by Prof. Parvati Nair, UNU-GCM, United Nations University in Barcelona

A child should not have to die to mobilize governments into credible action. 

The photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body washed ashore, which has mobilized international responses to the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean over the past week, signals two inter-related tragedies: firstly, that of the human loss and suffering that is ongoing in this context, and secondly, that of the dire shortcomings of global and regional good governance of migration. 

As the EU prepares to address this issue in the run-up to the High Level Side Event on Migration planned at the UN on 30 September, there is an urgent need to reflect on how best to swiftly and competently address the mounting crisis in migration to Europe. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][M]igration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself.[/quote]

While Italy and Greece are overwhelmed as receiving points of migration from across the Mediterranean, there is every indication that the numbers of refugees who have entered Europe form only a small proportion of those who are already displaced and making their tortuous ways via Libya, Turkey, Eastern Europe and other routes in search of a safe and dignified life. 

Multiple causes for migration

There are some important facts that must be taken into account in this context: firstly, a condition for positive dialogue among global leaders is the understanding that migration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself. 

Secondly, the flows coming into Europe today are mixed. It would appear that certain world leaders may favour hosting refugees (if only because there is a certain historical and political kudos to be found in the idea of Europe as a place of shelter), but reject the thought of offering hospitality to 'economic migrants' as those coming to take advantage of European wealth. 

In reality, there are multiple causes that displace populations and trigger migration. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants move shoulder to shoulder along networks and routes to Europe. 

Thirdly, the vast and growing underworld of smugglers and traffickers (at times it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle the one from the other) thrive off existing European border policies and practices. The denial of visas and the building of fences with ever more razor wire foster the business of smugglers and force migrants down unsafe and undignified terrains of illegality. This is not the way forward. 

Relieving burden on Greece, Italy

Governments must understand that for as long as vast global inequalities that relate at once to questions of wealth, well-being, freedoms, rights, peace, security and democracy exist between Europe and other parts of the world, there will be both the absolute need and the overwhelming desire to access Europe. 

Against this backdrop, global leaders need to respond proactively in the short, medium and longer terms in order to safeguard lives and diminish suffering. 

As a first step, European leaders must establish a common asylum policy that sets procedures whereby residency and benefits are on offer equally across European states. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive.[/quote]

Perhaps Europe could look back at that other image of a suffering child that once mobilized a similar response – the girl fleeing napalm in Vietnam – and work towards a resettlement plan that is shared and that takes into account not solely those already in Europe, but also the many more on their way. Europe has room for them. 

The current burden on Greece and Italy needs urgently to be relieved. It also seems imperative to open legal channels for migrants, so that they do not surrender their safety into the hands of smugglers. 

A common asylum policy with applications processed along transit routes would enable legal, safe and managed migration into Europe. While this is being implemented, governments need urgently to contribute funds to the many agencies that are currently providing for the basic needs of migrants. 

In the medium term, European leaders need to engage with governments in Turkey and the Gulf. 

While Turkey currently hosts large numbers of Syrian and other refugees, the granting of residence and employment rights via visas would enable them to both contribute positively to local economies and ensure their safety and dignity. The Gulf countries too could engage in settlement programmes – if the political will were present. 

In the longer term, there is much that remains to be done. The ending of conflicts, greater development, and the ending of political oppression are all necessary for well-being, democracy and dignity. For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive, and that acts always within the larger frame of human rights. 

by Dr. Melissa Siegel, UNU-MERITUnited Nations University in Maastricht

With migrants arriving – and dying – every day in Europe, countries like Sweden and Germany have been stepping up and giving a good example to their European neighbours; but sadly this example is not being readily followed.

The general lack of coordination at EU level is simply unacceptable and frankly embarrassing for a region that prides itself on upholding principles of human rights.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]efugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves.[/quote]

As EU leaders prevaricate over the 200,000 refugees they have agreed to take over the next five years, countries neighbouring Syria have seen their populations rise by as much as a quarter.

Lebanon and Jordan, with populations of 4.5 and 6.5 million, are respectively hosting more than 1.2 million and 650,000 refugees, while Turkey continues to welcome additional refugees after having absorbed 1.6 million.

Refugees as part of economic development

For too long, Europe has given aid while saying, ‘not in my backyard’; this policy is not only shameful, but also completely unrealistic.

Camps in neighbouring countries are overflowing and people have few other options than to move on.

“The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and health care,” writes Harriet Grant in The Guardian newspaper, “have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees northwest towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”

This means we are going to continue to see refugees and asylum seekers knocking on Europe’s door. If Europe really cares about the well-being of these individuals (and human rights principles more generally), then more durable solutions need to be taken at a European level. This starts with accepting more UNHCR resettles so that they do not need to make the dangerous journey to Europe themselves.

