New tactics needed to ease migrant crisis in Europe

New tactics needed to ease migrant crisis in Europe

From William Lacy Swing, International Organization for Migration

Sir, Perhaps it’s my Carolina upbringing, but I’m sceptical when I hear the claim “I have a solution that will restore stability to Libya and mitigate” what your contributor Erik Prince calls “Europe’s migrant crisis” (“A partnership that will solve Europe’s migrant crisis”,

The International Organization for Migration, the UN migration agency I head, is dedicated to managing migration safely — and we know too well the risk of militarising borders, which too often results in migrants and refugees enriching smuggling syndicates who profit from their desperation. With an excess of 4,000 mostly sub-Saharan migrants and refugees who died on the Libya to Europe sea route last year, certainly the twin goals of stability and mitigation are to be admired.

Nonetheless I believe the means Mr Prince suggests will achieve neither. “Base camps”, “armed vehicles”, a “new border fence” — and the catch-all “capacity to secure land borders and so prevent migrants from reaching the Mediterranean”? It all may sound impressive. But I must ask: where have those methods not already been tried? And, more to the point, where have they worked?

At IOM we’ve seen what “secure land borders” have wrought — everything from 71 migrants suffocating to death in a refrigerated van in Austria two summers ago, to two deaths from freezing — in Bulgaria and Greece — in early January.

In between those grim milestones were the more than 7,000 deaths IOM recorded worldwide in 2016, each of a migrant or refugee following smugglers convinced they could circumvent someone’s “secure” border. For a fee, of course — money that makes criminals richer at the expense of governments everywhere.

Mr Prince makes an excellent point that the €35m being spent monthly — or roughly €1m daily — processing migrants rescued at sea is not buying Europe the results its citizens crave. But he undermines that argument by suggesting that sea rescues create a “self-perpetuating cycle”.

Migrants and refugees are not coming because they believe their lives will be rescued if they leave Africa. They’re leaving because they believe their lives will be doomed if they stay.

The answer is not greater firepower on borders, but finding creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration, be that through work visas, family reunification or temporary protective status. Instead of doubling down on tactics that do not work, let’s use this new year to try something that’s actually new.

William Lacy Swing Director-General,

International Organization for Migration,

Geneva, Switzerland

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