Although there are fewer and fewer refugees, misconceptions, such as labelling all asylum seekers as ‘illegal immigrants’ and fear of the pull effect, keep the debate on asylum and migration heated, and make beneficial proposals almost impossible. While some claim that migration levels are too high, others says they are too low.
Many European cities voluntarily offer to accept refugees, which shows that local authorities feel responsible for the society of the EU, especially since Italy and Malta will only accept ships with refugees if there is a commitment to allocate and accept incoming people. For many of these cities, moderating demographic change and retaining skilled workers is important, for example, in North Rhine-Westphalia or Golzow, where due to migrants, the local school could remain open.
Closing ports is against EU law, as is refoulment. The current legal situation poses a major challenge for countries along the EU borders as they are the port of entry for asylum seekers. Unequal border sharing and lack of solidarity are the basis of contention in the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). After three years of negotiations, with proposals from the European Parliament and the European Commission, the European Council has yet to agree on a series of reforms. And yet, as the disembarkation crisis in the central Mediterranean intensified, EU member states have had to negotiate the acceptance of asylum seekers to various other member states, which reinforces the impression of a ‘refugee crisis’ and distracts leaders from finding long-term solutions.
That’s why organized civil society in Germany called on the German federal government to work with European leaders on an allocation and acceptance formula which would enable action by local authorities. It proposes a medium-term ‘relocation’ procedure, and allows the asylum procedures to be transferred to the external borders of the EU.
In the long run, there’s no alternative to fundamental reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), but instead of a compulsory allocation quota at the state level, willing members could allow their municipalities to accept asylum seekers. These cities could enter their needs and potential on a platform through which asylum seekers would complete a survey about their own preferences. In this way, the platform would provide matches based on mutual expectations. Furthermore, the EU could set up a fund for the costs of acceptance and integration in the next Multiannual Financial Framework 2021–2027 (MFR).
Cities who voluntarily accept migrants provide a good example of how the whole community benefits both economically and culturally from migration, and other cities could follow suit or put pressure on their local government to accept people and gain access to EU funding. This may also be accompanied by local participation campaigns, or multi-stakeholder advisory boards at the local level who devise a recommendation to accept and integrate people. And, since many different stakeholders are involved, the responsibility is shared.
Europe needs a medium- and long-term strategy which handles the arrival of asylum seekers as an opportunity for development and revitalization with greater participation at the local level, rather than targeting the externalization of EU migration and refugee policy. Europe needs to demonstrate its human values. In the words of Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, ‘Saving lives at sea means saving our humanity!’