European leaders should also change their thinking about the current refugee situation and embrace it as an opportunity instead of a threat. As Professor Alexander Betts of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford puts it, we could ‘treat refugees as a development issue.’

He argues that refugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves. By doing so, they are able to greatly contribute to the development of the economy and society in their host country.

Europe, with an ageing population, should see this situation as not only a humanitarian responsibility, but also an opportunity to bring capable, resilient new people into their societies.

Re-published via Pressat Newswire

Published in Commentary

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Over the last week, the Canadian public has awakened to the grim reality of the current refugee crisis springing from Syria after images emerged of a three-year-old boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey. Nevertheless, the public remains divided on how Canada should intervene — if at all.

Alan Kurdi and his family were attempting to flee the country, which has been devastated by fighters from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and a prolonged civil war seeking to oust President Bashar Al Assad, to seek sanctuary first in Europe and ultimately perhaps in Canada. The family paid smugglers to take them from Bodrum, Turkey to Greece, but drowned when the boat capsized en route.

Canada has been largely insulated from the humanitarian crisis occurring overseas, and it is a crisis indeed. Since IS forces began systematic killings in the region, more than half the population of Syria has been killed, displaced or has fled. This year alone, more than 350,000 migrants have sought refuge in Europe.

Deaths at sea

Kurdi and his family are among the estimated 2,500 people who have died attempting to make the journey to safety.

Given that a large majority of migrants have attempted to enter European countries rather than cross the Pacific to seek shelter in North America, the Canadian public has played more of a spectator role during the crisis. However, this attitude shifted in the last week as news of Kurdi’s Canadian connection surfaced, throwing Canada's refugee policy into the spotlight in the run-up to the fall’s federal election.

Since the body was discovered on September 2, social media sites have exploded with Canadians expressing their sympathies for Syrian families and their frustration at the country’s current refugee policies.

At a recent Stephen Harper event in Vancouver, Conservative staffers forcibly removed a local activist when they noticed that he was wearing a T-shirt reading "Aylan (sic) should be here." When Sean Devlin, who has been an outspoken member of the group Shit Harper Did, refused to leave, he was arrested for obstruction of justice.

This outcry has been matched with an outpouring of support from many Canadian citizens. Hilde Schlosar, executive director of Nanaimo’s Immigrant Welcome Centre, said the centre has seen a huge spike in the number of offers of assistance this week.

Even Toronto Mayor John Tory is making a personal commitment to help Syrian families in crisis. Tory has agreed to sponsor a Syrian family through the Toronto-based non-profit group Lifeline Syria. The group hopes to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees as permanent immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area over the next two years.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins went even further on Friday when he called on the federal government to bring in 5,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Split along party lines

Despite these and other individual commitments of support, an Angus Reid report released on September 4 shows that Canadians are divided on how the country should respond to the current migrant crisis.

Overall, 70 per cent of Canadians polled say Canada has a role to play in the migrant crisis, but consensus on what the nature of that role should be is less clear. While 76 per cent said individuals and community groups should sponsor more refugees, only 54 per cent said the government itself should be responsible for taking in more refugees.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][O]nly 54 per cent said the government itself should be responsible for taking in more refugees[/quote]

Canada has resettled 2,347 Syrian refugees in the past three years (despite initial intentions to resettle 11,300) largely as a result of private sponsorship. The Conservative government has plans to bring in an additional 10,000 over the next four years if re-elected.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents said Canada should send professionals, such as doctors or soldiers, overseas to help the migrants, and 23 per cent said Canada should take no action.

Respondents were particularly divided along partisan lines. Conservative voters were the least likely to support options for how Canada could help the migrants, with 37 per cent of Conservatives polled agreeing with the statement that many of the migrants seeking refuge are “bogus,” criminals or economic opportunists looking to jump the immigration queue for a better life.

Regardless of political preferences, the vast majority of Canadians do view the Syrian refugees as genuinely in need of help and agree that Canada should do its part to support them in their search for safety. Now, only the means of doing so are left to be determined.

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Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 18 August 2015 18:12

No Easy Options for Europe's Refugee Crisis

by Dr. Gerry Van Kessel in Ottawa

As many as 1,200 boat people drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea headed for Europe during a 10-day period last April. The drownings drew media attention to a growing and cyclical phenomenon: the arrival in Europe of large numbers of migrants and refugees, particularly by sea. Over 225,000 have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, mostly bound for Greece and Italy, severely stretching their resources; 2,100 have drowned.

