A Note by the Director 2016/02
18-20 February 2016
Our second conference of 2016 found us considering the highly topical and contentious issue of the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe, after its dramatic acceleration in 2015. We had a diverse group from across the continent, supplemented by participants from the other side of the Atlantic, bemused at times by the passion and divisions which accompanied the debate, but able to offer a useful perspective from their different experiences. Firm guidance from the Chair kept us focussed on trying to find solutions as well as on anguished diagnosis.
The rush to Europe in 2015 reflected both a refugee and a migrant crisis, and was likely to continue unabated in 2016 if the right measures were not taken. The flows might vary in intensity and the routes could shift, but overall we were looking at a long term phenomenon driven by fundamental developments in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, and not just by one statement by Chancellor Merkel. Policy responses would have to be similarly long term.
We looked at the issues from the point of view of the need to sustain fundamental European values, as well as at the operational responses which might be needed in practical terms. Both had to take into account the political dimensions of the problem. Refugees had to be given protection but the question was whether the existing system could cope with such a huge and rapid influx.
The European response so far had been lamentable – chaotic, ill-considered, inhumane and ineffective. Basic European solidarity had been missing from the start. Governments and publics alike were in a panic because of the apparently endless numbers of people pouring in, a state of mind which did not encourage good policy-making, even though most of the inflow was going to only four countries. Some participants thought there was no real crisis because the numbers were in fact perfectly manageable. Most took the view that, while public reactions and fears might be exaggerated, they could not be calmed until some sense of order and manageability was restored. Governments had no credibility until then.
The flows of people had also exposed a European institutional crisis. Mechanisms like the Dublin Regulation and Schengen had not been designed for circumstances like these, and clearly could not cope. Dublin was dead for now, although it was not clear what would replace it – a system where refugees/migrants could choose for themselves which country to go to was not acceptable either. Schengen might be abandoned altogether or two Schengen areas might emerge in practice – east and west – but again it was too soon to take such decisions. Meanwhile, the need was for agreed European measures, but the mechanisms were in national hands and likely to remain so.
The top priority for now was to manage the flows, which meant strengthening Europe’s external borders and ensuring systems for dealing with people which were both rapid and fair, and in line with Europe’s human rights and humanitarian obligations. We saw a number of ways of helping a better-managed process: more aid on the spot to those who had fled the Syrian or other conflicts, to help persuade them to stay where they were; a genuinely fast track processing system at the borders, of no more than four weeks; a credible returns policy involving early return of significant numbers whose applications for protection had not been accepted – this would also mean the earliest possible agreement on a common list of safe countries, including for third country nationals, and the negotiation of effective returns agreements with a wide range of countries, using the full range of carrots and sticks available; agreeing on legal pathways for significant numbers of refugees/migrants seeking to enter Europe and using processing in external countries to sift them – that would probably not reduce illegal flows of itself, but was a necessary part of persuading other countries to hold onto them, notably Turkey, and sending back those intercepted at sea; much tougher action on people smugglers, who were driving as well as channelling the flows. An agreed approach with Turkey was fundamental to most of the above, but would be difficult to negotiate and even harder to implement.
We did not see much mileage for now in policies designed to reallocate around Europe those who had already arrived – people would not go where they thought they were not welcome just because the European Commission said so. We were divided on whether financial burden-sharing was an acceptable alternative to reallocation. The current receiving countries certainly did not think so.
How justified were European worries about the prospects for integrating those currently arriving? There was a security angle about jihadists which could not be ignored, but the main fear of some was that many Muslims would not settle well, just as current Muslim communities had not integrated very successfully in some countries. There were strongly divided views about this, with some participants suggesting that migrants usually brought benefits to the receiving societies, and there was no reason to suppose the current wave would be any different; and others arguing that this was an attitude of the cosmopolitan elite not shared by ordinary people with a different lived experience.
We did not spend a lot of time on the details of how to tackle what was driving people to leave the Middle East and North Africa, but agreed that bringing to an end the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere was essential; and that in the longer term we had to put together coherent and properly funded development and investment policies to help stabilise the region.
A number of detailed conclusions and recommendations are listed but one major conclusion was that Europe had to treat this as the huge geopolitical, foreign policy crisis it was, not as a short-term matter for interior ministers to resolve. Full deployment of all resources and tools would be needed over a long period in order to bring order to the current chaos. Nothing less would do.
The rush to Europe
Our starting point was to try to understand better what had happened in 2015, and what might follow in 2016. Why had the flows of refugees and migrants accelerated so suddenly the previous summer, and was there any prospect of this slowing down, or would the spring weather bring a further rush? Our overall take was that this was an influx from outside on a scale which we had not seen before in Europe and which posed a lot of new challenges. It was a migration crisis as well as a refugee crisis. The flows of people were mixed, their composition constantly changing in terms of nationalities, and the routes they took also evolving dynamically as circumstances and perceptions shifted. The rush to Europe mirrored what was happening more widely in the world, where migration from the global south to the global north had now overtaken south-south flows.
The main immediate cause was clearly events in Syria – the further worsening of the civil war itself, now exacerbated by the Russian intervention; the loss of hope on the part of those who had already fled Syria to neighbouring countries that they would ever be able to return; and the deterioration of the conditions for many refugees as exhaustion of resources combined with lack of aid and absence of educational and work opportunities to push people towards Europe. Despite efforts to increase aid and opportunities in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and the ceasefire proposal, we saw little hope in the short term of a change in these push factors – the opposite was more likely as more refugees fled towards Turkey.
