Europe could face another big migration wave after the pandemic

Europe could face another big migration wave after the pandemic

Monika Sie Dhian Ho is the general director of Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. 

Clingendael is an independent think tank and academy on international affairs and diplomacy which seeks to shape a more secure, sustainable and just world. It has traditionally had an impact on the shaping of foreign policy in the Netherlands whilst Sie advises the Dutch government on security and foreign affairs matters. 

In an interview with Kathimerini, Sie warns about a possible incoming migration crisis due to the financial repercussions that Covid-19 will eventually leave behind. She maintains that a closer relationship between the European Union and neighboring Turkey will be beneficial to both parties in dealing with a hard future on migration and, finally, she expresses her belief that the EU is still not ready to intercept new migration waves confidently.

Countries such as Hungary, Austria and the Netherlands have refused to take in any significant number of migrants. The EU hasn’t been able politically or legally to enforce a fair distribution of migrants across its member-states. What’s the reason behind such a failure?

We find ourselves in a situation whereby every country has something to complain about. Since the migration crisis began in 2015, we have not managed to reform our institutions, we have not made the EU more resilient to crises. After big crises you would expect that this reform would take place like it did on the economic front. The different interests of EU members have to do with differences in location; at one point the Dutch PM said that it’s due to “geographical bad luck.” This will not do on the negotiation table of course – you cannot say that in a union you have a “geographical bad luck” and I hope that our PM knows that by now. Yes, there are differences in where the migrants want to go and in the economic situation of the different EU countries but we have not come up with an intelligent plan yet. The Commission’s pact is a positive first step and is responsive to the interests of the different EU members. Our advice is that there is urgency to act now. We need an internal grand deal as well as an external bargain with third countries of origin. We need to build trust that the internal and external bargains are feasible through actively showing that the deals are made out of sincerity and common values.

We’ve seen that this “geographical bad luck” rhetoric and attitude has prevailed on the migration issue. If it persists, will it weaken the EU?

Yes, that the EU will become weaker is the starting point of discussion. What will happen then is that countries in the front line will not be capable or willing to register incoming migrants. I think the Northern countries have come to understand that this fundamental injustice will not hold. If they hold on to this position, they know that they will face waves of secondary movements. So, they understand that a new internal deal is absolutely necessary. The Netherlands is well aware that the Dublin system needs reform and that relocation of migrants is necessary. The pandemic makes this challenge even harder.

How are Covid-19 and migration linked?

In African countries the health consequences of the pandemic have been less intense than in Europe. However, the economic consequences are devastating. Migrants lose their jobs abroad due to the pandemic and send in less remittances. The oil shocks created by the pandemic impose economic obstacles and the aftershocks of the disease push these countries into deeper crises. African migration has increased despite the pandemic. For example, irregular departures from Tunisia to Italy have significantly increased. There’re severe economic migrant crises created by the pandemic combined with potential political crises also triggered by Covid-19. It is not improbable that we will face a second big migration crisis after the disease. In 2011, we had the Arabic Spring due to unemployment and in Syria we had a war. This was the runup of the refugee crisis of 2015. The Arab Spring itself was the runup of the 2008 economic crisis. The Covid-19 crisis is expected to potentially be even more severe so Europe needs to become truly robust on migration policy now to overcome a hard future on this front.

Turkey is Greece’s neighbor but also the EU’s. What is the impact of the quality of our relationship with Turkey on the migrants’ welfare?

Turkey hosts almost 4 million refugees. The EU is not willing to welcome those 4 million refugees, they prefer that these refugees remain in Turkey. Turkey is ready to receive them, and there children can go to school and parents can find jobs. The EU members contribute by paying those organizations in Turkey that facilitate these migrant populations. The migrants deserve these funds. Of course, the consequence of this is that countries like Turkey but also Morocco and Tunisia find out that they get leverage in their relationship against EU countries. We have to arrive on a partnership that is based much more on common interest and equality in the relationship. Specifically, what we need to do is twofold: Firstly, we need to continue offering Turkey the financial means to keep on sending migrant kids to school, and secondly, it is of high importance that we build a tracing mechanism to ensure that the funds we offer to Turkey end up benefiting the migrants solely.

It seems that migrant populations integrate better in the US than they do in Europe. We have seen that recently they have wreaked havoc in Austria and in France. How do you explain this reality? Are we witnessing a clash of civilizations?

The emphasis on work in the United States has been a key factor for migrant integration. People are welcome to work and they find work almost immediately after arrival. Work is a crucial aspect to integration. Secondly, what also plays a role is that the EU has not emphasized adequately what the European Way of Life is. The EC, by appointing Margaritis Schinas as VP, has acknowledged that there exists a European way of life which we want to protect, defend and develop. When welcoming a migrant, it is important that you explain to them clearly what this way of life is so that person knows how to behave and integrate. The key values of our society need explanation, therefore work and clarity about the societal model are significant factors for integration. Without rules and transparency, problems are unavoidable.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.