Re-Humanizing the Migration Crisis through Images

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Five months ago most European citizens were unaware of the number of refugees seeking to reach the richest EU Member States like Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The first wake up call for Europe was after the Lampedusa tragedy costing the lives of more than 300 refugees on October 3rd, 2013. Europeans were shocked, as the world was, to wake up with hearing such tragedy taking place at their doorstep. From 2013 to 2015, the issue of mass-migration from Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries in the region left the front pages and the minds of Europeans, but had remained extremely present in the world of experts and the International Organization for Migration was calling for actions. The second wake-up call, which marked the beginning of the seriousness of the crisis, was the shipwreck killing an estimated 900 migrants on April 19th, 2015 off the coast of Italy.

The migration crisis, aside from geopolitics and economics, is quite interesting for several reasons. Movements in policy-recommendations and policy-making by European leaders seem to have occurred in relation with direct materialization of the crisis through very powerful (in the negative sense of the term) images. Below are the most marking pictures that were featured on front pages of global newspapers. For the last four months, images of misery, death, pain, innocence have illustrated the failures of European leaders on the international stage, brought back humanity (which has been missing for too long), and the moral responsibility of all Europeans – leaders and citizens included – (read here a superb piece by Judy Dempsey).

Death at Sea – From the Lampedusa tragedy (2013) to today

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

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Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

Crossing Eastern Europe

Photo: AP
Photo: AP
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Sources: The New York Times and Associated Press
Credit: AP
Credit: AP

 

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Getting to Germany

Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AP
Source: AFP/Getty Images

The Picture that Re-Humanized the Migration Crisis

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

The last picture showing the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year old Syrian boy, lying on a turkish beach has moved world citizens and European leaders (the New York Times published a powerful story about this image). Since the EU meeting in June, the EU (even though President Juncker and HR Mogherini have been active on the issue, but hardly visible) and its Member States have failed to agree on receiving asylum seekers and implementing real policies.

The migration crisis lost all of its humanity because of the national rhetorics. But the picture of Aylan appears to have been the shock necessary for European citizens and leaders. Even David Cameron, British Prime Minister, whom had used very derogatory words in regards of migrants seeking to reach the United Kingdom (read a piece on the issue here), responded by claiming that the UK will try to do more in the short and long term as it has a “moral responsibility.” During an address to the House of the Commons, David Cameron has announced that the UK will be re-settling 20,000 Syrians over the four and half years. “We will continue to show the world that this country is a country of extraordinary compassion,” said Cameron “always standing up for our values and helping those in need.”  France and Germany have announced as well that they will be taking an additional 55,000 refugees over the next two years (24,000 for France and 31,000 refugees for Germany). François Hollande of France said that it was a “fundamental principle” of France to accept asylum seekers. But the British and French numbers are well below Germany’s.

In some way, the power of this picture has mobilized world public opinion and put pressure on European leaders to deliver at the up-coming EU interior and justice ministers meeting on September 14th. But an EU leaders meeting will be necessary afterwards to solidify the decisions. As the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis highlights the lack of integration between a European asylum policy with 28 national migration policies. Until the European and national levels will either be merged or fully disintegrated, the migration and eurozone crises will not be fully solved.

If the world was not watching in May during the meeting setting the Agenda on Migration, it will be paying close attention in September. The EU and its Member States have to deliver by respect to European complex history and heritage, to European values, norms and principles, and by simple humanity.

Interview

Gabriela Esquivada of the Infobae contacted several experts, including myself, to reflect on the migration crisis, on its origins, its consequences and on European actions. Here is the link to the article (in Spanish): http://www.infobae.com/2015/09/06/1753338-por-que-medio-oriente-seguira-expulsando-refugiados

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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‘Europe Did not Cause this Tragedy’

Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris
Photo: Massimo Sestini—Polaris

The Mediterranean sea is the most dangerous migrating route in the world. In 2014, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) concluded that 75% of the total migrant-related deaths in the world lost their lives in the Mediterranean sea. Unfortunately, many experts predict that 2015 could be one of the deadliest years in modern history. This prediction was confirmed with the tragic event in mid-April with the death of an estimated 900 migrants with only 28 survivors.