Behind this was a more broadly based flow of people from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, pushed by factors such as poverty, discrimination, bad governance, economic failure, lack of opportunity, and population growth in their countries of origin. Some of these countries also had conflicts or other tensions pushing people to flee.
The common factor in all cases was the desire for some kind of better future for themselves and their families. This was a completely understandable reaction to the predicaments they found themselves in. There was no case for demonising those fleeing, or regarding them with particular suspicion, even if there was an unavoidable risk of a very few ill-intentioned people hiding among the flows.
Europe had long been seen by many as a promised land, and flows through the central Mediterranean had already been significant. What had changed in summer 2015 was the volume, and the large scale shift to the Turkey/Greece route. How far had this been caused by what Chancellor Merkel had said, and the apparent welcome being extended? There was no denying that this had been the catalyst for a dramatic acceleration of the flows. However, she had been acting largely from humanitarian motives, and had not intended to suggest that absolutely anyone coming to Germany would be welcome. Nor had she been motivated by the need for more labour to fill gaps in Germany’s ageing society. But the message that there was a new opportunity to get to Europe had been heard in and around Syria and elsewhere, and many had flocked to take advantage, not least to make sure they could get in before the gates closed again.
There was also a self-reinforcing effect of the way information now flowed through social media and smart phones. Migrants brought more migrants, and the people smugglers very quickly took advantage to set up routes and make a fortune on the back of those fleeing. Government attempts to regain control of the information flow, and explain that European or German streets were not paved with gold, were doomed to fail as currently conducted. People did not trust them and preferred to believe what they were told by family, friends and even the smugglers.
What were the prospects for 2016? The flows through the winter so far had been greater than expected and there was every reason to expect another major influx as the weather improved. This would of course depend heavily on what Europe now did in terms of trying to control or direct the flows – for example effective action over the Turkish routes could shift people back to the central Mediterranean or even the Russia/Scandinavia track. What would determine how this went was not whether or not those trying to get to Europe risked death – this was already factored into their calculations – but what they thought were their chances of success in getting in and then staying.
To what extent were those now arriving in Europe likely to seek to stay for good, or return home when things improved there? We had no precise answer to this. People using different routes and people of different nationalities had different responses when such questions were posed, and the data was incomplete. Most people obviously preferred to live in their countries of origin if they thought they could do so safely and successfully. If the conflicts were settled, some might return, including to Syria. However, the default assumption should probably be that most of those now arriving in Europe were more likely to want to stay than not. This was of course a problem for their countries of origin too, since they were losing some of their best assets.
Looking further ahead, there was a consensus that the migratory pressures into Europe would continue. Even if current conflicts were settled, lack of economic opportunity and poor governance in much of the Middle East and North Africa region was not likely to change for many years. The question of how to deal with migration therefore had to be seen as a long term strategic foreign policy challenge, which had to be dealt with strategically by heads of state and government and all concerned ministries, not just ministries of the interior.
Europe’s reaction so far
There was agreement that this had been a significant failure on virtually all fronts. There was little visible strategy or leadership. Deaths had not been averted. The reception, registration and asylum processes were inhumane, chaotic and ineffective. There had been an almost total absence of intra-European solidarity in the reactions of individual countries. Some European countries blamed Germany for encouraging the flows through unilateral action without consultation, by saying asylum seekers would be welcome and the Dublin Regulation no longer applied. They did not see why they should be stuck with the result, and were prepared only to facilitate onward travel of people to Germany, Sweden and a couple of other countries. There had been little if any willingness to make the proposed reallocation system work, even if there were doubts whether it could ever have been possible to make people go where they did not want to. The result was the huge pressure we had seen on the target countries, the fading of the welcome, and signs of a political backlash. What might be called the Visegrad approach was gaining ground elsewhere in Europe.
Even though the influx had only been to Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands, virtually all governments across Europe were reacting with a sense of panic which was making sensible long term decision-making almost impossible. Beggar-my-neighbour policies and practices were the order of the day. The signs for now were that this might get worse.
There were differing views on whether the situation should in fact be seen as a crisis. Some argued that the numbers were not that large compared to the overall population of the EU, and there was no reason why they could not be managed successfully, especially when the economic effects could be overall positive in terms of infrastructure and jobs created, and extra fiscal revenues too, over time. Europe should not turn its back on its values. Flows in the past had been managed and the problems overcome, even if the outcomes were not always perfect, either for those arriving or the recipient societies. We should also look at the facts, not the common assumptions, about who was arriving in Europe. For example, 72% of the Syrians were coming straight from Syria, while most of the Afghans were in fact arriving from Iran.
Others thought that this view missed essential points. The flow was concentrated in a few countries at present, and they were obviously in great political and social difficulty. If traditionally liberal countries like Sweden and Denmark were reacting as they were, it was clear that something serious was happening. Countries were facing a serious challenge to two of the essential features of nation states – control of their borders and the composition of their populations. The issues went to the heart of our societies.
Moreover, the popular fear was that there might be no end to the flows, given the situation in so much of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. And there was an awkward elephant in the room: Islam. People in Europe were worried that those arriving could not be integrated easily because of the social and cultural differences they brought with them. This fear was exacerbated by the sense that existing Muslim communities in many European countries were still not well-integrated and were even producing home-grown jihadists, though the numbers were relatively tiny. These perceptions might be false or exaggerated (and we came back to this contentious discussion later in the conference), but they existed and were creating popular and political reactions which were driving governments to behave as they were doing.
It could also be argued that taking in the current flows of people arriving in Europe was not in fact being particularly humane. They were by definition the most mobile and self-sufficient, not the most vulnerable. Even the human rights arguments were therefore less clear-cut than might be assumed.
