Some thoughts on migration policy

Lesbos Refugees
Lesbos Refugees © Photo by jdblack at Pixabay

It is often the case, in matters concerning migratory movements, that "critical" situations distort citizens' perceptions of these issues. Moreover, the urgent response to these periodic and cyclical crises prevents the construction of a common and consistent policy that recognises the nature and root causes of migratory phenomena, in order to deal with them effectively and intelligently in the medium and long term.

The migratory crises that have occurred in recent years in different parts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic (in Lesbos, Lampedusa and Lanzarote, to cite three islands that evoke cultural references representative of different periods of European culture, and which cover the geographical area where North Africa and southern Europe meet) are a good example of what we are saying.

What, in our opinion, are the ideas on migration that should be present in any medium- and long-term political action, so that they serve to frame the different dimensions of migratory phenomena, and at the same time help us in the management of specific migratory crises? History and sociology offer us some clues in this respect:

It seems appropriate to look at international and interregional labour migration, within and outside Europe, from a historical perspective. In this sense, research such as that carried out by Saskia Sassen (expert on migration and globalisation, 2013 Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences) reveals how labour migration has been a strategic component in the history of urbanisation and industrialisation in Europe over the last three centuries, and allows us to better interpret current migration processes, which can lead to the development of smarter and more effective approaches to migration policies.

Another dimension of migration that seems to us to be unavoidable is demography. As the sociologist and migration expert Alejandro Portes has reminded us, in the Spanish context (that of a country with experiences of late immigration, "rich" but also "old", with a very low fertility rate) immigration appears to be a decisive factor in slowing demographic decline. In our opinion, it is important to take this fact into account, as we see it as the most solid basis for "recategorising" immigration (if not as a solution, then at least to stop seeing it as a problem). Extending the reasoning, this vision allows us, for example, to establish reception programmes that connect migratory flows with the most depopulated geographical areas of our country.

Migrants © Copyright: Photo/Parlamento Europeo

Let us now turn to European policy. An overview of the news published in 2020 and 2021 reveals the enormous differences between EU Member States in terms of establishing a common policy that is shared by all. The gestation and publication (on 23 September 2020) of the Migration and Asylum Pact is a good illustration of this lack of unity. During the period of its drafting, Ylva Johansson (EU Commissioner for Home Affairs and directly responsible for the Pact) pointed out the difficulty of getting the member states to agree on the most contentious migration issues, such as the distribution of migrants among the 27 states.

Work was therefore carried out on a consensus document that would partially satisfy the interests of all countries, although not fully satisfy those of any of them. The resulting document sets out policy lines and proposes legislative changes with the aim of redirecting an issue that gives rise to very different opinions and points of view among EU Member States, which are often difficult to reconcile. Thus, the existence of a common policy on migration, asylum and refuge (in line with the proposals of the European liberal family) appears to be a fundamental pillar for dealing with migration issues.

Continuing at the European level, another of the basic ideas that should inspire policy actions is cooperation with the countries of origin and transit of migrants. The Migration and Asylum Pact prioritises EU cooperation with third states. In the case of the African continent, for example, understanding with the African Union is strengthened (while recognising that each country's migratory context is different, and that the EU must be sensitive to these differences); Economic aid to countries of origin is promoted in order to mitigate the reasons that lead African citizens to emigrate (which for the EU are fundamentally demographic and economic); and development aid is implicitly and explicitly assumed to be a key factor in reducing migratory flows (despite the fact that some studies show that there is no exact correspondence between migration and poverty).

In short, we believe that a more distanced and calm vision of migratory phenomena in the long and medium term, such as that provided by the history of migration and demography, together with the need for a common European policy on these issues, as well as cooperation with the migrants' countries of origin and transit, can allow us to establish solid bases for an intelligent management of migration towards European territory, capable of combining a long-term perspective with the management of specific crises.

Luis Guerra

PhD in Philology, is an associate researcher of the INMIGRA3-CM project, financed by the Community of Madrid and the European Social Fund.