“unless Europe acts to reform its failed policy on migration” writes the editorialist of the New York Times of April 21st, “this could be the deadliest year yet for the thousands of people who fled to Libya from conflict-torn regions across the Middle East and Africa, only to find themselves in a deadly pincer.” After years of inactivity and avoidance of this problem, the Member States are now facing human and political crises requiring rapid and substantial solutions. Blaming the EU for such failed policy would be an error, as according the Treaties, the Member States are the ones in charged of the security of their borders. The protection of the territory depends on the Member States, not on the EU. In this current crisis, the Member States have three options: first, to patch a problem with a short-term policy; second, to do nothing; third, to empower the EU. In any case, the Europeans are now facing a dilemma.

How can the EU identify itself as a normative power with that many people trying to reach its coasts for a better life? And, how can the EU bring a serious solution on the table when so many EU Member States are dealing with the rise of extreme-right wing parties – for many xenophobist and racist – domestically?

The Central Route to Europe

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an Euro-Atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State (IS). IS has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

The migrants leaving their countries have changed over the years. They were once the

Source: Le Monde
Source: Le Monde

poorest and the most desperate. Today’s migrants are composed of individuals belonging to the middle class with a predominance of women and children. Some come from Middle East countries devastated by war like in Syria, Iraq and others from further South such as Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Eritrea and Somalia. The price of the trip has increased and cost between €2,000 and 6,000 per person. Migrants can ask for asylum in a European country unless they set foot on European ground. Such law empowers the smugglers. Once in Europe, their lives remain extremely difficult.

If Libya is the exit point of Africa, Italy is one of the entry points of Europe. Since the Arab Spring, Italy has been on the front line of illegal mass-migration from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). For years the numbers of migrants seeking asylum in Europe has considerably increased. The Central Mediterranean Route, from Libya to Italy, has seen a serious increase of illegal migrants from 40,000 in 2008 to 170,000 in 2014 (see here the different routes to Europe).

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As reported in the New York Times by Jim Yardley, “after a year in which more than 3,200 people died and more than 130,000 were rescued by Italian naval and coast guard ships. Humanitarian groups estimate that nearly 500 people have already died at sea this year, compared with about 50 in the same period last year.” The Mediterranean has become a large cemetery at the doorstep of Europe. The number of death at sea is increasing. So far this year, it has been estimated that more than 500 migrants have died as opposed to 47 in the same period of 2014. Additional Lampedusas may very well become routine considering the recent numbers.

From Mare Nostrum to Triton

In order to control this illegal migration, but mostly in reaction to the Lampedusa catastrophe costing the lives to 232 migrants in October 2013, the Italian launched a program in October 2013, Operation Mare Nostrum, in which the Italian navy was used in order to stop boats transporting illegal migrants. Because of the continuous rise of migrants and an increase in the cost of the operation (around $9.7 million per month), the Italians have been calling for support from their European counterparts in sharing the burden on costs and materials as all European nations are directly or indirectly confronting the problems of illegal migrations. Ultimately the Italian cancelled Mare Nostrum because of financial constrains considered too costly within the dire Italian economic context.

In November 2014 Mare Nostrum ended and let the spotlight to a small European program, Triton, under the supervision of Frontex, the European immigration agency. Triton is much smaller in scope, in geographical coverage (operates only within 30 nautical miles of European shores), and in financial terms (represents 1/3 of Mare Nostrum’s budget). Additionally, Frontex depends on the supports and contributions of Member States in order to receive material and human capabilities. Last but not least Triton’s mission is not to replace Italy’s work on protection of its territory but assists it when needed. As per the European Commission’s memo of October 2014 “Triton is intended to support the Italian efforts, and does not replace or substitute Italian obligations in monitoring and surveying the Schengen external borders and in guaranteeing full respect of EU and international obligations, in particular when it comes to search and rescue at sea.” Frontex coordinates, Italy leads.