It was clear that there was a European institutional crisis too. These issues had remained largely a matter for national decision, and the normal institutions had relatively little power or traction. The organisations which did exist, such as Frontex and Europol, were starved of resources and authority. Arguably, the need of the moment was more European integration in this field. The view that Europe was stronger if it tackled its major challenges together was at the heart of the EU’s origins. However, there was precious little sign of governments reacting in this way – the trend was the opposite.
Was Schengen already dead? Some thought so, and suggested that we would soon see a much smaller group of countries keeping their borders open with each other, or possibly the emergence of two Schengens, East and West. Others were not convinced that the situation had yet reached that point, and were also not convinced that the re-imposition of internal border controls would work. On the other hand, it was not clear that they would have the devastating economic and other effects some businesses were predicting.
Was the Dublin Regulation dead? Everyone agreed that it could not be re-implemented in its present form. However, there was a division about what might replace it. Some argued that the basic principle of initial registration and application in the first country arrived in would have to be retained in some way, even if there was a possibility of acceptance by another country in an agreed way at a later date. Otherwise we would effectively be giving the asylum seekers a free choice about where to go, which was not acceptable politically. Others, closer to the concerns of the states of first arrival, said that this would simply go back to shifting an unacceptable burden onto countries like Italy and Greece, not well placed to cope with large numbers staying in their countries as well as dealing with the burden of arrivals. There was little chance of consensus on this for now, but perhaps this was a decision which could be pushed down the road to a time when the immediate pressures were a little less.
A wider and extremely awkward question was whether the international regime for dealing with refugees, and the European interpretation of it, should still be regarded as appropriate and sacrosanct. Some argued that the Geneva Convention itself and European rules flowing from it, including Dublin, had been conceived for different times and calmer situations. The principle of non-refoulement had not been designed with current flows in mind. Faced with a mass influx it was not sensible or realistic to assert that all those who wanted protection should be allowed in. There were in fact emergency situations envisaged in the original texts, and there should be emergency brakes which could be pulled to help make flows manageable. The debate had been framed too much in terms of human rights, without taking into account political realities and the wishes of ordinary people. It was not a moral approach to push liberal democracies to destruction.
Others reacted with horror to any suggestion of weakening or reopening the Geneva Convention. Human rights were at the core of the European project, and if these were abandoned the whole project would be at risk. This was an exaggerated response to a temporary situation which could be managed. We should also remember that the real burden of refugees was being borne by neighbouring countries to those where the conflicts were. They happened to be developing countries much less well-placed to bear the burdens than we were.
An interesting side question was whether the reaction in Europe would have been calmer and easier if the European economic situation had been better. This was impossible to demonstrate either way. Certainly the crisis in the Eurozone and continuing low growth were not the best backdrop. But fears about migration were also strong in the UK, where growth had been good and unemployment was low.
What should Europe now do?
We were all well aware that there were no silver bullets in such a complex situation, with so many moving parts. However, we were equally convinced that Europe could do better, and indeed must do better, collectively and individually.
Our basic thesis was that the flows into Europe had to be brought under control, and to be seen to be brought under control, quickly if we wanted a more measured longer-term approach. At the moment the agenda was being set entirely by the people arriving in Europe themselves. Europe’s electorates could see that their politicians were not in control of the situation, which was leading to an erosion of credibility of governments and fears of ‘swamping’. The first and most important task was therefore to restore that control, so that people could begin to see that the process of arrival and integration could become orderly and manageable. Only then could, for example, some kind of pro-migration narrative begin to have some traction.
The most important part of this was to restore Europe’s control of its own external borders. However, we needed to be clear about what this really meant. The borders were being monitored effectively enough, in the sense that we knew how many were arriving where. The problem was that those arriving were too numerous to be managed easily, and it was unclear what should happen to them once they had arrived.
The flows therefore had to be slowed down, by sending a message to those thinking about trying their luck, before they took the decision and raised the money to pay the smugglers, that success in getting into Europe and staying was by no means guaranteed. We saw several ways of doing this, all interlocking in different ways, which we looked at in detail at various points of the conference.
Meanwhile, there was no excuse for the inhumane and chaotic treatment of those arriving. Reception and registration arrangements should be improved immediately. Those in transit needed basic humanitarian support as they made their way up Europe. The current situation was unconscionable – no-one should imagine that poor treatment of refugees and migrants would reduce the pull factors.
On the spot aid
Making sure that those who had fled to the countries neighbouring Syria had sufficient basic services to enable them to stay where they were was one obvious response. This was partly about aid and humanitarian relief, but also about education and employment opportunities. Countries in Europe had every reason to be much more generous than hitherto. This should not just be seen as making sure that the problem stayed dumped in the lap of countries unable to cope with such burdens. There was a genuine concern that the best of Syrian society was leaving the region, and that many of them might never return, even when their services might be desperately needed to help rebuild Syria.
A credible returns policy
At present, European policy did not pass the first test of credibility by being able to distinguish quickly and effectively between refugees who required protection and those who were economic migrants and could therefore be returned to their countries of origin. The distinctions were not of course always clear-cut, to say the least. Nevertheless, rapid decision-making and quick subsequent action were essential. As long as it was evident that, once in Europe, your chances of being sent back were slim to non-existent, people would keep coming in large numbers, as migrants as well as refugees.
There were obviously two parts to this: the application process and the returns themselves. We needed a genuinely fast track application process, preferably at the borders of Europe, which took no more than four weeks, with a further week allowed for a judicial appeal of some kind. This would take resources but was perfectly doable. The technology to make it happen, and to deal with problems such as fraudulent or destroyed documentation, already existed.
