Friday 10. April 2020
#139 - June 2011


A stress test for solidarity: The influx of migrants during the Mediterranean crisis


The pressure of migration on Malta and Italy is increasing, while the achievement of a true European solidarity faces problems of consistency and Schengen is going to be revised.


Only a few thousand of the 25,000 migrants reaching Italy and Malta during these last months, mainly from Tunisia, are asylum seekers. Most of them are economic migrants searching for better conditions of life. There is little doubt as to the international and European obligations of the EU Member States to receive refugees in compliance with the 2003 Reception’s Directive. The more prosperous Member States are even morally obliged, to the extent that they are able, to welcome persons seeking international protection. But the UNHCR reminds us that “those judged through proper procedures not to be refugees, nor to be in need of any other form of international protection, can be sent back to their home countries”. This is the current standard obligation in International and European Law, and also the position of the EU as Commissioner Malmström recently declared.

Concerning the refugees, the legal duty to give them international protection is clear. But, which Member States, and to what extent should they fulfill that legal obligation? In a Union that should be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility (Article 80 TFEU), the problem of determination still remains: what should be the fair burden for each Member State? From 248,855 asylum applicants in EU27 (in 2010), France has received 50,175 applications, Germany 39,830, Sweden 29,805, Belgium 25,500 and the UK 24,020. The argument is that these countries have fulfilled their part of the common responsibility and solidarity while, for example, Italy has received ‘only’ 9,675 asylum applications. The Common European Asylum System should be in place by 2012 and the Commission will launch some initiatives in the coming months – see its Communication on Migration-. But the problem will be far from a solution concerning the share of responsibility of each Member State in the Mediterranean crisis.


Schengen incidents and national perceptions

Economic migration is controversial among Member States, as exemplified by the negative reaction to the petition of Malta to activate the Temporary Protection’s Directive, the recent border crisis between Italy and France or the re-establishment of the border controls in Denmark (which will lead to a revision of Schengen’s rules and the possibility of suspending them in certain situations).


Politicians are becoming aware of the negative perception of an increasing majority of their citizens – especially in the Member States of southern Europe - towards migration. As a BEPA study suggests, those citizens believe that there is a lack of sufficient integration (including adherence to common European values) on the part of migrants and their descendants coming into the receiving countries. The weakness in past years of policies against the illegal entry of migrants into the EU, and some of their consequences (e.g. trafficking and illegal employment) have also fueled that negative public opinion. Clearly, irregular migration does not benefit the social image of legal migration and it also seriously undermines the rule of law, because the legal rules on migration can become just a ‘dead letter’. To change the irregular status into a legal status as a consequence of law reform does not change the reality, and can be counter productive, with a ‘call effect’ on new migrants.


On the other hand, there is a strong feeling and a sensitivity by millions of EU citizens towards the potential risks regarding their cultural and religious identities. Some political parties and movements are profiting from this perception. But political populism is just the symptom of a real underlying problem, which has not being faced and solved by the public authorities for many years.


The current economic crisis does not help in creating a favorable social acceptance of economic migrants. Even before the arrival of the crisis, the 2008 European Pact on Immigration and Asylum recognised that the EU “does not have the resources to decently receive all the migrants hoping to find a better life here. Poorly managed immigration may disrupt the social cohesion of the countries of destination. The organisation of immigration must consequently take account of Europe's reception capacity in terms of its labour market, housing, and health, education and social services, and protect migrants against possible exploitation by criminal networks.” The circumstances in each Member State are different as to their economic situation (e.g. Greece, Ireland and Portugal) or population and territory (Malta). However countries such as Spain (5 million unemployed; 43.5% of jobless young people; 5 million foreigners, and more than 1 million irregular migrants) and others in a similar situation can easily find strong arguments for rejecting new economic migrants.


Promotion of migration is often argued to be the key answer to the demographic challenge in Europe. However, while millions of EU citizens want to become parents or have more children, the lack of real support for the family (through reconciliation of family and work life; tax deductions…) disincentives their fertility. The “culture of death” (pro abortion, euthanasia…), the promotion of a hyper-individualistic way of life and the hostility toward the natural family create also a pessimistic view of life and an aggressive social environment for the family. This cultural framework suffocates the natural sense of solidarity at its roots, since the family is the best and strongest school of solidarity. In a long-term perspective, only family-friendly policies can promote real solidarity in all aspects of social life, including hospitality toward migrants.


Which is the migration and asylum policy that we need?

Every human person has the right to emigrate and, as far as the common good as rightly understood permits, it is the duty of the receiving State to accept such immigrants and to help to integrate them as new members. Humanitarian aid should also be given to them if they face risks to their lives on their journeys. But at the same time, Member States are entitled to regulate migration flows and to protect their own borders, always respecting the dignity and natural rights of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host country, respecting its laws and its national identity, culture, religion and traditions. Only in this way will social harmony prevail. The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life, as John Paul II pointed out. Moreover, Mgr. Vegliò, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, wisely wrote that “a gradual and organized fostering, respectful but not naive, can make emerge the human spirit of solidarity and hospitality”. Real solidarity between persons cannot be forced or imposed: it is the result of a personal choice. The public authorities and institutions have the responsibility to create the social conditions to make it easier for their citizens to choose solidarity instead of exclusion. That is why integration of migrants into society should not be a ‘forced marriage’ between foreigners and national citizens decided by the public authorities, but a natural development of the logic of solidarity between human beings, in which each one recognises the other as a person with an untouchable dignity. An unmanageable and massive migration into a host community can block the ‘mechanism’ of solidarity, creating fear and hostility and making social cohesion unsustainable.


The EU needs a balanced migration policy, in which the rights and duties of each are respected and fulfilled, taking into account the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. But a vision of migrants as persons and not just as human labour resources or as a fertility source should prevail in the national and European institutions. In the long term context, the challenge to promote a culture of solidarity in migration – and in any other social field - will not be achieved if the EU and its Member States do not contribute towards the creation of a new social mentality with family-friendly policies, because the family – the natural and fundamental cell of our societies - is the community where each member learns to love the others as persons.


José Luis Bazán




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