GIMUN International Migrants’ Day: Dismantling Myths and Discussing Solutions for the European Migrant ‘Crisis’
By Nayana Das
Every year since 2000, the United Nations has been celebrating December 18th as International Migrants Day, the same day on which in 1990 the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the adoption of this Convention and in commemoration of this day, on 11th December 2015 GIMUN organised an International Migrants Day event at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The occasion brought together 16 young participants for a panel discussion on ‘Legal Solutions for the European Refugee Crisis’ with Guest Speaker Livia Manente, Associate Expert for the Office of the Senior Regional Adviser for Europe and Central Asia at the International Organisation for Migration.
Today, Europe is facing the biggest flow of migrants since the Second World War. Conflicts around the world are compelling people to leave their homes and seek safety and a better life abroad. The year 2015 has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the scale of migration towards Europe and as of December 2015, there have been a total of 953,018 arrivals via land and sea. Therefore, as aptly stated by GIMUN’s UN Day Manager Hendrik Nelis: “to discuss about migrants has never been more important than today”. Given the importance of this influx, how can we ensure, in compliance with the legal system, that everyone is treated fairly and each person’s rights and liberties respected? It was the discussion of complex challenges like these which took place at GIMUN’s International Migrants’ Day, as young minds came together to engage in constructive debate about what Europe’s best response could be.
The discussion was opened by Ms. Manente, who provided a brief introduction to migration and a contextual overview of the problem at hand. As she outlined, the majority of migrants arriving in Europe today come from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, and over the past few months, the route through the Western Balkans via Greece has become the principal land point of entry into Western Europe with an average of 5,500 persons crossing international borders along this route every day.
The contextual overview then led to an interactive discussion to dismantle popular myths which hinder a true understanding of the European migrant crisis. One of the most important points raised in this context was whether we should be speaking of this current situation as a ‘crisis’ of migration. In unison, participants agreed that this is not so much a migration crisis as it is a European crisis. In other words, participants pointed out that the crisis is not a crisis of numbers but a “crisis of solidarity”. So while there might be a problem of uncontrollable numbers arriving in Europe, the bigger problem is in terms of leading the response i.e. a lack of cooperation and a polarisation of responses and reactions among European countries.
Myths were further dismantled when participants discussed that contrary to the highly dramatised narrations within popular media, Europe is not facing an invasion. The focus on Europe as a choice is partial; for example, according to UNHCR, 2.1 millions are registered as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon while the Government of Turkey has registered 1.9 million. Therefore, relatively speaking, the arrivals in Europe are small when compared to numbers migrating to countries in other regions, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. Finally, discussants agreed that contrary to popular belief, building up fences will not stop migration into Europe; it will simply re-route existing flows to other countries in the continent whose capacities are already on the brim of exhaustion and generate opportunities for criminal smuggling and trafficking organisations.
The discussion concluded with participants debating over possible steps forward for European policy-makers. Interesting insights were voiced, ranging from short-term solutions like the necessity of distinguishing between refugees and economic migrants, opening up of legal avenues and right to travel through the issuance of humanitarian visas; to more long-term solutions like establishment of resettlement mechanisms and the development of an approach which addresses the drivers of migration at the very source. The one immediate solution, however, to which all participants unanimously agreed, is the need for solidarity and enhanced cooperation among European countries. Participants reminded us that this is not the first time that Europe is facing migration influx on an unprecedented scale – the Second World War had presented a similar and perhaps more complex challenge. Therefore, history is witness that the situation is manageable and what is necessary and imminent is that European countries work together to develop common solutions. As Leila Girschweiler from Zurich’s Global Studies Institute aptly concluded: the current situation presents a “big test for the European Union”; how Europe responds to it will reflect on the reality of the solidarity and cooperation which otherwise stands as the only true example for constructive regional cooperation in the 21st century.