There then needed to be a way of getting unsuccessful applicants back quickly to their countries of origin or the countries from which they had come, as long as the latter could be considered to be safe. Some large scale returns were clearly needed to have the right demonstration effect. However, this was where the difficulties started. There was no common European list of safe countries, which was a huge gap in the system, and one which needed to be remedied as soon as possible. Even if this could be resolved, there was the problem of the countries themselves agreeing to take their citizens back. This was not at all easy – although it was recognised by the governments concerned that the departure of talent was a problem, it nevertheless helped to relieve pressures on the jobs market, and also quickly became a source of revenue through remittances, often much larger than official ODA flows. It was arguably even more difficult now that these countries realised that they were facing European countries desperate to reach such agreements. They were making the most of this newfound leverage, as had been evident at the EU/Africa summit in Valletta in 2015, and was even clearer in the negotiations between Turkey and Germany/the EU more recently.
It was strongly argued that European countries and the EU were not making use of all the tools in their toolbox to achieve the necessary results here. There were carrots which could be more effectively and comprehensively put in front of these countries, for example in terms of aid and trade. One problem here was that the trade favours most wanted and needed by countries of concern were usually in the agricultural area, and ran straight into the traditional objections from some southern countries to opening European markets in sensitive product areas. This seemed short-sighted, to put it no more strongly, in present circumstances of a major political emergency.
There were also sticks. Europe needed to play more hardball faced with the current crisis, for example by threatening not only the end of aid and trade favours but also a block on visa processing. The latter point was not accepted by all – aid for example was not a lever which could be used in this way, since the reaction was usually counterproductive, while withdrawing it would only increase the chances of economic failure inducing more people to flee.
Even if return agreements could be reached, implementation would remain difficult. The countries to which people were being returned had an almost infinite number of ways to spin out the process, for example by querying whether those concerned were really their own citizens – often hard to prove when documents had been lost or deliberately destroyed. Individuals also had many ways to delay deportation, for example by claiming illness. Nevertheless the effort had to be made.
Return agreements were also of limited value if they did not include the ability to return nationals of third countries to the countries from which they had set out to Europe. This was particularly true of Turkey and other countries where those fleeing Syria and other conflicts had arrived. How safe could these countries be considered for third country nationals? This made negotiating such arrangements more difficult.
One area of debate was the extent to which ‘return theatre’ would be helpful in sending the right message to those thinking of heading for Europe. Germany was thinking along these lines, by making some highly publicised returns. The logic was obvious. At the same time it was pointed out that receiving countries were much more likely to be cooperative if returns were under the radar, since they could be seen as in some ways humiliating for the country taking back those who had fled. This was certainly the Spanish experience with Morocco and the British experience with various African countries and Afghanistan.
Legal pathways to Europe
It was shameful that so many were dying in the effort to get to Europe, that the process was so chaotic, and that European countries had effectively no say over who was coming to their countries. There was therefore an obvious case for replacing illegal entries with legal channels, in the interests of both those
seeking to enter and receiving countries. However, many questions quickly arose. In particular, would allowing legal pathways stop or reduce the numbers of those seeking to enter Europe illegally? Many around the table were doubtful, certainly in the short term. Those qualifying for legal entry might be a different group from those fleeing to find a better life for themselves, and many might find the legal process too long and too cumbersome.
By itself, therefore, providing legal pathways would not provide an answer to the current problems. However, in combination with other measures to control illegal pathways, such as stopping the boats – for example by using the new NATO operation in the Aegean – it could begin to play its part. To have any effect at all, for example in negotiations with Turkey, the numbers promised for legal settlement would have to be very significant, bigger for example than the 250,000 suggested by the Netherlands, and to have diverse possibilities for different groups, including students. Even then, there would always be the risk of squeezing the balloon, with the illegal flows simply displaced elsewhere.
If the current ways to get into Greece from Turkey were blocked by maritime action agreed with Turkey, there would obviously need to be arrangements for large-scale processing in Turkey of applications for both refugee status and legal migration. Such an arrangement ought in principle to be negotiable, but implementation would always be a challenge.
We spent quite a lot of time discussing the merits of this kind of external processing. Some saw arrangements of this kind as crucial to the answer to Europe’s problems. However, the associated problems were hardly trivial. The country where the people were had to be convinced to take this on. This was much more difficult when third country nationals were involved. For example were they supposed to be detained in some way while their applications were processed? What happened to them if their applications were denied?
The term ‘external processing’ was also used loosely. Were we suggesting externalising the whole asylum system, which would mean in effect rethinking the international protection regime, or just creating some kind of transitional system, or were we in fact only talking about a legal resettlement process once current doors were no longer open?
There were also concerns about the ethics of external processing – the Australian example was not seen by everyone as one to follow, and the practice of shifting the burden of care of those who had fled onto other countries less able to manage this burden hardly seemed fair. It had been clear from the Valletta Summit that many countries were simply not ready to accept such an approach.
Part of making a success of legal pathways was making a success of resettlement. Here we thought that European countries had a good deal to learn from the examples of the US and Canada, which had been doing this on a significant scale for years, spreading those coming in across their countries, with inducements to stay in the cities of resettlement. The Canadian practice of private sponsorship in addition to state sponsorship was also well worth looking at.
How far could the rest of the world play a significant part in resolving the current Europe crisis by taking more people from the region themselves? To some extent this was already happening. The Canadians were stepping up to the plate under their new government, for example. The Americans might agree to do more once the current Presidential election campaign was over. But overall it would be unwise to rely on much help from outside. Others had other fish to fry. And one country, Russia, seemed to be actively exploiting the current situation – maybe even deliberately helping aggravate it, according to some around the table.
