €2–3 billion ($2.2–3.2 billion) in 2015 on routes across the Aegean Sea and the Central Mediterranean, at the expense of desperate people.
Social and political destabilization is threatening European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries alike. Based on such an understanding, governments must put in place a major cooperation scheme covering the fields of humanitarian aid, asylum, the police, and the judiciary, with the full involvement of relevant international agencies, first of all the UN refugee agency.sanctions against Russia.
Putin and Russian government officials have tried to argue that international cooperation on tackling the Islamic State would lower the number of refugees. In practice, Russia’s unilateral military engagement in Syria has had the opposite effect: it has increased the refugee flows into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and the EU. On November 5, the UK’s International Development Secretary Justine Greening explicitly linked Russian air strikes in Syria to a rise in the number of refugees. Putin’s Syria policy reinforces the political dynamics that are putting the EU to its biggest-ever test, but even without Russia’s actions, the refugee flows would continue.
Thus, European disunity may temporarily distract from Russia’s role in Ukraine and Russia’s own problems with refugees, immigration, and political violence, but it is unlikely to deliver tangible policy gains for Russia. The war of narratives over the causes of the refugee flows is damaging enough, however, as there is one group in particular that pays the price for it: ordinary people who are forced to flee.foreign policy challenges for Turkey’s incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP) government following its landslide victory in the country’s general election on November 1.
There are already ongoing negotiations between Ankara and Brussels on this issue, at both the political and the technical levels. With a single-party government that enjoys a comfortable majority in the country’s parliament, the Turkish side will be in a more favorable position in the talks, as it will be seen as having regained the ability to implement difficult policies.
Ultimately, Ankara will be able to deliver what the EU needs in terms of better-managed refugee outflows without being too afraid of a possible domestic backlash. This is particularly relevant for policy areas affected by the future integration of Syrian refugees into Turkey and the Turkish labor market. For instance, the new Turkish government can be expected to move ahead with plans to open up the country’s job market to Syrian refugees, a move that would significantly improve the economic prospects of this distressed population.
But in return, Turkey will continue to press the EU to fulfill Ankara’s own demands. These range from the acceptance of the principle of burden sharing and more financial assistance for the refugees to the fast-tracking of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and the revitalization of Turkey’s EU accession talks. As the AKP’s electoral win will also be read as an endorsement of the party’s past policies, there will be little pressure on Ankara to compromise on its demands.
The migration pressure coming out of Africa is structural, with both security and economic dimensions that need to be taken into account. African migration will not disappear rapidly as the flow of Syrian refugees would if a diplomatic and political solution were at last found to the conflict in Syria. But at the same time, unless there is a natural catastrophe or a conflict of high magnitude, refugees and migrants will not form queues out of Africa as is happening at the borders of Central Europe and the Western Balkans.
Is the EU nevertheless well prepared to handle African migration efficiently? Genuine efforts have been initiated since the beginning of summer 2015. The addition of the maritime rescue mission Operation Sophia, the establishment of improved border controls in hot spots, and the creation of a burden-sharing process to relocate migrants among EU member states are probably the most realistic answers at this stage.
But these responses can constitute only pragmatic first steps toward a more global approach that will have to address the long-term nature of African migration. Europe needs to focus more of its development money on programs that will create the jobs African migrants are currently looking for in Europe. The EU must also provide a legal and safe route—notably through resettlement schemes—for those who wish to benefit from asylum protection, thus undermining the business of human-trafficking networks.
Finally, European countries must keep the door open to a steady flow of legal migration. And they must be ready to show more generosity when Europe’s economic situation improves, as Europeans share with their African partners a common interest in promoting Africa’s development.