By Katia Taylor, NYU Florence Student
On Tuesday, October 3, migration analyst Caterina Guidi presented an overview of the European Union’s migration policies as part of NYU Florence’s “EU in Focus” lecture series. Hosted by La Pietra Dialogues, it was an informative session that delved into the EU’s response to the arrival of migrants and refugees over the past fifty years. Guidi also shed light on Italy’s own controversial response to the current European refugee crisis.
First, Guidi presented the many challenges that migrants pose to European nations. They change how nations identify themselves, and what the governments require from all citizens. Migrants require the EU to create special programs to help them integrate into European society. They also bring in new cultures and religions, which sometimes challenge what is considered acceptable behavior in certain communities.
Guidi then discussed the migration numbers, which she studies as an analyst. Right now, the international migrants in Europe make up 3.2% of the world population. 10% of the EU’s population are foreigners. From 2014 to 2016, an average of two million first-residency permits a year were issued to Third-Country Nationals (TCNs), who are people in transit and/or applying for a visa.
After outlining the current situation in Europe, Guidi delved into the history of EU migration policies. The first time anybody in the EU ever mentioned labor migration was in the European Council (EC) in Paris in 1974. The EC became very active on the issue and published the White Paper (1985), which detailed the importance of relaxing border controls and laid down the guidelines for an inter-European policy on migration. This ultimately led to the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which allowed citizens almost complete mobility within the European Union and other European nations that agreed to adopt the policy.
Since then, the EU has made more efforts to integrate migrants into Europe, such as the 2004 treaty that created a more well-defined constitution for the EU and sought to address migration policy, though many critics believe it did not go far enough. Then, in 2009, the Lisbon Treaty dictated that the EU should create a common immigration policy aimed at ensuring efficient management of migration flows. They decided that it was important to provide fair treatment to TCNs residing legally in European nations, and prevent illegal immigration and trafficking of human beings. Essentially, the Lisbon Treaty determined the conditions of entry and residence, and defined the right of TCNs within the EU.
After the Lisbon Treaty, the EU created the Stockholm Program, a 5-year mission to integrate migrants into the continent. It was understood as a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by both immigrants and European citizens. However, these programs have not been successful.
More recently, the EU’s external borders have become known for tragedies resulting from the unsafe conditions under which many migrants and refugees must reach Europe, so the EU launched a new European Agenda on Migration, which aims to manage migration through a shared responsibility not just among EU nations, but also non-EU countries affected by the same migration crisis. The EU is currently helping nation-states obtain funds, refine policies, and respect procedures through agencies operating at the border.
The current priority of the EU is the prevention of such human tragedies, by preparing for emergencies before they happen. In order to do this, they are strategizing on how to better manage migration. This includes efforts to relocate migrants equally throughout Europe, so that the responsibility of accommodating and managing them does not weigh too heavily on governments of the southern European countries that often serve as the migrants’ first point of entry..
Italy is one of the “gate countries,” because it is located in the Mediterranean Sea, which means it is one of the easiest states to reach from the Middle East or northern Africa. These countries are most involved in relocating migrants, and the EU has noticed that other countries are not exactly volunteering to help them.To make things easier for the “gate countries,” the Hotspot Approach was introduced in 2016. The Hotspot Approach forces asylum seekers from the Balkans and the Mediterranean sea to declare their country of origin once they come on shore, along with their reason for coming to Europe. If they refuse to do so, they will be sent home.
While Europe is a diverse continent in terms of ethnicity, race, culture and religion, Guidi addressed that there are many social problems that migrants face when attempting to enter the EU. These include xenophobia, racism, prejudice and nationalism. Many people in the EU are frightened that with foreigners, the face of Europe will change, and not for the better.
According to Guidi, “the reality versus the perception of migrants plays a central role in European nationalism.” She shared a few diagrams that compared Europeans’ perceptions of how many Muslim people were living in their country versus the reality of the actual Muslim population. Because of islamophobia and radicalization, local citizens were convinced that there are more Muslim people in the country than there actually are. These prejudiced attitudes span across nations.
This perception partly informed the UK’s decision behind Brexit, according to Guidi. Many citizens in the UK believed that there was a need for stronger border controls to exclude foreigners from the country.
In Germany, the rise of a political party called “Alternative fuer Deutshland” (AFD) has also given voice to anti-refugee sentiment within the country. In 2015, Germany had received one million refugees under Chancellor Angela Merkel, and AFD is trying to counteract that effort. They have been gaining momentum since their organization and now occupy a small, but significant, portion of the German parliament.
Meanwhile, Italy is going back and forth with its migration policies. Many migrants come to the country because of its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. This puts a lot of stress on the Italian Coast Guard. In 2013, Italy initiated Operation Mare Nostrum, which was a military and humanitarian effort to assist the increasing number of migrants during ship wreckages. In a famous incident four years ago, migrants came to the Italian shore from Ghana, Eritrea and Somalia. The boat’s engine exploded, and several people either suffocated or drowned. However, the Italian Coast Guard acted as quickly as possible, saving 155 lives. During the year-long operation, at least 150,000 migrants arrived in Europe safely.
The operation was shut down in 2014. Then, this year, Italy announced the Libya Agreement, in which Italy is paying the Libyan Coast Guard to prevent African migrants from trying to reach Italy across the Mediterranean. Migration flows immediately declined. However, human rights activists are concerned that the Libyan Coast Guard is employing employing inhuman means, citing torture, slavery and detention.
“The Libya Agreement is the most unfair agreement I’ve seen in the last few years, but it was supported by the Italian people,” stated Guidi. In a way, that support made sense to Guidi because “there is no political willingness to open borders because of Italy’s political economy.”
Despite this, Guidi argues that “we are in need of migrants in Europe.” She notes that migrants are beneficial for all the countries in the EU because they are vital to the labor supply, which is a key driver of GDP growth for all European nations. But right now, only one in three migrants receive citizenship through naturalization, and that is considered rather low.
“There is a lack of awareness on the benefits refugees would bring to the EU,” agrees Ori De Angeles, an NYU junior. She states that “Guidi has opened my eyes to several game-changing factors on how the intake of refugees should be perceived.”
NYU freshman Isabel Schmieta agrees that EU nations could be doing more for the migrants, because they “are fleeing their countries for a reason and are seeking refuge in these countries, so there has to be a balance between countries looking at what they can gain from these migrants and simply how they can help fellow human beings.” From the lecture, she learned that not only can migrants benefit from their arrival in Europe, but their presence can also help Europeans economically and socially.
In response to an audience member’s comment about why it might be dangerous to allow migrants entry into Europe, Guidi stated: “You cannot stop wind. You cannot stop human beings from seeking better conditions. The question is: what kind of Europe do we want to see in a hundred years?”
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