Reallocation and burden-sharing
There were significant differences about whether the policy of reallocation could be useful in present circumstances. The current numbers of those reallocated, a few hundred compared to the 160,000 originally envisaged under the Commission plan, suggested that the policy was largely irrelevant for now. Those currently arriving in Europe were not meek victims waiting to be told where to go but strong-minded individuals who knew exactly what they wanted. They were highly unlikely to agree to go to a country which they perceived as hostile or unwelcoming, as well as unlikely to be able to provide the jobs they would need.
One obvious alternative was financial burden-sharing – countries which did not want to take the quota they were allocated could buy out the quota by paying agreed sums to other countries which would then have to take them. The analogy was made with the climate change debate and the possibility of buying out emissions quotas. Some around the table were attracted to this as a realistic way forward. Others argued that such an approach was completely unacceptable to the countries which were currently taking the vast majority of those arriving. Their worries about receiving so many refugees and migrants were not principally financial but political and social. So more money to help them integrate, however welcome in one sense, could not compensate for leaving them to face these problems.
The activities of the people smugglers could not be ignored in all this. They were ruthless and heartless but also flexible and adaptable. If one route was closed they would quickly find another. It was also wrong to see them as just helping those who had already decided to flee. They helped create the flows as well as using them to make money for themselves. Doing more to tackle them was therefore an imperative. Europol and others were already working hard on this. But it would not be simple, to say the least. The creation of the European Smuggling Centre was a useful step.
The smugglers themselves took different forms in different countries. In Libya they were a set of vicious militias who took those who ventured into the country hostage, squeezing every last drop of money out of them and their families, and forcing them to work if they could not pay. They also increasingly sent out boats which only had enough fuel to reach the areas where the Italian coastguard operated. The cynicism and brutality were breath-taking.
In other places such as Turkey they were more opportunist, and often worked with representatives of the communities fleeing. But they were also ultimately heartless – the rubber boats on which they embarked people were completely unfit for purpose, and the so-called life jackets not capable of saving lives.
The overall aim should be to turn people smuggling from a low risk to a high risk business. Arrests and trials would be needed for this.
How well could we integrate those who were arriving? This became one of the more contentious issues of the conference. Most research suggested that the economic impact of immigration was broadly positive, both in terms of jobs (for those arriving and the receiving communities), and from a fiscal point of view. But not everyone accepted this. In any case, there was room for doubt about whether the current labour markets in some countries, for example Sweden, could be the integration mechanisms they had traditionally been. The number of middle level jobs available was shrinking all the time, as employment polarised between those at the top and bottom ends of the labour markets. Many of those arriving were not sufficiently well-qualified to find jobs at the top end of the market, and might not always be suitable for the bottom end. More widely the workplace was not the site of long-term socialisation for new arrivals it had once been, as unions were weaker and labour more mobile.
In Germany, there was certainly a need for labour to fill demographic gaps and help cope with an otherwise ageing population. Some companies were delighted by the prospect of extra labour, and were actively recruiting. There would of course be training and linguistic challenges, but these should be manageable over time. Greater investment in essential infrastructure, for example local schools and hospitals in areas of high migration, could help allay public fears. If growth returned to the Eurozone, that could also provide a less fraught context.
However, whatever the economic arguments, the real issues of integration were social and cultural. The often unspoken question was whether the predominantly Muslim population of the current flows would, over time, settle, integrate and succeed, as so many refugee and migrant groups had done before them, whatever the initial fears; or whether they would remain largely separate, leading parallel lives, with the potential for trouble over their failure to accept the basic values and mores of those with whom they had chosen to live. Integration did not of course mean giving up different religious or other activities, as long as these were not in conflict with the law, but it did mean a degree of willingness to conform in such areas as tolerance of others and democratic norms. The difficulties of integrating existing Muslim populations in some countries exacerbated such fears. The security worries about jihadists infiltrating current flows were no doubt exaggerated, but they could not be discounted entirely either.
There were significant divisions about all this around the table. Some saw the integration process as entirely manageable, even with relatively large numbers. Others foresaw trouble ahead as the ‘social distance’ between those arriving and the existing population became too wide to bridge successfully, for example in areas such as women’s rights or attitudes to homosexuality. The rise of populist parties in various countries of Europe could be seen as a harbinger of what we might see in the future as a reaction to immigration which was seen as too fast, too uncontrolled and too dominated by groups who aroused acute concerns.
Some of those thinking that the integration process could work were inclined to label those taking the opposite view as too pessimistic about human nature, or even xenophobic. Some of those worrying about future integration were inclined to see those optimistic about the process as elites or rootless cosmopolitans, cut off from the everyday experiences of ordinary people, and oblivious to these people’s concerns about the destruction of their communities and way of life. Most around the table were no doubt somewhere between these two camps.
This was not a new argument, nor one we could readily settle around the table at Ditchley. However, it did illustrate the depth of the emotions generated by the issues. These could certainly not be ignored by the politicians, which was what gave the search for some degree of stabilisation of current flows of people such urgency.
In this context there was no doubt that numbers did matter. Absorbing and integrating millions of new arrivals over a short period was very different from dealing with hundreds of thousands over a number of years. It was not these days particularly fear of the other, or dislike of individuals from certain places, but the sense that the situations created were unmanageable. We noted for example that the current rise of fears about immigration coincided with historically low rates of xenophobia and racism in most European countries.
