Help or hurt? The reality and policy of migration in the EU

IN an ordinary day, the average person in Ireland probably does not spend a lot of time thinking or talking about migration issues.

Sudden outbreaks aside – when a political candidate in an election may whistle about migrants in a televised debate, or when there is a heart-wrenching story such as the 39 people who were found dead in a truck in Essex in 2019 – not a topic that features frequently in Irish news and current affairs.

The most visible way Ireland has tackled migration is through its direct delivery centers – an archaic housing system for asylum seekers that has come under heavy criticism, sparked protests and is intended to be replaced.

However, during the weeks we covered migration as part of The Good Information Project, one of the recurring themes was the urgency of the problem and the need to find solutions. This is extremely controversial politically for European states such as Germany and France – but for EU countries on the ‘front line’ of irregular migration, it becomes critical, meaning that the Ireland will have to play its part.

Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve covered over the past few weeks on one of the biggest issues of the day.

The reality – not the politics – of migration

In our opening article on this topic, we raised the issue of the biased perception of migration among the citizens of six wealthy countries, and how this plays out in politics.

Figures on migration trends to the EU seem to have surprised some when they see the proportion of migrants in the EU population.

Such figures available to contextualize the number of migrants arriving in Europe:

  • On January 1, there was 447.3 million inhabitants living in the EU. 5% of this total, or 23 million, were non-European citizens. 8% were born outside the EU.
  • Out of the total EU population of 447 million people, in 2019, its refugee population was 0.6% of its total.
  • EU countries have granted some kind of asylum to about 280,000 people last year.

A boy stands in the port of Lavrio, near Athens. September 29, 2020.

Source: DPA / PA images

Moving away from the numbers and looking at the more personal side of the story, a look at how The Brazilian community in Ireland developed – greatly helped by not requiring a visa before traveling here and being able to work on a student visa – is proving successful in migration policy.

“The reason I fell in love with Ireland was the people – obviously not the weather,” said Carolina Pessoa. The newspaper as part of the series. “Once I was here I knew I wasn’t going to go back. I didn’t want to say it for sure, but I just felt it in my heart. During the first two months, I knew.

The flip side is when you stop migration in response to political whims – and you end up with a shortage of workers in some sectors, an issue already highlighted. post-Brexit problem which came to a head during this series.

“It’s just insolence to think that migrants are like a tap that can be turned on and off when needed,” says a Polish truck driver based in Glasgow. This is an issue that will only get worse over time, it seems with the UK healthcare and food processing sectors among other industries that could be the next to struggle.

Now the Politics: The EU Migration Pact

At the other end of the migration scale are those fleeing persecution and death in politically unstable regions of Africa and the Middle East. This instability is sometimes exacerbated by climate change.

Unlike Ireland, an island on the northwestern edge of Europe, Spain, Italy, Malta and Greece are struggling to cope with the numbers of asylum seekers landing on their shores. unexpectedly, in part due to the lack of a unified European migration system. .

The EU’s draft plan to ease the pressure on these states is the so-called New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which should be the first unified approach to migration.

The European Commission has proposed the plan, which must be approved by the European Council – that is, the leaders of the 27 EU countries – and the 750 parliamentarians of the European Parliament.

It plans to ‘share the responsibility’ between member states by obliging each EU country to do one of three things: accommodate asylum seekers arriving in Europe; provide funds to help other countries accommodate these asylum seekers; or be responsible for the return of migrants who have failed to apply in their own country.

Although a policy proposal is on the EU’s table for the first time, some fear that it does not go far enough – and worse yet, that it is more of the same problematic policy. This policy being as long as migrants do not land on the coasts of the EU, it is a successful migration policy, according to the interpretation of the draft plan by the NGOs.


A demonstration in front of the German Reichstag building against the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

Source: SIPA USA / PA Images

Sub-quality refugee camps below EU standards

This is supported by comments from a European commissioner to the Irish think tank IIEA. Margaritis Schinas said that the EU migration agreement with Turkey “worked well”, which sees migrants arriving on EU shores being resettled in Turkey in exchange for EU funds, and the possibility of Turkey joining the EU.

But the migrants are kept in camps on the Greek islands in substandard conditions for up to three years before they can travel to Turkey. Questions were also asked about the conditions, opportunities and care for the 4 million Syrian refugees already living in Turkey.

This is accompanied by another political migration crisis in the form of Poland’s approach to migrants arriving at its border with Belarus by erecting barbed wire fences along this border, which has been criticized by Irish MPs.

This issue raises concerns about building consensus across Europe on how to accommodate migrants with humanity and respect, especially among 27 constantly changing governments.


Greek Army – Hellenic Army is seen building the new refugee camp. Built by the Hellenic Army, UNHCR and the European Union.

Source: SIPA USA / PA Images

Search and rescue missions

There is also the question of how to respond to hundreds of people crossing the Mediterranean every year in fleeing and unstable ships to Europe.

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An EU mission called Operation Sofia was disbanded in early 2019 after some argued that naval ship rescues were helping smugglers by encouraging people to cross; others argued that they couldn’t let people float adrift in the sea and die.

In October 2019, when the European Parliament had the opportunity to pressure the European Commission to resume seek and save missions by a non-binding motion on the matter, it was defeated by two votes. Four Irish MPs voted against.

The defeat sparked public outrage that has lasted online to this day, including against the four politicians who voted against the resolution.


A migrant woman holds a baby migrant on a rescue boat as she waits to disembark after arriving at the port of Malaga. July 2019.

Source: Jesus Mérida

So what is Ireland doing?

It’s hard to say how effective Ireland’s response to migration is – the suggestion is that it is well intentioned, but on a very small scale.

After a fire destroyed a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Ireland has pledged to resettle 50 people from these camps. Eleven families arrived in mid-September and were welcomed by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman.

Ireland has also increased the humanitarian access visas it has offered to Afghanistan citizens since July – from 50 to 400 – which means these people will be granted asylum if they arrive in Ireland.

Prior to this announcement, we published the results of a survey this indicated that the Irish are happy to host more refugees than the state had committed at the time: 34% of the Irish wanted to welcome between 230 and 1,000 Afghan refugees; 27% said 230 is about the right number; 19% said we should take more than 1000 and the same proportion of respondents said we should take less than 230, or zero (8% each).

Interestingly, young people, educated people, and non-religious people were the most likely to want to welcome more refugees than the state had already committed to.

Between this suspicion of public support and despite having a seat on the UN Security Council, Ireland has a chance to make its voice heard within the EU on how to deal with humanity and respect migrants.

Those arriving on the Italian and Greek coasts are not fleeing to these countries, but to the EU as a whole, and Ireland should not bend over its geographical position to shirk responsibility.

During the Brexit debate, Ireland was keen to differentiate itself from the UK’s political approach, which is partly based on anti-migration sentiments. Ireland now has a chance to show how different they are – as one contributor during this series said, that will require courageous political leadership.

That’s all from me and Adam Daly on the topic of migration and the EU for The Good Information Project. My colleagues Orla Dwyer and Lauren Boland will introduce you to the topic of climate change in the next cycle, which will start on Monday 11 October.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant program from the European Parliament. All opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are those of the author. The European Parliament has no involvement or responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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