Table: Comparative Analysis of the Mare Nostrum with Triton

©Politipond                                                                                                                                                                                                         Sources: Ministero della difesa. Mare Nostrum Operation. Accessed online at http://www.marina.difesa.it/EN/operations/Pagine/MareNostrum.aspx [accessed on April 21st, 2015]; Yardley, Jim and Bilefsky, Dan. 2015. “Migrants Blame Captain of Capsized Boat.” New York Times. April 22. ; European Council on Refugees and Exiles. 2014. “Mare Nostrum to End – Frontex operation will not ensure of migrants in International waters.” ECRE Weekly Bulletin. October 10. European Commission. 2014. “Statement by EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on operation Triton.” Brussels. October 7.; European Commission. 2015. “Fact Sheet – Questions and Answers: Smuggling of Migrants in Europe and the EU Response.” Brussels. January 13.

The table clearly demonstrates the fundamental distinction between Mare Nostrum and Triton in terms of mandate. Triton’s mandate does not make the operation a search and rescue mission, but simply a border management operation. Additionally, the capabilities provided to Frontex are based on the contribution of the willing Member States. Frontex facilities the work of the Italian navy. Frontex’s hands are clearly tied.

European Union’s Responses and Actions

European reactions and responses will depend on the complex paradigm: balancing humanitarian responsibilities against budget constraints and widespread public sentiment against immigration. Ensuing the catastrophe, most European officials and heads of state and government expressed their emotions. In addition, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, called an emergency European summit meeting for Thursday, April 23rd to address the issue. The problem of illegal migration and lack of EU unity was addressed in a report eight years ago wherein the EU acknowledged a “disunity within the E.U. over which obligations arise from E.U. fundamental rights, international human rights and refugee law, and how these obligations relate to the law of the sea.”

Matteo Renzi of Italy and his counterpart Joseph Muscat of Malta declared during a joint conference after the weekend that “What happened on Sunday was a game changer. There is a new realization that if Europe doesn’t act as a team, history will judge it very harshly, as it did when it closed its eyes to stories of genocide — horrible stories — not long ago.” The President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, made a similar argument when raising two questions: “How many more people will have to drown until we finally act in Europe?” “How many times more do we want to express our dismay, only to then move on to our daily routine?”

Frederica Mogherini, Chief of EU Foreign Affairs, declared once again ‘‘We have said too many times ‘Never again.’ Now is time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay.’’ French President François Hollande called for more material capabilities “more boats, more aerial surveillance and a much tougher fight against traffickers.”

Prior the extraordinary European summit meeting, the President of the European Council highlighted a list of overarching questions: How to stop the human traffickers, whom put the migrants’ lives at risk? How to step up European combined efforts for rescuing people in need? How to better help the EU Member States most affected? and, how to step up European cooperation with countries of origins and transits?

Days before the summit, during a joint meeting of Foreign and Interior Ministers with HR Mogherini, Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Commissioner Avramopoulos presented a 10 point plan of the immediate actions in the Mediterranean region. During the emergency meeting of Thursday, the European heads of government agreed on a list of points:

  • First, the High Representative (HR) is now charged of the mission to “propose actions in order to capture and destroy the smugglers’ vessels before they can be used.”
  • Second, Triton’s budget has been tripled and is now at the same level than Mare Nostrum and Member States have committed more material resources (no numbers though).
  • Third, increase cooperation with origin and transit countries, especially Libya.

These agreements seem quite shallow considering the complexity of the problem. The Commission is scheduled to deliver its Europe Agenda on Migration due on May 13, which in Juncker’s words “We will be ambitious. We will be bold.” The destruction of boats and an increase of budget are only a quick fix to a regional problem requiring state-building, economic and trade cooperations, security sector reforms, additional humanitarian and aid assistance, and even military interventions.