We spent relatively little time on these questions, as the immediate issues seemed so pressing, and the prospects of effecting sufficient change in the countries of most concern so remote. Having said that, we had little doubt that the biggest single priority was to settle the conflicts in Syria and surrounding countries. This was not entirely or even mainly in the hands of Europe, but it should certainly be a huge European preoccupation. Libya should also be a major priority, given the role it played in some of the refugee/migrant flows, and its destabilising effect on the region more widely. Europe arguably had more influence here, and should be doing all it could to promote a peaceful settlement and re-establishment of an effective central government.
In the longer term, it clearly made sense to do whatever we could to help the countries of the Middle East and North Africa to be more successful economically and politically, and to be able to provide the jobs needed for the growing youth populations and to meet their political aspirations for better governance. This meant serious, effective and coherent aid and trade policies over long periods, both collectively by the EU and by individual countries. Mobility partnerships, allowing for temporary entry, could be part of this, though recent experience had not been encouraging. Such a strategic approach seemed a long way from the current reality, and reflected a major European failure. Again this had to become a top strategic, external affairs priority engaging all key actors at national and European level, and had to benefit from serious funding over many years. Nothing less would do.
Conclusions and recommendations
We did not have as neat a set of recommendations as would have been ideal, and there were, as recorded, significant differences around the table on some key points. However, Europe could not simply throw its hands in the air and say it was all too difficult.
Our main operational conclusions could be summarised as follows:
- Europe desperately needs a unified migration strategy, and to get away from national actions which can only make the situation worse. Closing internal borders is not the answer.
- This strategy needs to be genuinely international and long term, and be seen as the top diplomatic priority, not just a question for interior ministries.
- The most immediate need is to manage/reduce the current flows, to buy some room for political manoeuvre and reduce the sense of panic and helplessness which is overwhelming governments and peoples alike.
- Those seeking to reach Europe for economic reasons need to be convinced that their chances of doing so successfully are not good, and that they have a high chance of being returned even if they do succeed, unless they are genuine asylum cases.
- This means a genuinely fast track system at the borders, and returning immediately those who come from countries considered safe. Establishing a common list of such countries is an indispensable step of the highest possible urgency, as are agreed arrangements for third country nationals.
- Significant early returns of those whose asylum applications have failed is also indispensable. The system has no credibility otherwise.
- An effective deal with Turkey is crucial, whereby she agrees to cooperate seriously in stopping the boats, in return for help with looking after those on her territory, and a legal pathways to Europe scheme of significant scale should be established, with processing in Turkey.
- Legal pathways should also be explored more widely, though in full awareness that they will not of themselves slow down the flows in the short term, together with external processing options.
- Returns agreements with countries other than Turkey should also be pursued more aggressively, using the full range of carrots and sticks available, including readiness to make trade concessions in sensitive areas, given the migration stakes.
- Smugglers should be pursued aggressively wherever possible, to make this a high risk activity.
- A more active and effective information strategy to counter what potential migrants hear from social media is urgently needed.
- Solidarity and burden-sharing within the EU has to become the norm once more, with financial help a possible alternative where taking quotas of those arriving in Europe is genuinely too difficult.
- The futures of Schengen and the Dublin Regulation have to be addressed but probably cannot be sensibly agreed in present circumstances.
- Those arriving in Europe must be treated with dignity and respect at all times, and proper humanitarian provision made for them.
- Those concerned about the current flows should not be demonised either.
- Aid to those who have fled to countries neighbouring conflict zones such as Syria should be stepped up further.
- Diplomatic efforts to settle the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, particularly Libya, have to stay at the top of the priority list.
- A clear and consistent long term strategy should be elaborated for engagement with the fragile countries of the Middle East and North Africa, and then stuck to. This will mean major resources.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
The Rt Hon the Baroness Amos
Life Peer (Labour), House of Lords (1997-); Director, SOAS, University of London (2015-). Formerly: Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations (2010-15); British High Commissioner to Australia (2009-10); Chair, Royal African Society (2007-09); Leader of the House of Lords (2003-07); Secretary of State for International Development (2003); Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2001-03); Government Whip, House of Lords (1998-2001); Director, Amos Fraser Bernard (1995-98); Chief Executive, Equal Opportunities Commission (1989-94).
Dr David Reisenzein
Head, Frontex Liaison Office to the EU Institutions and Bodies in Brussels; responsible for Frontex cooperation with the EU Offices of International Organizations and Brussels-based Civil Society Organizations and members of the Frontex Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights. Formerly: Head, Unit for Development, Programs, Policy and Media, International Organization for Migration, Vienna.
Professor Matthew Gibney
Deputy Director and Professor of Politics and Forced Migration, University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre; Official Fellow of Linacre College, University of Oxford. Formerly: Director, Oxford University International Summer School in Forced Migration; Visiting Professor, Monash University, University of Toronto and University of New South Wales.
Ms Anita Biguzs
Deputy Minister, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. Formerly: Associate Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Associate Deputy Minister of Transport, Communities and Infrastructure; Associate Secretary, Treasury Board Secretariat; Assistant Secretary, Privy Council Office; Director of Operations, Economic and Regional Development Policy Secretariat, Privy Council Office.
Dr Howard Duncan
Executive Head, International Metropolis Project, Carleton University, Ottawa (2002-); Chair, Metropolis
International Steering Committee; Editor, International Migration. Formerly: Professor of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario.
Dr Joanne Liu
International President, Médecins Sans Frontières (2013-).
