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Europe at a Crossroads: The Migration Dilemma

Emily Glezer
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Europe stands at a critical crossroads, navigating a dilemma that has once again emerged on its passageway: migration. Here, economic necessity intersects with a staunch reluctance shown from the far right. Navigating through unchartered waters, small boats arrive at the southern borders of Europe. Onboard, hopeful migrants journey with a sense of purpose: to replenish the workforce in crucial yet undermanned sectors. Though this lane does seem promising, navigating this intersection of migration and economic needs is a journey with unexpected twists, turns and roadblocks, making reality far more complex. 

Europe is currently entangled in a complex love-hate relationship with migrants, reminiscent of a traveller standing indecisively at a fork in the road, unsure of which path to take. With thousands of migrants arriving on Europe’s southern shores, a fresh migration crisis is taking centre stage, echoing the events of 2015-16. Back then, the sentiment in Europe was welcoming: in 2015, German Chancellor Angela Markel announced, “Wir schaffen das” (we can manage this.) However, few share this sentiment today. It is clear that Europe has made a U-turn on this migration policy. Sweden, a country that accepted migrants relatively well in 2015, now relies on support from an anti-migrant party, the Sweden Democrats. Similarly, Germany has been seeing a surge in anti-immigrant advocates. Therefore, although 2015-16 may have represented a time when Europe welcomed migrants with open arms, Europe is now on a new path: one with a feeling of strained resources and sympathy. 


Political Divide Among European Nations

With this love-hate relationship comes the responsibility of effective coordination. Flawed migration policies have the potential to threaten the political future of European futures. A particular example of these political divisions is evident between Southern European nations like Italy and Greece and wealthier nations like Germany and Sweden. EU policies put the responsibility of processing migrants on arrival countries, which tend to be in coastal countries like Greece and Italy, leading to disagreements on unequal sharing of the burden. They seek solidarity from EU members in redistributing migrants, aligning with migrants' desires to end up in countries like Germany and Sweden. However, these countries argue that Southerners are defying EU rules by failing to intercept migrants at their entry point in the EU. 


Although a pan-European agreement, which allocated responsibilities beyond the front lines of migration, seemed like a beacon at this critical fork in the road, this proposed solution appears to be straying from the intended path in the face of the new arrivals.


Bridging Borders: EU-Tunisia Agreement

Another prominent solution is the EU-Tunisia agreement which commits to more than one billion euros in aid package, including 105 million Euros specifically for managing migration in the country. This is essentially bribing Tunisia with EU cash to deter smuggling using its shores. This solution also demonstrates its limitations with significant human rights concerns, xenophobia and violence towards migrants in Tunisia. The future of this agreement remains unclear, with Tunisia rejecting an initial payment and returning 60 million euros of the EU budget support in October. Therefore, these solutions portray different pathways to create a more regulated and sustainable migration process, and although both have encountered roadblocks, the urgency of this migration crisis should act as a driving force to overcome challenges and pave the way to a more effective approach to managing migration in Europe.


Labour Shortages and Migrant Solutions

The continent grapples with a growing labour shortage, presenting a critical junction marked by two contrasting routes. One pathway consists of barbed-wire fences, indicating the hesitancy and political demands shaping migration policies. The other route has “workers wanted” banners, denoting the recognition of economic necessities and the potential benefits migrants offer to address these labour shortages. This intersection highlights the division Europe faces between economic needs and political pressures. Practically, it is impossible to go down two paths simultaneously while driving a car, yet Europe finds itself in this exact situation, pursuing divergent policies nonetheless. This influx of migrants is exactly what many countries in the EU need, particularly in their current economic situation with tight labour markets and demographic difficulties with Europe’s ageing working population. 


Many European countries have started to see the economic value of migrants and as a result, changed their policies. For example, Italy plans to issue 425,000 work permits to non-EU nationals by 2025. Similarly, Greece and France are deliberating potential policies to regularise undocumented migrants willing to work in industries struggling with recruitment. Even countries that have previously shown hesitation towards migration have recently shifted perspectives towards allowing for a more diverse labour force. This may pave the way towards opening legal channels in Europe. This provides migrants with an alternative avenue which may diminish the amount of smugglers who prey on the large number of migrants risking their lives for a better one because they lack access to legal channels. Not only would this address economic needs, but it also provides a more humane approach to migration, discouraging illegal routes. 


Humanitarian Crisis at Sea

Since 2014, more than 4,000 fatalities have been recorded annually on migratory routes worldwide, with at least 2,500 either dying or going missing this year trying to cross the Mediterranean. This number is only growing, and before allowing this growth to persist, European leaders should consider whether it should continue through this pathway when, someday soon, it may indeed need these people they are rejecting. 


The migration crisis continues to persist and will only continue further with increases in conflict, situations of persecution and sluggish economies globally. Though it may be difficult to prevent situations that cause migration, policymakers must recognize their duties, economically, politically and morally. Indeed, the proposed pan-European agreement did indicate a beacon of hope at this crossroads. However, it now appears to be straying off course amidst new arrivals. Europe must take advantage of this influx of migrants and see the value of migrants as a potential solution to the growing labour shortage, balancing both economic necessities and humanitarian principles. Although it is clear that it is not possible to let all migrants in, borders do exist for a reason; what is important is to improve the coordination of processing migrants and allow for more legal channels. This may help deter smuggling, migrants undergoing illegal routes and drowning to enter a country that may soon realise it needs it. As Europe navigates this crossroads of the migration dilemma, its choice today will not just define its policies but also shape its moral compass for future generations.

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