Images of Syrian children sleeping in the streets of Brussels and Belgrade illustrate the complete chaos and inhumane conditions at refugee and reception centers throughout the capital cities of Europe. One would indeed believe that Europe is facing an unmanageable number of migrants and refugees. Yet, compared to the total 59.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide (in 2014), with developing countries hosting 12.4 million refugees (out of 19.5 million in total), it begs the question of whether Europe is, indeed, facing a “refugee crisis”. Rather, it appears that Europe faces a migration and refugees “management crisis”.
If EU governments would stop ‘burden-shifting’ and engage in coordinated ‘burden-sharing,’ a much needed coherent European response could be devised to the ongoing crisis. While there are many ways forward, the key to success and effectiveness of all measures lies in inclusive coordination, cooperation and partnerships on and between all levels of governance. While the PanEuropean relocation scheme for 160,000 asylum seekers, concluded in Brussels, is a first step in the right direction, it needs to be followed by an enhanced coordination to better include and cooperate with multiple governance levels and stakeholders, both state (including national and municipal governments) and non-state actors, such as businesses and civil society groups.
The effectiveness of border management, in particular, needs to be reviewed and coordination expanded to guarantee human rights equally. Furthermore, efforts at national borders need to be better synchronized with the pivotal burden-sharing role of cities, which are responsible for absorbing refugees into local communities. At the EU’s external borders, such an approach could entail stronger coordination with cities in the reception and subsequent relocation of refugees in a more functional and sustainable manner than is currently the case.
There are numerous examples of such multilevel and multistakeholder governance arrangements. Buenos Aires offers one example on the central role cities play in an innovative model for managing migration and refugees. It is embedded in a network of partnerships, including with national agencies that cooperate on, for instance, critical housing and gender issues. Partnerships further include the private sector, civil society and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Together, these diverse actors have managed to expand governance both downwards to local levels and upwards to national, regional and global levels.
Most notably, enhanced coordination is critical for initiatives aimed at the migrants and refugees’ countries of origin. If European, international and local leaders seek to mitigate indirect and direct causes and consequences of (often forced) migration, coordinated action and consensus is the only sustainable way forward. Tomove global action on migrants and refugees forward, policymakers must reconcile national political differences and develop joint action plans, as well as pool resources. To be effective, political and operational challenges to the coordination of migrants and refugees governance must first be addressed. Amongst them are conflicting policy priorities and interests, but also programming and timeframes need to be reconciled.
While policymakers in the EU—and the Global North in general—have largely securitized migration, thereby overemphasizing issues of human trafficking and migrant smuggling, border control, and transnational organized crime, many local and Global South stakeholders, as well as international organizations, prioritize social-economic integration and inclusion with the aim of promoting peaceful and sustainable societies. Equal partnerships, particularly between actors from developed and developing countries, is an important prerequisite for effective global coordination and action.
To this end, collective action on a global scale needs to recognize the Global South not only as the main origin of refugee and migration flows, but as a source of solutions and remedies from its own experiences with forced and irregular migration. The same goes for the role of local and non-state actors in civil society and the business community.
If policymakers in the EU and beyond can find the will to overcome the political and operational obstacles currently hindering cooperation across borders, innovative global partnerships, combined with new tools and resources, can provide the means for an effective response to the ongoing crisis and a comprehensive long-term framework for managing international migration and refugees. Much remains to be done, starting with a shift away from the notion of “burden-shifting” and the “Fortress Europe” mentality, acknowledging that migrants and refugees will, for a variety of reasons including ongoing violence and state fragility at home, continue to search for a better life in a Europe founded on the values of human dignity, freedom, equality, and respect for human rights.