Mr Conrad Sauvé
Canadian Red Cross Society (1999-): Secretary-General and Chief Executive Officer (formerly National Director, Fund Development and Marketing; Acting Chief Priorities Officer; General Manager, Quebec Zone); Board Member, St Mary's Hospital Centre, Montreal. Formerly: Director of Expansion and Community Development, YMCA of Greater Montreal; President and Member of the Board of Directors, Regional Health and Social Services Authority of Montréal-Centre.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE/CZECH REPUBLIC
Ambassador Tomás Bocek
Special Representative of the Secretary General for migration and refugees, Council of Europe (2016-). Formerly: Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the Council of Europe (2010-16); Deputy Minister for International Relations and EU Affairs, Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic (2008-09); Adviser to Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs (2007-08).
Mr Benjamin Waites
Senior Specialist, Office of the Director, Europol (2010-). Formerly: Specialist, Strategic and External Affairs, Europol (2007-10); Policy Analyst, Office of the Special Representative of INTERPOL to the UN (2006-07); Senior Criminal Data Compiler then Policy Analyst, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) (2001-07).
Ambassador Pierre Vimont
Senior Associate, Carnegie Europe, Brussels; Personal Envoy of the President of the European Council on preparations for the Valletta Conference on causes of illegal migration and combatting human smuggling and trafficking (2015-). Formerly: Executive Secretary-General, European External Action Service (2010-15); French Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to the United States (2007-10); Ambassador to the European Union (1999-2002); Chief of Staff to three Foreign Ministers; Director for European Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dr Martin Bergfelder
German Diplomatic Service: Political Counsellor, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Kingdom (2015-). Formerly: G7 Political Officer, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2014-15); Head of Science Department, German Embassy, Cairo (2011-14); Head of International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP), Berlin (2007-10).
Mr Peter Bonin
Head, Sector Project Migration and Development, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Federal Agency for International Cooperation) (GIZ). Formerly: Head, GIZ country office, Montenegro (2010-11); Fund Manager, GIZ Open Regional Fund for Southeast Europe (2008-11); Advisory project on Economic and Social Cohesion in Turkey (2006-08); Project Manager for development cooperation projects in Southeast Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (2002-06); Research fellow and lecturer, Research Group on Conflict and Cooperation Structures in Eastern Europe, Mannheim Center for European Social Research (1996-2001).
Professor Kay Hailbronner Dr. Jur Dr jur h.c. LL.M. (McGill Univ. Montreal)
Emeritus Professor and Director, Research Center for Alien and Asylum Law, University of Konstanz; Acting Chair, Federal Advisory Council for Migration and Refugees (2007-); Advisory Board Member, German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (2000-). Formerly: Chair of Public Law, Public International Law and European Law, University of Konstanz; Director, Centre for International and European Law on Immigration and Asylum; Member, Governmental Commission on Immigration Reform (2000-01); Chairman, International Law Association Committee on Refugee Procedures (1998-2002).
Ms Astrid Ziebarth
Migration Fellow, Europe Program,The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), Berlin (2005-); Board Member, DeutschPlus; Editorial Board Member, 'Migration and Development'. Formerly: Coordinator, Transatlantic Study Team on Climate Induced Migration, GMF (2009-11); Coordinator, Transatlantic Forum on Migration and Integration, GMF; Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage; Goethe Institute, Washington, DC.
Dr Frank Laczko
Head, Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, International Organization for Migration, Berlin; Co-Chair, Data and Research Group, Global Migration Group; Editor, IOM/Springer Global Migration Issues book series; Co-Editor, Migration Policy Practice; lead author: 'World Migration Report 2013', 'Fatal Journeys - Tracking Lives Lost During Migration', 'How the World Views Migration', 'Europe's Migration 'Crisis' - Making sense of the numbers' (forthcoming, in Forced Migration Review). Formerly: Head, Migration Research Division, Geneva.
Dr Alessandra Camporota
Chief of Staff to Head of Department, Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration, Ministry of the Interior (2011-). Formerly: Head, Italian delegation at Strategic Committee on immigration, frontiers and asylum during Italian Semester of EU Presidency; Head of Dublin Unit, Ministry of the Interior (2007-08); Prefecture of Bari (1990-2002): Member, Immigration Coordination Interforce Group for the Apulia Region; Secretary, Territorial Council for Immigration.
Mr Mark Micallef
Executive Editor, Migrant Report; Correspondent, Times of Malta.
Ms Nava Hinrichs
Managing Director, The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration, The Hague (2013-); Guest Lecturer in International Migration Law and Refugee Law, Maastricht University. Formerly: Lecturer in Human Rights Law and Politics, University of Witwatersrand; Legal Advisor for asylum seekers in Egypt seeking refugee status from the UNHCR (2010-11).
Dr David Khoudour
Head, Migration and Skills Unit, OECD Development Centre, Paris (2010-); Chair, KNOMAD Thematic Working Group on Policy and Institutional Coherence. Formerly: Researcher, CEPII (2008-10); Lecturer, Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po); Director, Research Centre on International Migration, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Bogota (2005-08); Fulbright scholar, University of California-Berkeley (2004-05).
REPUBLIC OF CROATIA
His Excellency Dr Ivan Grdesic
Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Formerly: Ambassador to the United States of America; Member, Advisory Council for Foreign Policy and International Relations to the President of the Republic of Croatia; Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Zagreb.
Mr Tobias Billström
Member of the Swedish Parliament (Moderate Party) (2002-): First Deputy Speaker (2014-). Formerly: Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy (2006-14); Member, Swedish Migration Board (2005-06).
Professor Dr Ahmet Icduygu
Dean, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, and Director, Migration Research Center, Koç University, Istanbul.
