Every day we wake up to yet another shipwreck in the waters of the Mediterranean. Every day we have to come to terms with the dozens of migrants and refugees who lose their lives trying to reach Europe. Every day we face opportunistic rhetoric from those who seem to have forgotten their humanity.
However, these deaths can be avoided – we need to stop thinking about immigration as an emergency. We need to stop turning a completely manageable occurrence into a tragedy by putting up walls and barbed wire, closing ports and offloading responsibility onto the countries of arrival.
It seems unthinkable that a visionary political project such as the European Union, which left the tragedy of two global conflicts and the Cold War behind it, guaranteeing peace for more than 60 years on the continent, has hit a wall due to a perfectly manageable occurrence.
It seems inconceivable that a country such as Italy, which for centuries has seen its citizens emigrate to America and Australia and is still suffering from a high number of its young people leaving abroad, now finds itself stigmatising immigration by sowing hate and fear at home, feeding tensions and divisions in Europe.
A few days after the beginning of a new European Commission led by German Ursula von der Leyen, it seems like a good time to highlight the fact that we need to stop pointing the finger at one another and sit down together around the table to find a solution.
The incoming president of the European Commission will need to step up dialogue between the Member States so that they overcome their differences and find common ground on which to forge a political consensus with regard to the measures needed to tackle migration. First and foremost, this requires a reform of the Common European Asylum System.
In 2016, the year in which the highest number of asylum applications was lodged in the EU, they amounted to 1.3 million or 0.26 per cent of the European population. This is certainly not an invasion. This is not a problem of numbers or of a lack of resources, but rather of a lack of courage and political will.
Finding sustainable solutions is a challenge, but it is also a moral duty that needs to be tackled not by one country but by all. For this to happen, we need to put in place a comprehensive and inclusive partnership in which solidarity and responsibility are shared by the whole international community and not just a few host and donor countries. The Global Compact on Migration provides us with an opportunity to achieve this.
We need to stop turning a completely manageable occurrence into a tragedy by…closing ports and offloading responsibility
The European debate, fuelled by false data and stereotypes, is the result of a distorted image of reality that doesn’t emphasise or share the many advantages of immigration in terms of economic and social development. To counter this negative, often intolerant and xenophobic narrative, prejudices and false fears must be eradicated. We must also abandon the culture of “waste” and “discarding”, as Pope Francis has repeatedly called for.
People arriving on our shores, driven by the hope of a better future, should not be viewed as a threat, but as an opportunity for the European economic and social model.
To this end, sustainable long-term integration policies covering the screening and recognition of skills, education and training should be put in place, with a view to boosting the economy. A thriving society without a safe and orderly migration policy supported by all Member States is unthinkable.
However, unanimity cannot keep on being the excuse for inaction and immobility, as rightly pointed out by Enrico Letta in recent days. It is time to find a common solution on migration.
We need legal entry channels, humanitarian corridors, orderly, joint management supported by all EU countries and a consolidation of the common borders.
We need real investment policies in third countries – and not only in those bordering Europe – to deal with conflict situations, climate change and poverty. EU-Africa relations are already undergoing a structural change, moving away from being a donor-destination relationship to being a dialogue between equals based on complementarity and reciprocal interests.
This process will certainly be facilitated by the establishment of the Africa Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will be the largest in the world.
We must now show courage, we must now decide on the future of the European project and we must now show whether we can live up to our history and to our responsibilities towards new generations. We must put an end to this irrational logic, embrace a pragmatic approach and identify solutions that are already within reach.
Enough with slogans and tweets, it’s time to act together.
Luca Jahier is the president of the European Economic and Social Committee. Pietro Bartolo is an MEP for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.