Written by Marcin Grajewski,
Unprecedented flows of migrants fleeing war, oppression and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and other places, are unlikely to subside any time soon. European governments should therefore act together to minimise the negative impact of the refugee/migrant crisis, notably to avoid disintegration of the travel-free Schengen system, according to analysts and politicians speaking at a conference organised by the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) and the Organisation for the Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). If properly managed, migration could bring long-term benefits despite short-term costs, the key participants said.
The conference entitled ‘Recent migration trends and the refugee crisis’ was held in the EPRS’ Library Reading Room on 8 December in Brussels. It brought together more than a hundred people including MEPs, officials, experts and analysts. The debate, moderated by EPRS policy analyst Piotr Bąkowski, was the third such event organised by the EPRS under the auspices of the cooperation programme with the Paris-based OECD.
According to the OECD’s Migration Outlook for 2015, presented at the conference, the number of new asylum seekers in OECD countries reached 1.25 million from January to October this year, compared with 620,000 and 460,000 respectively in the same periods of 2014 and 2013. “The numbers are unprecedented, even if uncertain. The number for 2015 will be very high and media create the impression that it is even higher,” Jean-Christophe Dumont, the OECD’s top migration expert, said, presenting the report.
The current crisis, worse in terms of numbers of migrants than the exodus from the former Yugoslavia during wars in the region in early 1990s, is different than all previous ones in many respects, said Dumont. “There are many crises in parallel in countries relatively close to Europe with little prospect for improvement in the near future. There is a risk of the situation deteriorating in the main transit countries while part of public opinion in several European countries is hostile to further flows,” he said. Other distinctive aspects include new, quickly evolving smuggling routes, strong concentration of asylum seekers in just a handful of countries, diversity of origin countries, and a high number of unaccompanied minors.
The highest number of asylum seekers so far this year came from Syria — 23% of all, compared with 16% in 2014. However, “the crisis is not only about Syria. Even if the conflict in Syria stops, we would still have a crisis,” said Dumont. Migrants also come from Afghanistan (14% in 2015), Iraq (11%), Pakistan (3%), Serbia and Kosovo (7%) and Albania (5%).
The migration crisis is a big challenge for many European Union governments, testing their ability to act together and posing big risks for some major EU achievements, such as the Schengen area, with Member States reinstating border checks to try to cope with migrants, said Jean Lambert, Green MEP from the United Kingdom and a rapporteur on issues related to migration. She added that one problem with migration is that it puts big short-term strains on local communities, although it brings long-term benefits at the national level in terms of additional economic output. “European governments will have to make a real decision if they want to act together or whether the whole thing cracks apart. The time has come for our governments to decide that they will act together, that they will work with some sort of relocation scheme,” she added.
According to OECD data, Germany may spend about 8 billion euros this year and had projected additional 0.5% of gross domestic product in 2016 and 2017 to meet initial needs of the newly arrived immigrants. But spending on migrants is expected to offer a demand stimulus of about 0.1-0.2% of GDP, strengthening growth, Dumont said. It is important to put migrants on the labour market and train them fast. “Refugees should be placed where jobs are, not where cheap housing is available,” he said.
Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute, shared the view that EU Member States should act fast in concert, stressing that economic, social and political costs of Schengen’s disintegration would be huge. But the task is daunting. “We face an overstretched system, limited means, hostile public and we do not know how to do it,” she said. “With paralysis at the EU level, Member States are resorting to unilateral systems. Policy coherence is now key, there should be a global compact on responsibility sharing,” she added.
You can see all video recording from this conference on our YouTube Events Playlist.