The Lord Aldington
Vice President, National Churches Trust (2008-); Chairman, 2019 Committee, New College, Oxford. Formerly: Chairman, Deutsche Bank London (2002-09); Trustee, Institute for Philanthropy (2008-14); Trustee, Royal Academy Trust (2003-13); Chairman, Stramongate Ltd (2007-11); Member, Council of the British-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (1995-2008). A Governor and Member of the Council of Management and Business Committee and Chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee of The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Charles Clarke
Visiting Professor, School of Politics, University of East Anglia; Visiting Professor in Politics and Faith, University of Lancaster; Research Fellow, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, University College London; Visiting Professor, Policy Institute, King's College London; Council member, European Council for Foreign Relations. Formerly: Member of Parliament for Norwich South (1997-2010); Labour Party Chair; Home Secretary (2004-06); Secretary of State for Education and Skills (2002-04); Councillor, London Borough of Hackney; President, National Union of Students.
Ms Elizabeth Collett
Director, Europe office, and Senior Advisor to Transatlantic Council on Migration, Migration Policy Institute, Brussels. Formerly: Senior Policy Analyst (migration programme), European Policy Centre, Brussels; Migration Research and Policy Department, International Organization for Migration, Geneva; Institute for the Study of International Migration, Washington, DC.
Mr David Goodhart
Head, Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit, Policy Exchange; Founder (1995) and Editor-at-Large (former Editor), 'Prospect' Magazine; Author, 'The British Dream'. Formerly: Director, Demos; Bonn Correspondent, The Financial Times (1988-91).
Mr Alexander Matheou
Director, International Programmes and Partnerships, British Red Cross. Formerly: Regional Representative, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies in Eastern Africa and Southern Africa.
Mr Edward Mortimer CMG
Distinguished Fellow, All Souls' College, Oxford; Senior Programme Adviser (and former Chief Programme Officer, 2007-11), Salzburg Global Seminar. Formerly: Chief Speechwriter (1998-2006) and Director of Communications (2001-06) to the Secretary-General, United Nations; Foreign Affairs Editor, Financial Times (1987-98); Foreign Leader-Writer, The Times (1973-85); Prize Fellow, All Souls' College (1965-72); Rapporteur, Council of Europe Group of Eminent Persons on 'Living Together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st-century Europe' (2011); Co-author, 'Freedom in Diversity: Ten Lessons for Public Policy from Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States' (2013). A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Tom Nuttall
The Economist: Charlemagne columnist, Brussels (2014-). Formerly: Los Angeles Correspondent (2012-14); Editor, Europe desk. Editor, European Council on Foreign Relations; Senior Editor, ‘Prospect’ magazine.
Mrs Elizabeth Padmore
Board Member, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority; Chairman Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Governing Body Fellow, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford; Fellow, Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; Director, Youth Business International; Director, Enablis Global Board. Formerly: Member, Council and Executive Committee, Chatham House; Vice Chairman, Forum UK; Partner and Global Director, Policy and Corporate Affairs, Accenture (1995-2006). A Governor and a Member of the Finance and General Purposes
Committee and of the Business Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Trevor Phillips OBE
Director, WebberPhillips; President, John Lewis Partnership Council (2015-); Deputy Chair, National Equality Standard. Formerly: Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission (2006-13); Head, Commission for Racial Equality (2003-06). Fellow, Migration Policy Institute; member, Transatlantic Council on Migration. A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Philip Stephens
Associate Editor and Chief Political Commentator, Financial Times. Formerly: Financial Times: Economics Editor, Political Editor and Editor, UK Edition; Correspondent, Reuters, London and Brussels. A Governor and Vice-Chair of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
Director, Migration Observatory, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, Oxford. Formerly: Director of Research, International Program, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC.
Mr Vincent Cochetel
UNHCR (1986-): Director, Bureau for Europe and Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Refugee Crisis in Europe, UNHCR. Formerly: UNHCR Representative to the United States and the Caribbean; Head, UNHCR office in North Ossetia; Head, field offices in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Professor Brad Blitz
Professor of International Politics, Middlesex University; Senior Fellow, Global Migration Centre, Geneva; author, 'Migration and Freedom: Mobility, Citizenship and Exclusion', 2014; Principal Investigator, ESRC-DFID funded project EVI-MED - Constructing An Evidence Base Of Contemporary Mediterranean Migrations and EU Asylum Migration and Integration Fund project INFORM: Legal and Procedural Information for Asylum Seekers in the European Union.
Ms Marina Burka
Fulbright Scholar; Master's Candidate in Human Geography: Space, Politics and Ecologies, University of Glasgow; Postgraduate Researcher/Convener for Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network.
Mr Steven Erlanger
New York Times: London Bureau Chief (2013-). Formerly: Paris Bureau Chief (2008-13); Berlin Bureau Chief (2001-02).
Professor David Martin
Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law, University of Virginia Law School (1980-); Member, Homeland Security Advisory Council. Formerly: Principal Deputy General Counsel, Department of Homeland Security (2009-10); Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary, Human Rights Bureau, U.S. Department of State; Department of Justice; General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service (1995-98); private practice, Washington, D.C.
Ms Kathleen Newland
Co-Founder and Senior Fellow, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC; Board of Overseers, International Rescue Committee; Boards of Directors: USA for UNHCR, Stimson Center, Kids in Need of Defense, Migration Policy Institute. Formerly: Founding Director, International Diaspora Engagement Alliance, a partnership between MPI, U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (2011-13); Chair Emerita, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children; Senior Associate then Co-Director, International Migration Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1994-2001); Lecturer in International Relations, London School of Economics. Independent Consultant to: UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Office of the Secretary General of the UN; World Bank.
The Hon Daniel Riemer
State Representative, 7th Assembly District (D-Milwaukee), Wisconsin State Assembly (2012-); Wisconsin State Bar Association; World Economic Forum: Global Shapers.
Return to top of page