The myths surrounding Europe’s migration policy


A mother and child look out over the Mediterranean from aboard a Save the Children vessel. They fled Libya after suffering violence and abuse there.


European leaders are currently gathering in Brussels to discuss the EU’s external migration policy. They will most likely decide to go full steam ahead with the current approach: preventing migration with development money, deterring potential migrants and returning rejected asylum-seekers.

This confirms the dismaying trend we notice globally: leaders no longer make decisions based on facts, but on myths and electoral interests at home.

The first myth is that Europe is still in a state of crisis, with refugee numbers increasing and migrants pouring in. In actual fact, the number of arrivals we face with today are not much different from 2014. While Italy may be facing some migratory pressure, other EU member states are actually closing reception centres.

The second myth is that most of those migrating in Africa are headed for Europe’s shores. In actual fact, the overwhelming majority is intra-African. Most Africans that do make their way to Europe, do so with a valid passport.

The third myth will be discussed at the Council meeting today (22nd June). This myth tells the story that by punishing –  or rewarding – countries we can convince them to take back their own returned nationals or work together on restrictive migration policies.

It’s short-sighted to think that countries can be that easily controlled. A report released by the European Commission last week confirms that this approach is not effective. Most countries prioritised by the EU, such as Mali or Senegal, refuse to cooperate by taking in returned migrants. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: countries receiving 10% of their national income from migrants living abroad through remittances will continue to rely on migration to develop.

Furthermore, the countries the EU will ‘punish’ for failing to accept rejected asylum-seekers are those facing pressing humanitarian crises:  partner countries like Nigeria and South Sudan are at risk of mass starvation due to conflict and drought, with two parts of South Sudan already declared officially ‘under famine’ by the United Nations. An estimated 7.8 million people are food insecure in Ethiopia. To penalise these countries for failing to take back theirnationals spells exacerbating internal catastrophes.

Leaders also foster the fourth myth: a belief that an aggressive crackdown on smugglers will halt migration. At the same time, the EU reports that in Niger, where this approach was tested, people are now paying higher prices for smugglers to take them through new and riskier routes. ‘Tackling the business model of smugglers’ should mean taking away their clients. We can do this in two ways. Firstly by looking at the reasons why people leave – extreme poverty, inequality, hunger, the lack of a job or access to education – and trying to address those. Secondly, by developing better pathways for people to come to the EU regularly. If countries are offered the prospect of remittances through regular migration, they may be more inclined to take back irregular migrants.

The EU’s current approach toward migration is severely affecting its standing in the world. Take Libya for example. The EU’s foreign policy chief reported this week that 16,000 people had been ‘rescued’ by Libyan coast guards. What happens when they are forced to return to Libya? Save the Children hears their stories every day during search and rescue operations. Stories of detention, torture, violence and slave labour. Men, women and children sent back to what is being described as hell on earth.

Save the Children, alongside 17 other global NGOs have drafted a statement to counter the current EU policy as it is discussed today and tomorrow.

The EU used to take pride in its global role as a human rights defender. Our global leverage will disappear if we don’t debunk these myths and work towards creating sustainable, long term solutions for people, and especially for children, who are on the move.



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