Migrant boats have a way of focusing public attention that other means of migration do not. Arrivals by land and air are far more numerous, yet it is boat arrivals that arouse the interest of the media and the public. This includes Canada. Boat arrivals have resulted in some of the most negative public comments about the Canadian government’s management of immigration. The arrival of a boat filled with Tamils in 1986 and another boat with Sikhs a year later led to an emergency recall of Parliament. The four boats with Chinese migrants in 1999 and the boat with Tamils in 2009 kept immigration in the spotlight for months.

The number of persons claiming refugee status in Europe this year is likely to exceed the previous high of 672,000 in 1992. In the first quarter of of 2015, there were 185,000 claims made, an increase of 86 per cent over the previous year's first quarter.

Global trend

These numbers reflect what is happening globally. In 2014, there were a record 51.2 million people displaced from their homes. Most -- 26 million -- were displaced in their own countries, while 13 million were refugees outside their country. An increasing number find their way to wealthy countries to make refugee claims. The unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and the poverty of sub-Saharan Africa do not suggest any diminishing of the numbers seeking a better life in Europe.

A plea for burden-sharing by Italy and Greece for help from other European Union members has been largely unsuccessful.

Europe's continuing dilemma is that it is impossible to keep everyone out and impossible to let everyone in. The rather paradoxical compromise, apparent in various degrees in all Western countries, is one that takes steps to keep migrants out, but for those who manage to get in, have a legal process that allows persons found to be refugees to remain in the country. However, governments generally want to make sure that this acceptance does not become a "pull" factor for other migrants. Changes to this compromise are most likely to be in the direction of greater enforcement and control as the European public becomes increasingly concerned about integration, multiculturalism and terrorism.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Europe's continuing dilemma is that it is impossible to keep everyone out and impossible to let everyone in.[/quote]

The Australian model

There are other options being advanced, but not specifically by the EU. One option advanced by pro-immigration groups is for Europe to open its borders to legal migration in the way that Canada, the United States and Australia do. In this way, it is argued, Europe will absorb the migratory pressures it faces in a legal manner and avoid the negative consequences, such as drownings at sea, of irregular migration and compensate for the continent's low birth rate. The problem with this approach is that that there is no balance between what European countries can (even where they willing to do so) absorb and the demand for migration, a demand far greater than the total of displaced persons. Just in Libya, there are reported to be a million people waiting to enter Europe.

A very different option is the so-called Pacific Solution followed by Australia. It is frowned upon by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and pro-immigration groups. Its focus is the elimination of boat arrivals by moving the examination of asylum claims from onshore to third countries. It has been advanced by the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark individually, but not by the EU as a whole. Australia processes the claims of persons intercepted on boats in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and the current Canberra government reports that only one boat has made it to Australia.

Predicting what the future holds is difficult. The EU's hope is that the flood of refugees will ebb, as they have in the past. This will avoid the issue of broad policy changes.

The signs, however, suggest that migratory pressures will increase, public anger at governments' failure to manage the issue will grow and cries for radical solutions by anti-immigrant parties will become louder.

Gerry Van Kessel is retired from a career with Citizenship and Immigration Canada where he was Director General, Refugees from 1997 to 2001.  From 2001 to 2005, he was Coordinator, Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies (IGC) in Geneva.  He dealt with the issues discussed in this article in both posts.  

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Published in Commentary

by Humberta Araújo (@iafuture) in Toronto

While France remained a constant in the news at the top of 2015, with the Charlie Hebdo shooting being covered immensely, there are some stories from the Western Europe region that may have gone less noticed. Here’s a look into what’s been going on in Western Europe and its diaspora, as reported on by a variety of ethnic-media outlets.

Greek-Canadians Apprehensive about Future of Country

Greek Canadians are well aware that things in their homeland’s government are not as they should be. Nevertheless, some good news hit Athens last month, as the Eurozone finance ministers backed reform proposals submitted by Greece.

The European Commission called it a, “valid starting point.” The measures proposed by Greece include combating tax evasion and tackling the smuggling of fuel and tobacco.

According to Pierre Moscovici, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, the agreement, “averted an immediate crisis.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.[/quote]

The firm response of the German authorities to the Greek request for an emergency loan extension had put extra pressure on the new government, which came to power with promises it would halt austerity and renegotiate the country’s bailout (which threw Greeks into despair) with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Hope and optimism have been dwindling for Greek-Canadians who are well aware of the country’s challenges. According to the news portal, Helenians have been following the developments coming from Athens with great interest through radio broadcasts and social networks following the January 25 election.

The crisis forced thousands of Greek workers to leave the country last year. The Canadian embassy in Rome has seen applications for work permits and visas nearly double.

