The European Movement holds the second day of 'The challenges facing the European Union in managing migration and asylum'

"Europe needs immigration"

AFP/BULENT KILIC - Refugees wait at the Turkey-Greece border near the Pazarkule border crossing in Edirne, Turkey.

The European Movement, together with the National University of Distance Education (UNED), has held the second part of the seminar 'The challenges of the European Union in the management of migration and asylum'. This second day was attended by María Cruz Arcos Vargas, president of the Andalusian Council of the European Movement; Irene Blázquez Rodríguez, professor of International Public Law; Pedro Ríos Calvo, ex-commissioner of the National Police in Algeciras; and Vicente de Mingo Benítez, provincial delegate of the Movement for Peace in Cádiz. 

Arcos Vargas was in charge of beginning the session, directly addressing the European Union's migration policy. In comparison with other EU policies, such as agricultural policy, European migration policy does not exist, as the president of the Andalusian Council of the European Movement began by pointing out. This is because "the texts presented in this area lack a legal basis", she explained. 

However, Brussels has been trying for many years to establish a common framework for all states in relation to the migration issue. The EU began to focus on the challenges and problems of migration in 1999. In that year, a European Council meeting was held in the Finnish city of Tampere to address the issue, although it was not until 2008 that the first European pact on migration was created. This agreement presented the general outlines of the issue, but there was no legal basis.

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The EU's migration issue is currently governed by the New Pact on Migration and Asylum of September 2020. This new agreement was born due to the new circumstances and challenges Brussels had to face after the crisis in Syria and the exodus of refugees caused by the war. "Refugees did not create a crisis, that crisis arose because the European Union does not have mechanisms to be able to react to these waves of migrants seeking asylum," stressed Arcos Vargas. "There are no instruments to react and each member state thinks in a different way," he added. 

The quotas for sharing out refugees created mistrust and disunity among European countries. The Visegrad group, consisting of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, were the most vocal in their opposition to the quotas set by Brussels. Other states also experienced a rise in Euroscepticism. The refugee challenge also highlighted the ineffectiveness of previous schemes, such as the Dublin Convention, which led to a surplus of asylum seekers in the southern European region. This, coupled with the fact that many countries do not meet quotas, "leads to the creation of many xenophobic movements in the first countries where refugees set foot", as Arcos Vargas pointed out.

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The president of the Andalusian Council of the European Movement referred to the recent events in Afghanistan to insist on the need to create a new pact. Many Afghan asylum seekers are making their way to Europe, fleeing the Taliban regime. Do we have instruments to cope, do we have mechanisms to respond to the situation in Afghanistan," Arcos Vargas asked. He also recalled that the current pact "is not an international treaty, therefore, even if the commission presents it, it does not create obligations between states". "It is nothing more than the Commission's ideas on how to deal with these issues. We need a normative development," he reaffirmed.

As well as having a legal basis, it is essential that the new pact adopts measures that respect human dignity. "The only possible way forward is to open the doors in an orderly manner," said Arcos Vargas. "Europe needs immigration. If we want to maintain the European model of life, we need immigrants", he added. 

Irene Blázquez Rodríguez, Professor of International Public Law at the University of Cordoba, then spoke on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals. Like Arcos Vargas, she gave a brief overview of what Brussels had developed in this area. In 2001, conditions of entry and residence for work-related migrants were proposed, although this initiative never saw the light of day due to the impossibility of adopting a general provision. In 2005, a change of strategy was proposed with a new roadmap that seeks to harmonise various categories of migrants. However, "this harmonisation is gradual, slow and complex", as Blázquez Rodríguez describes. This is due to the fact that admission volumes are strictly state sovereignty.

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For this reason, Brussels must devise a new roadmap that addresses a number of challenges. First, the current approach must be overcome, as it is "limited and short-term". "We must be aware that immigration is not of a cyclical nature. Migration is structural in nature, migrants will continue to come. It must be a roadmap for the future", Blázquez Rodríguez reaffirms. "The road ahead is as necessary as it is difficult", he stresses.

"Spain is a model of effective border control management"

Pedro Ríos Calvo has extensive experience in migration issues, as he was former Commissioner of the National Police in Algeciras. He also worked as Representative of the Ministry of the Interior in Diplomatic Conferences of the United Nations and the European Union. "Algeciras is not the border of Spain, it is the border of Europe. The operations that are carried out there have repercussions throughout the European Union," he declared. 

Ríos Calvo listed the cooperation measures that Spain maintains with Morocco, a key ally in migration matters. Other partnerships with countries of origin and transit such as Mauritania, Senegal and Niger are also working well. Agreements have also recently been signed with Cape Verde, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. In contrast, the former commissioner pointed out how difficult it is to collaborate with Algeria on this issue.

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Our country, in the words of Ríos Calvo, "is a model of efficient border control management". Algeciras is the first post in Europe to have intelligent borders, a system that detects false documents. It also has a heartbeat detector to find out if there are people hidden in lorries or suitcases. In the event of finding a person in these or similar conditions, "the first thing is humanitarian attention", the former commissioner stressed. 

Ríos Calvo also addressed the issue of menas, unaccompanied foreign minors. "Menas cannot be expelled because the Ley de Extranjería does not allow it. They can only be repatriated, which is practically impossible", he explained. He also took advantage of his speech to point out the need to create joint police units in the Sahel. "The Sahel is the front line of the advance of Islamist terrorism, which represents a serious danger to European security", he warned. 

Vicente de Mingo Benítez, provincial delegate of Movimiento por la Paz in Cádiz, closed the round table. Movimiento por la Paz is an NGO that in Spain is responsible, among many other things, for protecting and helping immigrants. "To talk about Europeanism and the future of Europe without putting the issue of migration on the table is the biggest mistake one can make", said de Mingo Benítez. The person in charge of the NGO in Cádiz presented various projects that seek the integration and defence of immigrants arriving in Spain.

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Finally, he posed a question to the audience: "What would any of you do if instead of being born here, you had been born in one of the countries where these children come from?"

"Border areas should guarantee human rights"

Alejandro del Valle Gálvez, Professor of International Public Law and International Relations at the University of Cadiz, linked European values with the issue of migration. Among these values, he highlighted tolerance, solidarity and equality between men and women. Although, as he pointed out, some Member States have not respected them at times. 

Del Valle Gálvez urged us to maintain these virtues in our territory, but also to extend them abroad and to border areas, places where, according to the professor, human rights are more fragile. "Border areas should guarantee human rights," he said. In this context, he also referred to the countries with which Brussels has agreements on migration, such as Morocco, Libya and Turkey.

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With regard to Turkey, he alluded to the 2016 migration agreement whereby Ankara was responsible for holding back migration flows with European funds. However, in addition to financial support, it is also necessary to ensure human rights. Del Valle Gálvez recalls the accusations against Turkey for using Syrian citizens to repopulate Kurdish areas, i.e. using refugees for political purposes. "The support of third states would have to be based on efficient management and democratic control," he stressed.