The defence of human rights, a blind spot in European migration policies

Europe is currently facing a labour shortage in a number of sectors. For some, open borders and easier access to the labour market for foreign workers could be an - imperfect - solution. What does the European press think?

Published on 21 November 2023 at 12:43

In 2021, there were 8.84 million non-EU nationals in the European labour market, representing just under 5 percent of the population aged between 20 and 64, according to figures from the European Commission. Foreign workers from outside the EU were largely over-represented in short-staffed occupations - domestic helpers, personal services, construction, etc. Faced with labour shortages, some Member States have come to the same conclusion: we need to find people to fill jobs. Europe needs migration.

This is an imperative that the continent seems to be struggling to reconcile with its own vision of migration management, aligned with a "fortress Europe” philosophy, where not just anyone can enter. As the new pact on migration and asylum enters its home stretch, The Economist publishes an article headlined "Europe is stuck in a need-hate relationship with migrants”. The British weekly warns that "Europe should not forget that tomorrow it may be politely inviting in much the same people it is today letting drown".

This observation is shared by Alberto-Horst Neidhardt, director of the migration and diversity programme at the European Policy Center (EPC): "Europe needs to think about its needs: its population is ageing, there are vacancies and people looking for these jobs", he told the Belgian media outlet Alter Echos in an interview. "They are prepared to sacrifice their lives for it. But we want to send them home," laments Neidhardt. In his view, migration is not just an economic opportunity for the Member States; opening up the European market would also be a way of reducing global inequalities.

"Labour shortages in Europe make a business case for the region to forge a new contract with its migrant workers," writes Ankita Anand in an analysis published in Social Europe. "Yet not only economics but humane principles—of liberty, equality and dignity—should drive the change"

The journalist criticises the visa allocation model used by employer countries, which she describes as an "abstruse system ostensibly inviting workers makes them the victims of illicit agents (in home and host countries) who facilitate their migration while charging a tidy sum in ‘fees’ workers can ill afford." This kind of system leads migrants into a spiral of debt, and needs to be rethought, argues Anand.

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Poland has not escaped the crisis of labour shortages, reports Joanna Clifton-Sprigg for the Polish The country is also facing a need for migration. "It is not enough to let people into the country for success to follow," Clifton-Sprigg writes. "We must accept that they are different from the local population, and to realise their enormous potential, we must provide them with practical support. We also need to prepare our own citizens for their arrival."

For the researcher, there is an urgent need for a broad debate on the costs and benefits of migration, as well as the socio-cultural transformations it might bring about. Such a discussion will necessarily have to address the question of human rights.

While justifying the necessity and legitimacy of migration via economic imperatives may seem commendable, without addressing issues like inequality in employment, devaluation of degrees, or the risks of exploitation faced by migrant workers, such intellectual gymnastics end up pushing a utilitarian vision of migration.

France’s bill aiming to control immigration is a good example. As researcher Emeline Zougbede explains in The Conversation, the original text included an article—since removed—proposing "a legal pathway to regularising undocumented individuals through work,". This raised concerns among some left-wing elected officials "because it indexed the issuance of residence permits to France’s economic needs." These political representatives pointed out that "regularisation, by definition, is not just an economic gesture: it also grants social rights." This regularisation conditioned on the utility of individuals, not exclusive to France, is symptomatic of debates that have been taking place in the country for years. The concepts of "selected immigration" and "forced immigration" have conditioned French migration policies for two decades and seem more relevant than ever.

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, it seems that the question of respect for fundamental freedoms is struggling more and more to find a place in an increasingly polarised public debate. The economic argument has thus become a last resort for those who advocate for the opening of European borders, even if this means not addressing the ideological foundation on which migration policies are built: the utilitarian vision that has ultimately overshadowed the respect for human rights.

On migration and asylum 

Europe: a migration pact wrapped in a rhetoric of solidarity with concessions to the far right

Aurora Báez Boza | El Salto | 18 October | ES

While some might consider the new European pact for migration and asylum a model of "solidarity and shared responsibility," others see it as a victory for the right and far right. In her analysis for the Spanish El Salto, Aurora Báez Boza decodes the concessions made to conservatives, particularly in terms of human rights protection, and the effects these concessions could have on the management of migration by member states.

Winter threatens the (already forgotten) refugees of Nagorno-Karabakh

Will Neal | The New Humanitarian | 25 October | EN

As winter approaches, the tens of thousands of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh are facing a shortage of food, medicine, and shelter. However, this major political crisis, which occurred just a few months ago, has largely disappeared from major Western media outlets.

The Belgian “asylum crisis”

Sarah Schug | The Parliament Magazine | 6 November | EN

Belgium is currently experiencing its own migration crisis, marked by repeated controversies and numerous condemnations of the government. Journalist Sarah Schug provides an illuminating report on the situation, and the profound political discomfort it reveals, for The Parliament Magazine.

The iconic function of the refugee

Christian Salmon | AOC Media | 23 October | FR

Migration is now among the realities that inhabit the collective imagination. According to the researcher and writer Christian Salmon, images of refugees, shipwrecks, and walls fulfil a very specific "iconic function" and reveal much more about us, our governments, and our states than one might think.

The exorbitant costs of detention centres in Italy

Annalisa Camilli | Internazionale | 25 October | IT

While the Italian government considers the construction of detention centres for migrants a "priority," some question the relevance of these opaque and extremely costly structures.

En partenariat avec Display Europe, cofinancé par l'Union européenne. Les points de vue et opinions exprimés n'engagent cependant que leur(s) auteur(s) et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux de l'Union européenne ou de la Direction générale des réseaux de communication, du contenu et de la technologie. Ni l'Union européenne ni l'autorité subventionnaire ne peuvent en être tenues pour responsables.

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