Despite its current political and economic shortfalls due to the Eurozone crisis, Europe is still one of the most prosperous regions in the world. Its citizens enjoy relatively high living standards and numerous opportunities for growth, education, travel and employment. All of the above make our continent a very attractive destination for migrants from across the globe.
In recent years, Europe has increasingly become a very diverse continent, demographically and culturally. As a result, most of the continent’s largest cities have been transformed into cosmopolitan melting pots. This diversity offers certain advantages to Europe’s economies and societies, but it also poses numerous challenges.
European states are still keen to keep their immigration policies independent from one another’s, creating a mosaic of responses and views on migration and integration. As result, there is often a lack of coordination when it comes to dealing with illegal immigration or human trafficking. Yet, about a year and a half ago, Europe had to abruptly face the reality that exists across its outer borders.
On October 2013, more than 300 African migrants lost their lives near the Italian island of Lampedusa, while trying to reach European shores. Sadly this was not an isolated incident. Every year, many more irregular migrants are faced with the same fate, or they end up being confined in migrant “welcome centres”. Only a few days ago another boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast of Libya; more than 800 individuals perished.
It is becoming evident that Europe’s leaders cannot ignore this actuality any longer. As our continent becomes increasingly surrounded by unstable, war torn regions, it is expected that incidents such as these will become more and more common. Additionally, since irregular immigration affects all EU countries – and not just those located on the borders - there must be a collective effort to defend and closely monitor our continent’s frontiers.
For this purpose, Europe needs to proceed with increasing spending on EU agencies like FRONTEX, or even creating its own defence force. Analogous bodies could be funded, manned and supplied by using resources and staff from all member states. Participation in any military formation should not be obligatory, and each country could decide the manner of its participation.
Patrolling Europe’s borders and similar related activities could create new kinds of career openings, and so could offer opportunities to many of our continent’s youths, who are faced with rising unemployment.
Nevertheless this development would only comprise one part of the solution. To end the disgraceful occurrence of humans being stacked like sheep in a boat or truck in hope of a better future, Europe must do more.
Harmonizing our continent’s immigration policies is crucial, when attempting to tackle this situation. European countries should be creating employment offices abroad, in all regions of the world. Instead of people trying to enter illegally into our continent, they should be applying for permanent or temporary work contracts through these new institutions. Officers in these divisions could fulfil the needs of each individual member state, in skilled or unskilled workforce. Migrants could be directed in the appropriate member state in need, according to their expertise, languages and requirements of the local labour market.
In other words, Europe would gain if it created an international EURES portal for non-EU citizens, applying the same principles to potential migrants. We could be collectively deciding how many immigrants, from which countries and equipped with which skills, we require and where they are needed. Some of them could be offered permanent EU residency, while others could work in Europe seasonally.
Tackling irregular immigration is crucial, if we want to reduce the trafficking of human beings, drugs and other illegal activities. But also, to put an end to thousands of deaths on our doorstep.
Besides, incalculable immigration policies have created unfair conditions for many of Europe’s migrants, often leaving them in limbo. These policies have also contributed to the rise of xenophobia and far right political parties across the continent, when combined with the economic crisis.
Keeping the internal borders of Europe open is of paramount importance. The Schengen Agreement and the free movement of people are indispensible benefits, which citizens receive with their country’s EU membership. We must not put them in jeopardy, due to potential threats arising from irregular immigration or human trafficking.
If we want to create a diverse, dynamic and equal European society, we need to sort out our continent’s immigration problem. We should not be afraid to open our borders to others, while not compromising our security and national interests. Europe should become a beacon of the values that it represents, to the rest of the world. But it cannot achieve this while ignoring the tragedy of the increasing death toll on its borders.
Nor should it incite irregular immigration by granting residency to all who attempt to enter our continent via unlawful processes. Such immigration must be prevented and potential migrants should be encouraged to attempt to settle in Europe through the gateways designated for this purpose.
European nations must realise that immigration will increasingly be a reality in the future. It should be up to us to manage and control it, making sure it remains a beneficial factor to our economies and societies, and helping Europe continue to thrive.