By Brunson McKinley, Former Director General, International Organization for Migration (1998-2008)
The year 2015 witnessed a sharp increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the territory of the European Union from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. Many of them were asylum seekers, principally Syrians departing their places of refuge in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Others, from Africa, South Asia or the Balkans had primarily an economic motivation. Smuggling rings reacted quickly to the new demand, opening new routes from Turkey through Greece, the overburdened point of first entry into the EU, then through non-EU countries to a second EU entry in Hungary, Croatia or Rumania. Traditional routes via North Africa to Spain, Malta and Italy also operated largely unhindered.
The initial EU response was confused and passive. In the absence of administrative tools to deal with the increased flows, the EU countries began quarrelling among themselves, while the migrants and the smugglers made the running. The EU is facing the consequences of its failure to put in place a coherent, comprehensive migration strategy at the time of the establishment of the Schengen free-circulation zone.
There are remedies that can be brought to bear in the immediate crisis, but Europe needs to respond much more fundamentally to the 2015 wake-up call with sweeping changes to manage continuing migration flows, which are likely to remain a constant feature of the European geopolitical landscape.