Portugal: Let’s be Frank, You Can’t Expect to Get Without Giving 

Portuguese newspapers in Toronto have been echoing the position of the Greek government concerning its relationship with the European Union. The Portugese Sun reported Portugal Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s stance: it is unacceptable that the Greek newly elected government would want money from Europe without assuming responsibilities, he said.

“The Greek government requested the extension of loans,” said Coelho (pictured to the right). “It wants the right to be able to use the money the way it sees fit. However, Athens doesn’t want the responsibility to match up with the obligations framework within which the money should be allocated to Greece. This is not acceptable.”

In addition, the paper reported the reactions of the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, who reacted to the statements made by Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, indicating the  European rescue program “did wrong to the dignity,” of the Portuguese, Greek and Irish. It proved Portugal should be compensated, added Machete.

Italians, Portuguese and Polish Take Ottawa to Court

A dark shadow hangs over the future of many migrant workers in Canada – particularly from Portugal, Italy, Poland and some Spanish speaking countries.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents.” - Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer[/quote]

According to the Portuguese Sun, about 150 migrants working in construction, 100 of them from Portugal, are taking legal action against the Canadian government for alleged discrimination. The reason: the Canadian authorities are giving priority to immigrants from England, Ireland and France. “It’s becoming impossible for migrant laborers who work in areas such as  construction, the food service industry and mechanics to stay in this country as permanent residents,” said Richard Boraks, immigration lawyer, in the article.

These workers laboring in Canada under the Federal Skill Trades program, “have to go through a very demanding English test to become permanent residents (…) The government is not looking at the workers’ professional skills, but to language proficiency. The test is very difficult, and designed for people from the Commonweath. The government should follow the law and place language skills as a second priority.” According to the Portuguese Sun, around 30,000 temporary work permits have been given to candidates form Ireland, England and France, while a very small number was given to countries where English is not the first language.

This problem has also been voiced by the Spanish language newspaper El Centro, as well as Portuguese newspaper in Toronto, the Milénio Stadium, which reported concerns that these immigrants may be repatriated by the Canadian government in retaliation for their action. This is a fear voiced by many migrant workers and construction businesses in these communities.

SkyGreece Airlines SA to fly to Canada

Good news for Greek-Canadians. According to Greek Reporter the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) has granted permission to SkyGreece Airlines SA to schedule international flights between EU member states and Canada.

“We are extremely happy with the CTA decision and it simply shows our determination to meet and surpass the requirements of the agency as well as the Canadian and Greek consumers,” said Nikolaos Alexandris, account manager and co-founder of SkyGreece Airlines SA, a company with the goal of connecting the Greek diaspora with its homeland by offering non-stop flights between Greece and North America.

The website reports that this private company was founded in October 2012 by a team of Greek-Canadian entrepreneurs “with extensive backgrounds in aviation and tourism.” It is based in Athens with offices located in Montreal, Toronto and New York.

Rome Forced to Face Terrorism Head On

The Isis beheadings of Coptic Christians from Egypt working in Lybia have brought a new challenge to some countries in Western Europe. Fears are mounting, particularly in Italy, after Libya-based Isis associates announced that the terrorist group was looking at Rome. This led the Italian government to call for a UN commanded international intervention. According to several Italian newspapers, the country, “has never been as exposed to the jihadist threat,” as it is now.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place.[/quote] 

Portuguese media in Canada reporting on Italian fears have also highlighted the issue of terrorism in Portugal. The Portuguese Sun emphasized statements made by the president of the Observatory for Security, Criminality and Terrorism, Filipe Duarte, declaring Portugal is not a target for terrorist acts, but rather a part of the jihadist puzzle as a passage place. British youth have recently used Portugal as a passageway to join the jihad in Syria. To tackle the issue, last month the Portuguese government approved its national strategy to fight terrorism. Its main objective is to “detect, prevent, protect, persecute and respond,” to “the phenomenon on all its expressions.”

Italians remember the Hogg’s Hollow Disaster

The 55th anniversary of the Hogg’s Hollow disaster is fast approaching. March 17, 1960 marks the day of a tragic accident that happened in a tunnel under the Don River in Toronto claiming the lives of five Italian migrant workers.

According to the Italian-Canadian magazine Panorama, “this upcoming March 17 is a day of remembrance in Toronto for the families,” of these workers. The tragic accident forced Canadian authorities to revise the occupational health and safety laws, which had not gone through any change since 1927.

The Hogg’s Hollow disaster was the inspiration for a quilt by artist Laurie Swim that hangs in Toronto’s York Mills subway station.

Humberta Araújo was born in Vanderhoof, B.C., to parents who migrated from the Azores. As a reporter, she has worked in the Azores and Canada, both in television and newspapers. She is putting together a book on Azorean Migration to Canada. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Published in Western Europe

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved