Published on May 4th, 2016 | by Amira Almakzomy | Credit: Harun Kaya


What can Europe do to increase responsibility-sharing among EU Member States?

Five years into the Syrian conflict has caused millions to flee from the country’s civil war to seek refuge in neighboring countries and Europe.  The conflict has culminated into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. This has resulted in a massive influx of refugees into Europe, causing pressure on the resources of countries receiving them, especially countries on the borders. As the Dublin System was not successful in managing the migration dynamics, responsibility-sharing has been proposed by the European Commission, by setting quotas for each Member State in May 2015.

According to a research done at United Nations University in Maastricht, on the topic of how to increase the responsibility-sharing among the EU Member States it has been found that Islamophobia and xenophobia are contributing factors as to why some Member States do not want to accept the quotas for a fairer responsibility-sharing. The main suggestion in the research is to fairly share the responsibility of receiving a large number of migrants on all Member States. Since the EU Member States have legal obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers, as a result of a number of treaties they are signatories to. This article will give policy recommendations, as well as possible motivations behind Member States wanting to cooperate on such an agreement.

The Dublin System has been criticized for placing a disproportionate burden on countries that are at the external borders of the EU, thereby enlarging the problem of highly uneven distribution of asylum seekers[1]. Therefore, the Dublin System is not capable of responsibility-sharing, and allows for lack of solidarity in the European asylum policy. To increase solidarity among the EU Member States the European Commission created Common European Asylum System (CEAS). However, apart from setting out common standards across the EU to ensure asylum seekers are treated equally, CEAS did not include any concrete measures for responsibility-sharing.

Despite Member States being the signatories to various Conventions and treaties relating to refugees, they have not committed to the requirements nor taken serious efforts to fulfill their obligations. Some have even explicitly gone against the intentions of the treaty. There have been instances of mistreatment of refugees from police action as well as border guards physically restricting asylum seekers from reaching the borders[2]. We have seen that in the case of Hungary for instance, whereby they raised a fence and used tear gas to deter migrants from entering, arguing that migrants are mostly fleeing bad economic conditions, and therefore do not need asylum status to protect their lives[3].

The leaders of States such as Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Czech Republic all prefer non-Muslim migrants to come to their country[4]. This could be due to the reason that political leaders and influential media are equating Islam with violence and terrorism[5]. Concisely, Slovakian leaders said they would only accept Christian refugees from Syria, and Hungarian Prime Minister said that his country does not want a large number of Muslims, whereas Polish head of the country’s immigration office said that religious background would affect the refugee’s status application[6]. The Geneva Convention states that it applies without discrimination on ground of religion; the EU Charter of Rights also bans the discrimination on grounds of religion when applying EU law. Therefore, Member States stating their unwillingness to take Muslim refugees is a clear breach of both international and EU law.

Therefore, in order for a successful implementation of responsibility-sharing, the reasons behind Member States not agreeing on the proposed quotas needs to be addressed and resolved.

This article proposes the following main recommendations for a successful implementation of responsibility-sharing:

  1. The Dublin System needs modification, mainly to promote the successful implementation of responsibility-sharing in the EU, and also because the Dublin procedures are time consuming, inefficient and hinder integration[7]. Best approach would be a new law by itself, to introduce the concept of responsibility-sharing concretely. However, replacing the Dublin Regulation will take time, hence the short-term solution would be to reform the Regulation. The introduction of relocation system is a potential step towards a reform of the Dublin System. For the European cooperation in the area of migration to be sustainable, the idea of responsibility-sharing needs to be implemented in the European migration policies. In order to keep Europe united and to avoid future threats to Schengen borders, the EU should focus on implementing unified migration and asylum policies in the area of responsibility-sharing.
  2. The EU should motivate Member States to cooperate and participate in an agreement on responsibility-sharing by ‘win-win’ factors, showing Member States how they can benefit from such an agreement. Motivational factors could be divided into norm-based motivations and interest-based motivations. The norm-based motivations are in the form of solidarity among States in a political community, and States commitment to protection of vulnerable people. The interest-based motivations in cooperating on responsibility-sharing are insurance against mass inflows, adhering to international obligations and efficiency in achieving protection. The insurance rationale is based on mutual insurance in case of a particular shock that might put pressure on some countries. Thus, States accept ‘loosing’ in the short term, so they ensure themselves against possible costs they may acquire in future if the same happens in their country. Moreover, if there is no common European approach on refugee responsibility-sharing, the migration pressures will cause threat to not only the Single Market in the EU and the achievement of the principle of free movement, but it will also cause the States to breach their obligations under the international laws. Responsibility-sharing can help States to keep their obligations under international and European laws.
  3. Educating the youth to be more knowledgeable and acceptable of other cultures is the primary step in attempting to eliminate the stigmatization associated with Muslim population. The integration and education is also important for citizens of the host country. By introducing educational courses in schools about different cultures and religions, the children will have an open mind. This will go a long way decreasing xenophobia from an early age. Teaching the importance of respecting and accepting different nationalities, and cultural backgrounds, stressing on the importance of care for one another, and helping people in need is crucial for a well-rounded education of children.
  4. The EU must ensure integration plans for refugees of various backgrounds and nationalities, in order to integrate in the EU culture successfully. Moreover, integration is not only important to fight xenophobia, but integrated and assimilated refugees are beneficial to the economy of the Member State. In addition to paying taxes, they will contribute to fostering entrepreneurship, in the community. As stated by ECRE, the integrated residents are more likely to be economically productive and they do not have a reason to go against the laws (2008). Hence, it is also important to support entrepreneurship among migrants, as this will not only give them opportunities to start a new life, but it will also build jobs for others in the community. Thus, creating job opportunities for those given the asylum should be given more importance. The countries where the asylum seekers are being relocated to, need to create effective strategies and incentives for creation and support of innovation, SME’s and entrepreneurship among migrants. Integration will also reduce crime rate, as refugees will feel more included in the society and will not have the need to disrespect the laws or commit crimes due to poverty.

Recommendations such as motivational factors, better integration, and entrepreneurship skills, would make the migrants look less of a burden to Member States that are hesitant to accept asylum seekers because they view them as burden. Thus, perhaps the Member States would be more open to migrants if they see a benefit from them. If responsibility-sharing is effectively planned out and implemented, the countries concerned would have a positive factor for growth and success. The positive effect of migration (one which is carefully planned) on Europe, and its Member States is obvious one, as migrants ease the problem of aging workforce, they bring creativity and innovation, and have labor skills from which the host country can benefit.

This research found that some of the reasons why the leaders of Member States are reluctant to accept the quotas proposed are due to xenophobia and Islamophobia. Thus, combating xenophobia is a key component in increasing responsibility-sharing. Some of the ways to battle xenophobia have been proposed in the recommendations.

[1] (Nicoletti, 2015; Hasenkamp, 2015; Schneider, Engler, & Angenendt, 2013; ECRE, 2008)

[2] (Peers, 2015)

[3] (Chappell, 2015)

[4] (Park, 2015)

[5] Nebehay, 2007)

[6] (Park, 2015; Al Jazeera, 2015)

[7] (ECRE, 2008)

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