“Before introducing our panellists, I just want
to point out that we are having this debate in the neighbourhood of Ixelles,
where most inhabitants are non-Belgian nationals. And yet - do we call them
migrants? No - we call them expats. What is the difference between the two? Is it that expats are white and have more money? I hope this question comes to your mind
throughout the session.”
This poignant remark, made by a member of the organisation, opened the debate “The EU Agenda on Migration: Towards a Human Migration Policy”, jointly planned by the Dutch delegation of the European parliamentary group S&D, PvDA Brussels and and sp.A Elsene. It was held on the 12th of May - the same day chosen by the European Commission to publish its new European Agenda on Migration, seeking to address the wave of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.
More than a simple debate, it was a true exchange of perspectives and ideas, with the audience being treated as panellists themselves – a refreshing attitude considering the dozens of similar events happening every day in Brussels which are presented as interactive but end up being yet another talkshop with room for the guest speakers’ views only. The opening question served also as the event’s defining topic – is migration really a problem? And if so, where does the root of this “problem” lie?
Is this enough?
Among its proposals, the Commission’s agenda on migration foresees quotas for relocation of migrants among the EU member states, a budget increase for rescue missions such as POSEIDON and TRITON and the use of FRONTEX resources for the dismantlement of smuggling routes in the Mediterranean.
After reading the Commission’s communication, Leonhard den Hertog (Centre for European Policy Studies - CEPS) noted that the three key concepts for him are “externalisation of EU migration policy, militarization and solidarity, although many questions [concerning the relocation quotas] remain”. And, in fact, solidarity was a hot topic for both speakers and the audience – with opinions stating that more solidarity was needed among the EU member states and towards the migrants and others stating that solidarity needed a refreshment course at the local level for the policies and the social inclusion of the migrants to be fully effective.
Among the panellists, S&D MEP Kati Piri showed the most enthusiasm for the Commission’s agenda. “In my opinion, the fact that (Jean-Claude) Juncker really stuck his neck out and came up with these proposals is really great. There is still a lot of work to do and ground to cover, but this shows that the Commission is committed to take action”. Piri then proceeded to point out what, for her, is the greatest flaw in the agenda. “The fact that the document only mentions dealing with smugglers without creating safe routes for migrants will only make them take more dangerous paths towards Europe.”
A different frame, a different name
“Migration is a structural element of our society and of our reality. It is part of our world ever since it existed, and it is foolish to think that it can be stopped”. For Eugenio Ambrosi, director of the International Migration Office for the EU, Switzerland and Norway, the three most used words when referring to the situation in the Mediterranean – emergency, invasion and cooperation – are not applicable to the situation. “In terms of numbers, the people trying to cross the Mediterranean do not constitute an emergency – their death does, as do the deaths of people trying to cross the Caribbean Sea or African deserts. It is not an invasion either – we are not being invaded at all - and this word is overused by the media in some EU countries. As for cooperation, it is an extremely important element depending on how it is framed. Right now the EU has been handling it as `we’re having a problem in Europe, it originates in your part of the world, you have to help us solve it´. That’s not cooperation, and it is interesting how we demand third country help to solve our migration problem but then we fight among EU member states to avoid helping each other”.
Members of the audience have asked for a distinction between migrants and harm to the lower socio-economic groups in the host countries, “often used by media and politicians with a xenophobic agenda”. Additionally, a point was made about the importance migrants have in today’s society and the added value they represent in an ever-ageing Europe with a decreased workforce.
Reinforcing the need for change in the way society perceives the Mediterranean issue, Michele LeVoy, director of the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), presented PICUM’s campaign for the replacement of the expression “illegal migrants” to “undocumented migrants”, stating that the word illegal is “inaccurate, harmful and, ultimately, against Europe’s values – a human being can never be illegal”.