The failure of the EU migration response

In an interview released to Afronline, Caritas Europa’s Head of Policy and Advocacy Unit, Shannon Pfohman, comments that “the current tendency in the EU to focus only on figures and costs rather than on people often makes our work more difficult. The existing economic paradigm has failed and will continue to fail to address migration, unless we see a shift towards more human-centred policies.” Pfohman then went on to comment on the importance of the upcoming EU-African countries La Valletta Summit in early November, which aims to tackle the refugee crisis at the root: “An increase in official development assistance from 0.42% of Gross National Income to the promised 0.7% is a key goal, which must be discussed”. Today the EU’s current stance of “shifting the responsibility for refugees…reinforces the image of Europe, in the words of Pope Francis, as being “elderly and haggard”.

Faced with the continuous flow of refugees and migrants, many experts consider the response of the EU inadequate. Do you share this view? If so, how does the EU show its limitations?

Caritas Europa believes that EU responses, in particular at Member State level, have been insufficient so far regarding the current dire situation of asylum seekers and migrants in search of protection. For us, the current crisis is not a migration crisis, but rather an economic, social, and political crisis. This combination of issues alludes to the main limits of the EU response, essentially showcasing a lack of solidarity between Member States and the migrants. We understand the complexity of the situation for the EU and Member States, considering the precarious economic situation already existing even before the arrival of new vulnerable groups. Policy makers naturally question how to pay for these additional costs, rather than opening their hearts and pocket books to respond to the most immediate needs.

From Caritas’ perspective, the person comes first. The human dignity of the individuals fleeing their homelands must be protected. Therefore, Caritas Europa believes that the EU response to the crisis should be as follows: firstly, to develop diplomatic solutions in warring regions, so as to help resolve conflicts so that people are not forced to leave their homes and flee. Secondly, provide safe and legal paths to Europe to ensure that migrants can arrive safely in Europe, and claim asylum or a residence permit. Thirdly, they must ensure that migrants are welcome, that their human dignity is guaranteed and that they have access to healthy, long-term living conditions. That would mean in particular developing good quality reception centres and accommodation systems, as well as ensuring migrants’ access to services, such as healthcare, language courses and education. Finally, long-term we sustain that the only way forward is to implement a common asylum and migration strategy at the EU level: one that is based on responsibility, solidarity, and trust.

The implementation of the recent decisions taken by the Heads of States and European governments is a major challenge for a partial resolution of this crisis. On the basis of the information Caritas Europe have gathered across its network in Europe, do you think that those actors managing the reception of migrants (including Caritas and the society) have the financial, human and infrastructural means necessary to face this humanitarian crisis?

Many charitable organisations, NGOs and governments are responding quickly to the most urgent humanitarian needs. Basic food, water, clothes, blankets and hygiene packets are being provided to the migrants. However, what are still lacking are quality reception centres, proper accommodation, medical staff and translators. Countries that were experiencing a dire social and economic crisis before the arrival of refugees have responded with difficulty to the current humanitarian situation, and the response of different governments also varies from one country to the next depending on their political positioning. Some are building up fences, whereas others are receiving migrants with dignity. This influences the types of support being offered.

Beyond the humanitarian response, there is also a need for long-term solutions to foster sustainable integration, which would allow migrants to contribute to the receiving communities. There is a real need for language courses, immediate access to school for children asylum seekers, access to healthcare, including mental health support for victims of trafficking and traumatised migrants, and opportunities for fostering their labour market access.

To what extent is Europe Caritas consulted by the European Institutions in Brussels in the management of the current migration crisis ?

Caritas Europa is in contact with the European institutions, especially the European Parliament and the European Commission, to provide them with recommendations and solutions to the current situation. We are sharing our recommendations on safe and legal paths to Europe, in particular concerning the use of humanitarian visas with the European Parliament and DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission. However, the level of consultation of civil society could still be improved in the management of this situation. In particular, our members at the national level are often one of the charitable organisations providing humanitarian responses. Thus, they are well placed to provide immediate input to national leaders. In many cases, the level of dialogue that takes place depends on the country.

Considering that some national chapters have much greater need than others in handling the refugee crisis, to what extent does Caritas Europe facilitate communication and redistribution of funds or other resources between chapters?

CE coordinates the exchange of information, and fosters communication between members. Caritas Europa doesn’t have a redistribution system, but rather a solidarity scheme within the network. Based on the subsidiarity principle, members on the ground appeal for funds according to the needs they see at the grassroots level. Caritas Europa coordinates the allocation of funds through these emergency appeals. We also have an accompaniment programme to help our members in need to build capacities and strengthen their activities.

