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Panel Debate Report: How can we restrict migration to the EU?

Panel Debate Report: How can we restrict migration to the EU?

The newspaper, Information held a panel debate in November in connection to their other three TRANSIT events with focus on migration and refugees.

The panel originally consisted of Danish Refugee Council’s Secretary General Christian Friis Bach and anthropologist and senior researcher at DIIS Sine Plambech, however researcher and adjunct at Global Refugee Studies at Aalborg University Martin Lemberg Pedersen was also able to join last minute before jumping on a plane to Nepal. 

As I was reading the newspaper I noticed the controversial title of the event: How Can We Restrict Migration into the EU under the subtitle Go Home Meeting. I found out, however  “go-home” was not in connection to migrants but apparently, a go-home meeting is quite a normal thing, when holding shorter events after the regular hours of work- when people are on their way home… Quite an unfortunate assemblage of titles but indeed attention grabbing!  

The headline How Can we Restrict Migration to the EU was certainly meant to attract people but not merely to discuss migration as a negative, but to open up the question of should we in fact restrict migration? That gave both interesting and surprising responses from the panel.

Plambech began asking the question for whose sake should we should restrict migration? She explained her background in conducting fieldwork in West Africa and Denmark, focusing on sex trafficking and people people living underground. She argues that we do in fact need to restrict migration not just because of cheap labor competition within European countries but also because the conditions in which many migrants are living under and on the move are so dangerous and poor that it is not worth the move. However, she also added that restricting migration is merely a bandage solution to a much larger economic issue regarding lack of work opportunities in the migrant’s home countries. Finally she ended her statement by saying that we need to consider at which cost we are willing to restrict migration, because the more we restrict the more dangerous migrating becomes as people will search for new routes and ways to move inevitably. 

Friis Bach began his main argument by emphasizing that there is no migration crisis; the amount of people coming towards Europe and specifically the number coming towards Denmark is relatively low. Rather, he points out, that there is a protection crisis for irregular migrants and the dangers they face on the routes. He agrees with Plambech that the more states close borders the more dangerous the routes gets, for example, in many places in Africa where people are forced to move off the grid throughout deserts. He also argues that there is a political crisis within the EU and that the discourse on migration and refugees is creating an unnecessary fear which in term undermines solid solutions to irregular migration.

Lemberg-Pedersen brought it back to the initial question of how do we restrict migration by questioning why we in Europe ask this question to begin with. He wants us to ask, how do we restrict people’s need to migrate? He agrees with Plambech in that tackling the restriction of migration is merely a bandage, not a sustainable solution.  

He mentions weapon exports spurring conflict, agricultural subsidies, the lack of long-term environmental protection, overfisheries, lacking food security and high food prices and corruption, hinting that if EU and the West are looking to be pro-active in order to halt displacement, they may also look at their own policies in these areas. Finally, Lemberg-Pederson brought up the point that there is a general shift in how domestic and international issues are being handled. Domestic interests are ‘colonizing’ international issues, which have led to for example the externalization of borders, as the EU-Turkey deal, which he finds extremely worrisome

The debate took off discussing some of these root causes, where Plambech focused on the countries the migrants were coming from and their responsibly to create jobs and access to financial markets. Bach adds that from his on going projects root causes are complex and can be many fold- he then explains how DRC is trying to make a predictability model based on data sources which can help explain why people leave.

The debate went on for about hour and a half discussing issues such as the ethical considerations to big data collection, local fear campaigns to get people to stay in their country, weather the EU-turkey deal is a good solution among many other interesting subjects. Most surprisingly were how three people each working in their own way within migration had varying and sometimes extremely differing opinions.

Thank you for reading,

Ida Lund-Larsen

Photo credit: Jakob Dall

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