Rethinking EU migration and asylum policies: Managing immigration jointly with countries of origin and transit (2019)
The new European Commission will inherit an impasse in efforts to reform the European asylum system as well as concerns about practices in the management of the EU’s external border that contradict humanitarian standards and may even be illegal. While the number of asylum seekers who manage to reach EU territory is now lower than in previous years, it may be low precisely because of those problematic practices, including abuse of irregular migrants along the Western Balkan route, limited search and rescue capacity in the Central Mediterranean, and EU cooperation with the Libyan coast guard even though migrants returned by it to Libya have been abused. In this 2019 MEDAM Assessment Report, we present insights from MEDAM research and policy dialogue since 2016 to explain how closer cooperation among EU member states and with countries of origin and transit can improve outcomes for all stakeholders. Crucially, short of establishing a new Iron Curtain on the EU’s external border or continuing to tolerate abuses, there is no way that either individual member states or the EU as a whole can insulate themselves from irregular migrants and asylum seekers. Yet, if crossing the EU border enabled all irregular migrants to remain in the EU for good, the integrity of EU visa and asylum policies would be undermined. Thus, close cooperation with countries of origin for the return and readmission of their citizens who have no right to remain in the EU is crucial. Still, it is typically not in the interest of countries of origin to limit the mobility of their citizens. Cooperation between the EU and countries of origin must therefore cover a wide enough range of policies to ensure that all parties consistently benefit from the policy package and have a strong incentive to meet their commitments. We emphasize more EU support for refugees hosted by low- and middle-income countries and more legal employment opportunities for non-EU citizens in the EU. Rethinking EU asylum and migration policies along these lines requires extensive consultations and negotiations among stakeholders in Europe and in countries of origin and transit. Our ‘insights’ are meant to inform and stimulate such conversations. However, sustainable reforms will come only as the result of stakeholders working out the details and developing a sense of ownership of the necessary reforms. Our first set of insights relates to popular attitudes toward immigration and the structure of public preferences for asylum and refugee protection policies (section 2 of this report). Next, we explain how the EU and countries of origin and transit can all benefit from cooperating on border management, refugee protection, and expanding legal labor migration to the EU (section 3). Finally, we consider the implications for cooperation among EU member states and the long-standing plans for reform of the European asylum system (section 4).