Brussels – In the European Union there is a need of strong policy coordination, in order to face a “clear mismatch” between perception and reality on migration challenges. António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) since 2018 and former European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs in the Prodi Commission (from 1999 to 2004), is convinced that “often policy choices address more the perception than reality, because it is harder to deal with the complexity of migration flows”.
Vitorino gave a speech during the event Migration challenges in Europe, organized by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs today (Friday 15 October), within the framework of EU IDEA – Integration and Differentiation for Effectiveness and Accountability. EU IDEA is a project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon2020 programme and led by Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), with the participation of Eunews as media partner, EU IDEA addresses differentiation and integration issues in order to find viable solutions to the current challenges that the EU is facing.
Moderated by Blanca Garcés, Senior Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) and opened by the Director Pol Morillas, today’s event was an opportunity to discuss current migration challenges and the forms of cooperation among EU Member States. The debate addressed many recent crisis: the unstable geopolitical situation in Afghanistan, economic breakdowns in the Middle East and North Africa and the strict control of international mobility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vitorino underlined that migration challenges are “universal” and that the COVID-19 pandemic “had a major impact”, because of closed borders, sanitary measures that stranded migrants in countries of transit and because of the increase of human trafficking. At the same time, during the lockdowns “migrant workers have been on the front-line” in the European distribution chains. “They played a key-role”, as the movement of seasonal workers in agricultural sector showed: “Now it is crucial to ensure equal access to vaccines and to integrate all migrants into the national vaccination systems”, the former European Commissioner urged.
All these universal challenges “have to be addressed through a strong cooperation, not just among EU Member States, but also with the countries of origin”. Considering the recent events in Afghanistan, even if there is a perception of a new incoming crisis, the Director General of IOM underlined that “for the moment we do not see a massive flow of migrants” and that “it is more urgent to face the situation in the whole region”.
A distorted perception of migratory flows is a common problem for European citizens and politicians. For example, about the final destination of these flows: “In Africa, eight migrants out of ten move from one country to another and only the 16 per cent of them tries to reach Europe”, Vitorino explained. Another example is the fact that “the vast majority of asylum seekers worldwide is hosted by low- and middle-income countries“, not by wealthy countries. Also the perception of the problem concerning the situation of irregular migration in Europe does not match the reality of events: “The 60 per cent of people who are now irregular arrived in the EU in a regular way, but they did not have access to a process of regular integration“. The former European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs stressed out that “it is not correct to consider this issue as a consequence of external borders’ weakness”.
As Corinne Balleix, member of the Working Group on Migration at the Jacques Delors Institute, pointed out that “there is a need for a reform in the field of asylum, with an increased solidarity among EU Member States”. Katariina Mustasilta, Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), recalled the attention on “countries that are using migration as a tool to put pressure on the European Union”. The EU external borders’ situation is a matter of concern for the IOM Director, starting from the “increase of pushbacks from several Member States“, namely “illegal practices to prevent people from seeking asylum, which are against the international laws”. But it is also “unacceptable” that some governments exploits asylum seekers, putting their lives at risk”, as it is happening at the external borders with Belarus: “We are ready to help and support people who are in this no man’s land”, Vitorino added.
In conclusion of the event, Emmanuel Comte, Senior Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, underlined the role of IOM in “studying the different approaches to migration in Europe”. IOM Director General Vitorino replied that “our contribution is to give evidence and facts, in order to address migration challenges through serious policies“. From the inter-institutional cooperation with the EU, the African Union and the UN in humanitarian crisis, to the engagement with local authorities and NGOs, but also “the responses to human mobility caused by natural disasters and climate change”, Vitorino concluded.