The European Commission today announced a new two-year plan to resettle refugees, after the EU’s mandatory relocation scheme expired earlier this month. According to Deutsche Welle, the new program aims to resettle up to 50,000 migrants by October 2019, with a focus on vulnerable refugees from North Africa:
The plan announced by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, on Wednesday involved setting aside 500 million euros ($587 million) for the resettlement effort.
It would involve bringing at least 50,000 people considered the most vulnerable and in need of protection directly to Europe over the next two years. The focus should be on people in North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the commission said, mentioning Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia. Libya is the main departure point for people making dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean in smugglers’ boats to reach Europe.
“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told media in Brussels.
The Commission’s announcement of the new plan seems to depict it as a minor adjustment to a largely successful migration policy, the natural next step in getting migration under control. Here, for instance, is European Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini offering her best take (emphasis mine):
“Over the last two years, we finally built an EU policy on migration, which is starting to deliver. It is about managing one of the most complex, structural phenomena of our times, not a temporary emergency. Our cooperation with our partners in Africa, but also with the UN, has started to bear fruits by ensuring a better protection of migrants, making traffickers and smugglers’ business less profitable, and offering alternatives and legal avenues. We will keep working on the same track: We’ll only succeed by working in a united and consistent manner.”
This statement is worth unpacking as a particularly egregious case of euphemistic spin—one that papers over obvious flaws in the EU’s approach to migration while putting a humanitarian gloss on a rather ugly policy.
First, consider the claim that the EU’s migration policy is “starting to deliver.” This comes as a surprise, considering that the EU abandoned its mandatory relocation scheme earlier this month after it had resettled less than a fifth of its intended quota. That same policy also triggered a protracted, politicized legal battle between Brussels and Visegrad capitals like Warsaw and Budapest. The latter group refused to take in a single refugee and are still sounding defiant after losing their court challenge. Indeed, the EU’s failure to enforce its mandatory relocation policy is the reason that the new resettlement plan is voluntary; in other words, the new plan is born of the failure to implement the last one. This hardly suggests a migration policy that is “starting to deliver.”
Mogherini also touts “cooperation with our partners in Africa,” presumably a reference to Italy’s recent cooperation with local Libyan leaders to restrict migrant flows. Here, too, the euphemism is telling: many of the Libyan “partners” the EU claims are ruthless militia leaders, whom the Italian government is effectively paying off (with Brussels’s blessing) to stop crossings across the Mediterranean. This policy has lately been effective in curtailing migrant flows, but it should by no means be mistaken for humanitarianism. The EU is not “ensuring a better protection of migrants” by leaving them under the care of Libyan warlords in overcrowded detention camps. And when Mogherini speaks of “making traffickers and smugglers’ business less profitable,” she fails to mention the new profits that such figures are earning by cracking down on smuggling. The current situation in Libya is not a sustainable long-term solution but a temporary and mercenary arrangement, where “yesterday’s traffickers are today’s anti-trafficking force,” as one Libyan security official put it.
Finally, the plea to work in a “united and consistent manner” only underscores how fractious, inconsistent, and short-sighted the EU’s migration policy has been all along. European officials have often worked to close off one transit point only to have migrants immediately surge to another, a game of whack-a-mole most recently seen in Morocco after the Italian-Libyan crackdown. And the EU’s members have never presented a united front on migration issues. Poland and Hungary have long resisted entreaties to reform Europe’s common asylum system, and they are unlikely to be won over now by calls to resettle more refugees.
Brussels’s announcement of the new policy hardly seems to acknowledge such difficulties. To be fair, some of the EU’s new ideas may be baby steps in the right direction: making resettlement voluntary rather than mandatory could cool tensions on the continent, and the EU’s pledge to step up the returns of unauthorized migrants is at least an acknowledgment that Brussels needs to improve its enforcement and disincentivize further migration.
But most of the rhetoric surrounding the new policy promises more of the same, exaggerating the effectiveness of past policies in a way that suggests a state of denial. Brussels may feel buoyed by the current reprieve in Mediterranean crossings, but there is still plenty of reason to doubt that the EU has a grip on the problem—or that its new resettlement policy will fare any better than the last one.