Solidarity, Responsibility and Norms

“With no coherent policy and woefully insufficient financing,” writes the New York Times “lives are needlessly being put at risk, and the European Union’s humanitarian values are exposed as meaningless.” The continuous dying of migrants at the doorstep of fortress

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse - Getty Images
Photo: Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France Presse – Getty Images

Europe is forcing the EU and its Member States to reflect on three dimensions: solidarity; responsibility; and normative action. Solidarity is the core component of a social contract and an Union like the EU. Unfortunately with the financial crisis and the rise of populist movements throughout the Union, this core value has been lost in translation.

“The E.U. has been struggling to respond to the crisis because governments think it is too expensive,” Mr. Pascouau said, and “the debate on immigration has become toxic because of the rise of the far right.” Sweden, Poland, Austria need to be as concerned as mediterranean Member States about the rise of illegal migrants and their deaths in vein. Most migrants do not stay in Spain, Italy or Greece, they are trying to reach France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. In this case, solidarity can be represented under two dimensions: material, human and financial aspects; and a reform of the European immigration policy.

Solidarity does not only imply European solidarity, but global solidarity. During an interview with NPR with François Crepeau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, argued in having the Global North (North America and the EU) absorbing immigrants. He argues that the best solution in resolving the massive illegal influx of migrants is through the integration of these migrants in each country of the Global North over a 5-10 years period by giving them visas in order to build a life. Crepeau claims that by offering them a legal solution/exit they would wait in their home countries for a way out rather than risking their lives and burning all their savings. The EU-28, especially European citizens, needs to accept such option and implement it and then find a common agreement with the US and Canada. Unfortunately this option seems off the table as Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission, declared after the extraordinary summit that his “proposal for legal immigration was not supported” in order to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees.

Responsibility, Member States ought to demonstrate their commitment to the Treaties and accept their own responsibility in the deaths. So many Member States are blaming the EU for these catastrophes, when in fact the Member States are to be blamed. Even though the blame game is counter productive, Member States and domestic political parties ought to have serious national discussion about the rise of illegal migrants from Africa. The arguments of closing the borders, ending the Schengen agreement and passing the buck to neighbors are unacceptable. Member States have to increase spending and cooperation either at the European level or even on bilateral basis.

Normative action seems to have died in the Mediterranean sea. The EU and the EU-28 need to materialize the self-proclamation of soft power through actions. Even if one cannot expect the EU to solve the migration problems coming from Africa, the EU and its Member States have to demonstrate a willingness to work with African partners. During an interview with a French expert on European defense in 2010, he argued that the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was developed in order to solve the most pressing

The Economist
The Economist

crises in Africa. He claimed that if the Europeans were not doing as much as possible in order to solve political cronyism in Africa, terrorism, and contribute on stabilizing the region with substantial economic incentives, the European continent would be flooded by massive waves of migrants. This expert was 100% correct.

Five years ago the EU and its Member States could have implemented preventive measures. Today the EU and its Member States are confronting a serious crisis requiring massive human, capabilities and financial contributions, a European reform of the immigration policy and a serious commitment to cooperation at the European level all this under dire economic situation and unfriendly domestic electorate. The EU ought to liberalize immigration policy and open up legal routes for migrants. The EU and its Member States have quite a challenge in front them.

Last but not least, the most shocking line was made President Tusk right after the Council meeting, “Let me be clear. Europe did not cause this tragedy. But that does not mean we can be indifferent.” Was the summit about finger-pointing or about solving one of most pressing issues facing Europe? Such comment clearly illustrates Europe’s mindset in addressing this crisis.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Mr. Renzi Goes to Washington

Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI
Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI

A year ago, President Obama and Matteo Renzi were meeting in Rome. On Friday, April 17, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, was in Washington D.C. meeting President Obama in his first trip to the United States as the head of the Italian government. In the statement delivered by the White House’s Press Secretary on March 17 announcing the visit a series of issues were highlighted such as “support for Ukraine and continued U.S.-EU unity on pressuring Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk agreements; the situation in Libya; and the need for the international community to continue efforts to counter ISIL and other extremists throughout the Middle East.” Even though the issues on the table are the same ones discussed last year in Rome, Matteo Renzi came to D.C. with a very different aura considering the results already obtained thanks to his policies.

