Yesterday, the European Commission presented a European Agenda on Migration in response to increasing migratory pressures.

Following recent tragedies in the Mediterranean, where an estimated 1,200 people died trying to reach European shores in the space of a week, Volonteurope called for urgent European action on the issue of migration.

Speaking in Brussels, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, HR/VP Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos acknowledged the need for urgent action to prevent further deaths at sea, with Commissioner Avramopoulos saying: “Europe cannot stand whilst lives are being lost.”

They also emphasised Member States’ ‘shared responsibility’ for responding to migratory pressures, calling for ‘greater solidarity’ amongst Member States and the provision of assistance to frontline countries.

Much of this rhetoric echoes what many civil society actors have been saying for some time now. And, in many ways, yesterday’s Agenda represents a step toward the holistic approach that Volonteurope has been advocating: It combines internal policies with external measures, immediate action with long-term strategy. It involves a range of actors, including EU institutions, Member States, civil society and third countries, and emphasises the importance of international cooperation, especially with countries of origin and transit. Importantly, it also acknowledges the need to tackle the root causes of migration, such as poverty, instability and conflict.

However, a number of the proposed measures fall short of what is needed, and we fear that some of them could actually do more harm than good.

Rather than focusing on the creation of safe, legal routes into Europe, the Commission is stepping up border controls, with plans to increase the capacity of EU border agency Frontex and strengthen third country borders.

It is this fortress Europe approach to migration that forces people to put themselves in the hands of traffickers in the first place. And so, while Volonteurope welcomes the Commission’s decision to clamp down on traffickers, we see the measure as a band-aid response to a systemic problem.

The Commission also called for a strong common asylum policy. While Volonteurope welcomes this, we think that such a policy should mean providing assistance and viable livelihood to people fleeing war and poverty; not merely promoting systematic identification and fingerprinting.

Meanwhile, the proposal to offer 20,000 places in an EU-wide resettlement scheme, though a step in the right direction, will prove less than sufficient with hundreds of thousands set to make the crossing this year. The inadequacy of this measure is made especially apparent when we consider that the UK, Ireland and Denmark are under no obligation to take part.

Despite the Commission’s rhetoric around ‘solidarity’ amongst Member States, it made no commitment to reform the Dublin Treaty, citing this only as a possibility.

There is also a question mark around what ‘modernising and overhauling’ the Blue Card scheme actually means. But, as it now stands, the scheme targets high skilled migrants. And, as far as we are concerned, Europe should be taking a human rights based approached to migration, providing protection and a viable livelihood to people in need, and not cherry picking migrants for its own economic gain.

As set out in its recent report on European Enlargement and Migration, Volonteurope calls on European institutions and Member States to:

  • Adopt a human rights based approach to migration policy. This would mean establishing a robust European search and rescue operation, creating humanitarian corridors and facilitating legal migration.
  • Reform the Dublin Treaty, so that European countries share responsibilities associated with migration pressures proportionately.
  • Take action beyond Europe’s borders, tackling conflicts and strife through the promotion of human rights and inclusive development.