Migrants: Europe is Badly Split on Handling the Influx and Burden-sharing is the Sticking Point

Europe is badly split on how to handle the massive influx of migrants that have poured across its borders in increasing numbers all summer. A common policy is under development but so far it carefully skirts the hot potato issue of burden-sharing between member states.

Latest wave of migrants on the move as Hungary closes its border (Credit Twitter)

Latest wave of migrants on the move as Hungary closes its border (Credit Twitter)

Writing on the Conversation website Tim Hatton of the University of Essex in the UK explains why some state are reluctant to accept people caught up in this drama.

Explainer: why some European countries do more than others to help refugees

Tim Hatton, University of Essex

Not since World War II has Europe faced a refugee crisis comparable with the situation unfolding at its borders at the moment. The European response has been, to put it mildly, ambivalent. On one hand there has been a mass outpouring of sympathy in the media and in public debate for the refugees fleeing nightmarish situations in Syria and Iraq. On the other, elected governments have not come up with solutions that seem remotely equal to the task. The circumstances are extreme but the pattern is nothing new. The EU has struggled to get member states on board for a system of burden sharing.

Germany is taking in up to 800,000 refugees but even faced with mounting pressure at home, British Prime Minister David Cameron could only bring himself to make a vague promise about doing more. In a speech on September 4, he pledged to help “resettle” thousands more refugees, but made no firm commitment to easing access at the UK border. Meanwhile, countries in Eastern Europe continue to close their borders and seek to unburden themselves of the people arriving in their towns.

Most people would like to see innocent refugees and their families find sanctuary, safe from the threats of death and persecution. This stems from humanitarian motives and not from narrow self-interest. We can therefore think of refugees who gain protection as what economists call a public good.

Public goods are things that have a non-rivalrous and non-excludable benefit. Non-rivalrous means that the good feeling I get from knowing that refugees have a safe haven does not diminish the warm glow that you get from it. Non-excludable means that, supposing refugees were given protection, then neither you nor I could be excluded from the satisfaction that it would bring.

There are costs for the country accepting refugees though. They are financial and probably social too. So there is an incentive to sit back, let other countries do the heavy lifting, and reap the benefit of their efforts. But if every country does that then very little heavy lifting gets done. In the absence of some higher authority to determine each country’s contribution, the public good will be under-provided and we may all be worse off. It is a classic collective action problem.

The common system

For two decades the EU has been developing a common asylum system. This has focused on harmonising various components of asylum policy, but not on burden-sharing between member states. The preference has been for countries to voluntarily offer places for refugees at times of crisis rather than to enforce a more binding allocation system. That is, until now. In May the European Commission called on every member state to take in a certain number of refugees, according to their individual capacity. Richer, larger countries would be asked to take more, smaller, less wealthy member states would be asked to take fewer.

The scheme is not binding though, and it has been impossible to get all countries to commit even to the modest numbers proposed. Instead Germany has led the way while many of its European partners sit on the sidelines – an example of what Mancur Olson, doyen of collective action, dubbed “the exploitation of the great by the small”.

There is reason to think that some of the problem lies with governments, not their electorates. Political leaders would be reluctant to cede control of asylum policy to a central authority like the EU, for fear of loss of sovereignty. Yet surveys of public opinion find that more than two-thirds of Europeans are in favour of a shared EU migration policy. So this might not be quite such a hurdle as is sometimes imagined.

Of course it is possible that most people don’t actually care about refugees and that the public outcry is just a vocal minority. In that case the original premise would be wrong. But it is not. A 2011 survey saw four-fifths of respondents agreeing that EU countries should offer protection to genuine refugees, and a similar share thought that asylum seekers should be distributed more equally across member states.

But people only express such support for providing asylum when it is explained to them that refugees are people fleeing from situations owing to a “well-founded fear of persecution”. Surveys show that people are overwhelmingly opposed to illegal immigration. Unfortunately the term “asylum seeker” has increasingly conflated these two things. As a result, widely held humanitarian instincts have been overwhelmed by the strong desire to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

Making it work

This makes it all the more difficult to come up with a more magnanimous asylum policy. People would need to be reassured that those given protection in their country were genuine refugees. Two complementary policies are required.

The first is to make further efforts to stop illegal immigration across the borders of the EU. Europe’s Fortress Europe approach to controlling movement is often derided as heartless and reactionary. But it is necessary in order to reassure citizens that those arriving in their country are truly in need of protection and not “economic migrants” entering by the back door. It must be seen as the means to gain support for more places for genuine refugees, not as a way of shutting them out.

The second is to support and expand reception centres closer to the sources of conflict where the status determination process can take place. Then those that qualify as genuine refugees could be transferred to Europe, distributed more widely and in greater numbers among EU countries. This would ensure that accepted refugees are those in the greatest need and not those who would otherwise be rejected and end up as a residue of illegal immigrants.

None of this is easy, but surely it is worth the effort.

Tim Hatton, Professor , University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. It is republished here with permission and in terms of a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence.



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2 Responses to Migrants: Europe is Badly Split on Handling the Influx and Burden-sharing is the Sticking Point

  1. Pingback: Migrants: Europe is Badly Split on Handling the...

  2. lemandri@msn.com September 23, 2015 at 4:07 am

    Who caused the Moslem migration to Europe?

    To answer this question we have to go back to April, 1993 when Saddam Hussein attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush during his visit to Kuwait to receive an award. George Bush Jr. never forgave Hussein for the attempt on his father’s life, and used the pretext of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to go to war and topple the Hussein regime. No weapons of mass destruction were every found although the Hussein regime was toppled.

    After a long and bitter war, Iraq was finally stabilized and by December 2011, against the advice of his generals, President Barack Obama had pulled all American military out of Iraq.

    The Iraqi government which under Hussein and then the Americans was able to thwart terrorists, was no longer able to do so, thanks in part to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who wanted Iraqi Shia to dominate and subjugate Iraqi Sunni. Over the next two years he replaced Sunni military officers with his own hand picked Shia cronies, many of whom were incompetent to lead and fight an ISIS insurgency.

    ISIS quickly formed and welcomed Iraqi Sunnis, in particular ex military officers. As the terrorist movement grew, civil war again broke out in Iraq while in Syria President Bashar al-Assad was fighting his own war against his people. President Obama drew a line in the sand but failed to intervene when the time came.

    After years of fighting, as part of it’s plan to dominate Europe, ISIS leadership decided it was time to force mass migration from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe, in the process infiltrating many ISIS fighters among the displaced masses. It is estimated that as many as 80 percent of Moslems entering the continent are men of military age, exactly the type of fighters ISIS will use to create terrorist cells throughout the continent.

    German Chancelor Angela Merkel, by offering a home to 800,000 displaced people, opened the flood gates because in order to get to Germany, the masses will have to travel through at least a half dozen countries, spreading chaos in the process.

    Once these people are settled, they will not assimilate among society but instead will form their own enclaves where police will seldom venture. If you want an example, just look at France and England. Most important, they will in time have far more children than the Europeans who invited them, and they will effectively take over the governments of those countries in which they settled.

    In the end we can blame the policies of George Bush Jr., Barack Obama, Nouri al-Maliki, Bashar al-Assad and Angela Merkel for the tragedy now taking place.

    John Lemandri Williamsburg, Va.

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