Matteo Renzi – Changing Italy’s Future

Matteo Renzi came to D.C. at the right time considering the solidification of his power at home and in Europe. Renzi has worked on rebuilding domestic trust and in reestablishing Italy as a core and central country of the European Union. The years under Silvio Berlusconi contributed to the decline of Italy from what used to be an axiomatic EU Member State. So far it seems that Matteo Renzi is succeeding on both fronts. Domestically, he has established himself as the man of the situation by ending years of political instabilities. Politically, Forza Italia, right wing political party, has been kept under control after the disastrous years under Silvio Berlusconi. Economically and fiscally, yes the Italian overall debt remains massive representing 126% of the GDP. But on the bright side, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) project that the Italian economic outlook should be promising for 2015 with an expected growth of 0.6%. Even though the growth seems at homeopathic dosage, it would be the first time since mid-2011 that Italy would see some types of economic growth. Italy has been in recession for over three years now. All the cuts possible won’t be enough in order to lower the overall debt without growth; Italy must re-familiarized itself with economic growth.

At the European level, Italy is becoming relevant and an active member once again. The federicamogherinimatteorenzigovernmentyf0fx-kziyglmost obvious example was the appointment of Federica Mogherini at the helm of European foreign affairs. In less than a year, she has already demonstrated her commitment to her mission and has represented the EU where needed. Her short tenure at the EEAS has offered the EU and its Member States a new dynamism and presence on the regional and international platforms (read here a previous analysis on Mogherini’s 100 days). However, Matteo Renzi seems to be too close, for many Europeans and Americans, to Russia. The relationship between Italy and Russia is certainly long, but for many it seems that Renzi needs to be stronger in his opposition to Putin’s actions in Europe.

For both reasons, Mr. Renzi went to Washington with a certain aura and credibility. The economic engine is on and Italy matters once again in Europe.

Solving Libya and Ukraine

Ahead of this high level meeting at the White House, two issues are extremely important for the transatlantic community: Libya and Ukraine. From Rome, the crises in Libya and Ukraine are affecting directly the national security of Italy as well as the EU as a whole, while from Washington, President Obama would rather lead from behind with the help of core Atlantic partners, Italy for instance, than having to be directly involved on the ground. For one it is about security and survival, for the other it is about influence.

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an euro-atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. The point of exit of Africa is Libya. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). ISIL has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

In the case of Ukraine, President Obama wants to assure the guarantee of unity of Europe

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

in facing Russia. Crimea seems to belong to Russia and Ukraine should accept it, now the fights in Eastern Ukraine need to be solved. The Minsk agreement of February 2015 for a cease-fire was not enough, and the Euro-Atlantic community needs to be on the same page when addressing Russia. The economic sanctions implemented last summer by the EU are due to expire in late July 2015. So far there is no unity in the EU to extend them. A year ago, Italy was called on for trying to block the implementation of the economic sanctions against Russia. One reason is that Italy is the second largest trading partner with Russia after Germany. Russia has been strongly lobbying Italy in softening the sanctions against them. President Obama may want to avoid a situation wherein Italy limits the reach of the sanctions against Moscow.

In a matter of a year, Matteo Renzi seems to have delivered on many of his domestic promises and came with a certain aura to Washington. Matteo Renzi was hoping for some financial assistance in dealing with Libya (why not a NATO mission?) and in toughening his voice against Russia. Additionally, President Obama might have asked for some Italian support in order to try to finalize the massive T-TIP, which is lingering and creating strong discords in Europe. For what has been a very opaque meeting, due to the superficiality of Obama and Renzi’s comments (read here the joint press conference), Obama and Renzi wanted to solidify the ties and bring Italy back on the center stage.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).