Wanted: A European migration policy

A riot broke out late Saturday at Greece’s main migrant holding center in Amygdaleza, northeast of Athens, as undocumented immigrants protested a decision to extend their detention from 12 to 18 months. Asked why they have failed to deport immigrants that have been found to be in the country illegally, the authorities respond that the detainees often do not provide their true identity. Furthermore, officials back in the migrants’ home countries are usually reluctant to cooperate with the Greek government, hence putting the brakes on deportations.

Meanwhile, six migrants from Egypt drowned off La Playa beach in Catania, Sicily, as they tried to swim to the coast of Italy. The other 94 people who were on the vessel refused to give their personal details to the Italian authorities, saying that they want to get on with their journey toward the north.

The countries of the European south – Greece, Italy and Spain – have had to deal with the lion’s share of migratory flows. In Greece, numbers have eased a bit following strengthened security measures and the erection of a barbed-wire fence along the Evros border with Turkey. People traffickers have as a result turned to the Aegean Sea routes, which however present them with more difficulties.

The three Mediterranean countries, which are also suffering from scathing debt crises, are mainly transit points for illegal immigrants wishing to travel to other European countries. Nevertheless, the European Union has not yet come up with a comprehensive response to the problem. The Dublin III Regulation, which succeeded Dublin II, regrettably extends the unworkable model of managing migrant flows on the basis of the point of entry, despite repeated calls for better burden redistribution on an EU level.

The northern states are shying away from a real problem and are passing the buck to the already-strained countries of the south. Northern governments are unwilling to do anything more than provide funding for border-monitoring policies and migrant repatriation programs.

The economic crisis is shaping a new reality inside the EU. Inner migratory flows are growing, the crisis in the south is driving skilled as well as unskilled laborers to the north. The need to import workers from non-EU countries is in precipitous decline. But the dinghies of desperate people keep coming. The EU cannot continue to sweep the problem under the southern edge of the carpet.

Given the social turmoil in the countries of the European south, the issue of immigration easily becomes a convenient scapegoat. Xenophobia and racism are spreading at an alarming pace. Europe has chosen to ignore that this is already reflected in the political balance of power.