The Mediterranean Challenge:
A Global Perspective
by William L. Swing, Director General of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
More than 60 million people are currently displaced involuntarily – more than ever since World War 2: Thousands of people crossing borders in Europe to go northwest, away from war and persecution; thousands on overcrowded boats crossing the Mediterranean. According to IOM data, over a million migrants, refugees and asylum seekers arrived in the European Union in 2015, almost entirely via the eastern and central Mediterranean routes to Italy and Greece. Although the stream of refugees coming to Europe has slowed down during the first part of 2016, the challenge will still be on our agenda for decades.
How can we be prepared and what needs to change in order to be ready for a migration challenge in new dimension?
Global situation: The Perfect Storm
I have, in recent times, begun to refer to this tragic chain of circumstances as “the perfect storm.” We live in an era of unprecedented simultaneous and complex humanitarian disasters, spanning all continents. The eye of the hurricane is on Europe, but from the Caribbean to the western bulge of Africa, from the Middle East to the Bay of Bengal, desperate people are forced to make desperate choices.
Europe’s neighbors to the south and the east are experiencing unprecedented levels of instability, war, conflict, economic collapse, and increasingly, the environmental effects of a changing climate. Those people who are forced to migrate are more likely to do so under undesirable or dangerous conditions, including by accessing the services of smugglers. The war in Syria and attendant impacts on the region continue with no end in sight. In Libya, political instability did not improve, and so it continues to be both a source and a channel of irregular flows to Italy via the central Mediterranean route.
A solution of the refugee crisis has to be a political solution, and it has to be a European solution. National solutions will only lead to disagreement between the EU members and in the end cause more problems than they solve. So firstly, we need to get back to a more balanced dialogue in Europe. We need to refute misleading myths and stereotypes and recall that historically migration has been overwhelmingly positive. Through open dialogue and examination of evidence, we can rediscover that well-managed migration and development belong together.
The second challenge is about learning to manage diversity. To do that, we will need a lot of political courage and imagination and investments in public information, awareness and dialogue. We need to grasp the essential fact that others may not look like me or speak like me but share common commitments and ideas.
The third challenge is partly related to the first two, and is integral to good migration governance: conjugating sovereign rights and obligations with the rights, obligations and dreams of migrants; reconciling national security and human security; balancing sovereignty and individual freedom.
Priorities For Action
The most important issue: we need to take action, now, to avoid the Mediterranean Sea from becoming the biggest mass grave of all times. The first priority is to save lives. On the short term, rescue at sea needs to remain robust and well resourced. Since the reinforcement of rescue operations in April 2015, the rate of fatalities has fallen significantly.
The second priority is to provide effective responses to the mass humanitarian flows reaching Europe. Effective reception arrangements must be set up. Equitable sharing of relocation among EU Member States and increased resettlement within and beyond the EU Member States must be part of the solution. Finally, a robust international response must rapidly be put into place to end trafficking and smuggling.
Regular dialogue with Countries of Origin and Transit is critical to achieving consensus on these important matters, addressing the root causes as well as the immediate challenges that the migrant flows represent.
The third priority is a nothing less than a paradigm shift in the governance of migration. However, pressing the current humanitarian crisis, a response that focuses solely on immediate humanitarian and security needs without addressing the broader picture—the underlying drivers of irregular migration; the demand for labor migration at all skill levels; the impact of communication networks—will be neither effective nor sustainable in the longer term.
Without a long-term vision to guide policy and practice and to respond to community apprehensions we will be trapped in a crisis-mode intervention time warp.
You can read the complete solution of William L. Swing as part of
the GES 2015 Selected Solution Proposals (PDF, 3.7 MB)