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Home Opinion Migration must be made manageable
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State of the Left • Netherlands

Migration must be made manageable

Lodewijk Asscher - 23 June 2017

Bombs. Shots. Demolished cities. One in a hundred people on this planet is a refugee. 65 million people globally. And that figure does not seem likely to shrink any time soon. How do we deal with these fellow human beings? In the Netherlands, and in Europe? In the world? Do we tackle the causes of their misery? Wouldn’t it be nice if the refugee camps, despite their sad necessity, could also be places where a dignified life is possible?

Right now, the reality is quite different. Often life in a refugee camp is miserable. Refugees face a lack of food, no educational facilities, and inadequate medical care. The UN refugee organisation, UNHCR, is permanently short of resources. We can clearly imagine why people – after living in a camp for two years – pay a trafficker and cross the sea in a rickety boat. Heading towards wealthy Europe.

It was over this issue that the coalition negotiations stumbled in the Netherlands this week. Both camps did not want to back down on their pet subjects. The right underestimates the extent to which people flee because of disaster. As if refugees have made up the falling bombs. Simultaneously, the VVD (ALDE) insists on cuts to development co-operation, and does not want to invest in improving the reception of refugees in neighbouring countries. GreenLeft (Greens/EFA), and the Socialist Party (GUE/NGL) refuse to contribute to peacekeeping missions. And the left keeps insisting its position that the inflow of refugees should not be curtailed. As if accepting uncontrolled migration is an inevitable part of our humanitarian obligations.

This way of thinking is a dead end. The Swedish government, consisting of no less than the social democrats and the greens, oversaw the consequences of such policies, and after a year altered their course. Solidarity with the refugee cause and the need for clear boundaries on the issue of migration cannot be disentangled from one another.

Therefore, we need a new approach. The Geneva Conventions guarantee people the right to safety. We have to reinvent how we organise this safety. This new approach must be based on three anchors. First, solidarity with other countries. Through investing in development cooperation, countering climate change, and through peacekeeping missions we can mitigate the need for people to flee. Europe needs to export its stability, instead of importing instability.

Second, we need to manage the situation sensibly. The fact that people have to undertake a life-threatening journey in order to protect themselves is undesirable. The uncertainty of not knowing whether next year ten thousand or a hundred thousand new refugees are coming is undesirable too.

We need to take into account public support, the availability of houses, jobs and social security. In addition, some refugees flee from patriarchal, unfree and religious-conservative cultures, which can lead to tensions in the areas they settle. The Netherlands can and will always take her fair share in the reception of refugees, but it is not infinite.

It is possible to manage refugee flows through agreements between Europe and safe third countries. We know the implementation and monitoring of the EU-Turkey deal are far from perfect, but if we want to improve the local asylum systems and the reception of refugees, we cannot wait. We have to do something about it. By coming to agreements with certain African countries to take back refugees, we can make sure that a crossing no longer pays off. Of course, this action would be taken only after a judge has checked if the individual is safe there, with an opportunity for appeal.

Europe must contribute to good reception locations and fair asylum procedures in these countries and take in a substantial number of refugees via safe and legal routes. Of course, such agreements will be impossible in certain countries, of which Libya is an example. But rejecting agreements completely, even when it concerns safe countries, is another animal entirely.

Third, we should expect refugees that have been received as part of a European redistribution scheme to fully take part in society. Refugees must enjoy the same rights and duties as other Dutch people. We have to invest in language education, to integrate new arrivals as soon as possible into our society. From them, we expect what we expect of everyone else: to do one’s best, to behave, and to stand for the freedom of others.

These three anchors are closely related. Participating fully is only possible when migration levels are manageable. Managing the number of refugees is only possible if we invest in tackling the causes and in good reception in third-party countries.

The false dichotomy between always taking in everyone and enforcing hard borders while burying our heads in the sand must disappear. Refugees deserve to live in safety and the Dutch population is entitled to expect that we protect our society and that we ensure that newcomers integrate and participate in society.

Lodewijk Asscher, PvdA leader
Mark Elchardus, Professor Sociology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Han Entzinger, former Professor Migration
René Couperus, Fellow at the Wiardi Beckman Foundation
Cyrille Fijnout, Professor Comparative Law at the Tilburg University

This article was originally published in Dutch in De Volkskrant

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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