The places and type of needs are quickly changing. How does Caritas Europe keep on top of this quick pace? How does it evaluate where the need most exists and determine how to best allocate resources?

Based on this same subsidiarity principle, we receive information from our member organisations at the grassroots level. This bottom up approach allows us to react very quickly to changing situations. Our work is then to coordinate and foster this exchange of information in the network.

By way of example, Caritas Europa organised an extraordinary emergency meeting in Vienna at the end of September. Caritas organisations from Europe and the Middle East regions exchanged information concerning the most urgent needs on the ground, and vowed to respond to the crisis with solidarity and humanity. We have also established Migramed, which has been meeting for the last 5 years, and has joined forces with members from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe to address migration and asylum policies.

What is the role of Caritas Europa in the NGO landscape? What are its strengths and weaknesses relative to other NGOs also on the field?

Caritas work is based on Catholic social teaching and its preferential option for the poor. Therefore, our role is to convey the voice of people experiencing poverty, which includes migrants and refugees. These groups are marginalised in public debate, and decision makers as well as the wider public tend to forget that migrants are humans and not just numbers or potential problems in terms of budgets. Migrants must be treated with respect and dignity.

Our strength is to base our work on Caritas organisations grassroots level experiences. As we work directly with people experiencing poverty, we can immediately convey their concerns at the European level. However, the current tendency in the EU to focus only on figures and costs rather than on people often makes our work more difficult. We need to see a shift towards human-centered policies.

Why is it so difficult for a segment of our society to accept that European countries are now multi-ethnic and multi-religious ?

History shows that in periods of crisis, xenophobic sentiments rise and politicians play on these fears. They oppose people in need, instead of finding a solution to the economic, social, and political crisis. That is why, for us, the current situation is not a migration crisis, but it is rather economic, social, and political. The existing economic paradigm has failed and will continue to fail to address migration, unless we see a shift towards more human-centred policies.

There is a real need for long-term and sustainable solutions to build welcoming societies and foster the integration of migrants in receiving countries. Integration must be a two-way process, in which the receiving country also has responsibilities and a role to play. We work relentlessly to raise awareness among European society on the benefits of migration for Europe: be it economically, culturally, or socially. For instance, the whole of Europe would benefit economically from migration, as a solution to the current challenges it faces with its ageing population.

The Valetta Summit on Migration is coming up in November, where the European Council and key African countries will be meeting to discuss the ongoing challenges presented by migration. What does Caritas Europa think needs to be discussed at the summit, and what does it hope will be the outcome?

Caritas Europa’s stance remains that of urging EU governments to ensure support to the people first and foremost. We remain hopeful that the European leaders will prove at the Valetta summit that solidarity and humanity are fundamental cornerstones of the EU’s identity. An increase in official development assistance from 0.42% of Gross National Income to the promised 0.7% is a key goal, which must be discussed. We also want to see Member States refraining from threatening to punish non-EU countries with cuts in development aid for failing to include readmission and return clauses in bilateral or regional agreements. We want to see protection instead of criminalisation for the victims of human smuggling, which could be achieved by establishing effective controls to crack down on smugglers operating inside the EU. Enhancing the European search and rescue operations at EU external borders and lifting carrier sanctions is a necessity. In addition, we want an assurance for high humane standards of reception, as well as the long-term integration of migrants and asylum seekers. Devising alternatives to the Dublin rules to suppress the rule of the first country of arrival, and the promotion of mutual recognition between Member States on asylum decisions should also be on the agenda. Caritas Europa would also like to see the opening of safer and more legal channels to enter into the EU. These could range from: resettlement, humanitarian visas, family reunification, private sponsorship, and the lifting of visa requirements for asylum seekers originating from countries at war. Finally, we want to see the promotion of alternatives to detention and coercive measures, in particular for vulnerable children and adults.

What is Caritas Europa’s stance on the EU’s recent 3 billion dollar funding agreement with Turkey, and Turkey’s calls for additional financial assistance?

The Council’s proposal to reinforce cooperation with non-EU countries in order to strengthen the external borders of the EU results in removing people and their needs from the core of policy formation. This trend is sacrificing the well-being of thousands of people escaping man-made conflicts and climate-made poverty and condemning them to a life in limbo in reception facilities in non-EU countries, which are poorer and worse equipped to offer adequate help than the EU. Caritas Europa thinks that shifting the responsibility for refugees and migrants from the EU to poorer non-EU countries reinforces the image of Europe as being “elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in the world” as Pope Francis told European leaders in November 2014. Consequently, Caritas Europa urges EU Ministers to ensure that if it channels funding to third countries to respond to the people in need, that the reception standards are at least in conform with human rights standards and providing a durable solution.

Read the interview in Afronline