Focus on Immigration: European Union
By Keith Barnes
Considering the degree of integration among European states and the Schengen Agreement, movement by one EU national to another EU state is not considered immigration. The EU is allowed, however, to offer logistical and monetary supplements to a country to augment or impede migration flows.
Europe’s fractious political framework has contributed to the European Union’s inability to resolve issues from financial crises and the Greek bailout, to the conflict in Ukraine. And now, the refugee crisis has exposed concerns that may necessitate immediate action.
Legally, Europe does not have a common European immigration policy. The Treaty of Lisbon, which amended the Maastricht Treaty that established the European Union, leaves matters of immigration to member states individually. The Lisbon Treaty actually enshrines the entirety of the 1951 Geneva Convention as law applying to all member states.
According to Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The Geneva Convention takes this a step further and expands on the definition of a refugee as an individual who has “fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, [and] is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
With respect to the current refugee crisis, EU states have taken various routes, some dangerously close to violating the rules, in order to address the lack of a common policy on migration. The European Commission has stated that while there is no fully operational, single, migration policy for the Union, there have been a number of directives—the equivalent of an executive order—made to harmonize factors of the migrant situation.
The Commission holds that 19 states have made a total of 40 violations of such directives. According to German English-language news outlet The Local, the Commission is charging a number of states with violating the European Reception Conditions Directive, which details the quality of conditions in which refugees may live.
On a state-by-state basis, immigration policies vary tremendously, from complete open-door policies in Sweden and Germany, to more selective measures in France and Belgium.
Once the refugees have been given asylum status, the integration processes to which they must adhere also vary. In countries such as Spain, Italy, and Germany, refugees are given a modest income from the state while they look for jobs. In other countries, such as Bulgaria, refugees are on the receiving end of racism and xenophobia, for which Amnesty International has rebuked the local government.
Germany received international attention recently when Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that they expect upwards of 800,000 applications for asylum, followed by the suspension of the Dublin Agreement, under which asylum-seekers must apply and be relocated in the country in which they first arrived. These actions were followed by an abrupt declaration of emergency and the reinstitution of border controls along the German-Austrian border, prompting similar actions in Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria.
While the EU states commit to accepting refugees, their major concern is that a large number of migrants are citizens of Balkan countries; however, they mix with the migrating crowds and declare themselves as Syrian upon reaching the EU. Individuals who are not fleeing war but are simply looking to improve their living standards are known as economic migrants and are not protected by any European law, as their native countries are perfectly safe. In response to this, EU states have the European Return Directive, which allows them to deport an individual who fails qualifications for asylum.