The Migrant Crisis Public Talk – Policy Failures and Potential Responses

Posted on: 29 September 2015

Western foreign policies in the Middle East, reactive EU border controls that have incentivised human trafficking and a failed humanitarian response are among the policy failures that have led to the current migrant crisis, according to a Trinity political scientist who spoke at a public discussion entitled The Migrant Crisis: A Critical Discussion, in Trinity College Dublin on Monday, September 28th, 2015.

At the event Dr Michelle D’Arcy, Assistant Professor in Political Science, argued that the current crisis is the result of three policy failures by Western governments  – foreign policies in Middle East that have stoked regional tensions; reactive EU policies that have incentivised traffickers and inadequate humanitarian responses in countries neighbouring Syria.

The event featured researchers from the School of Social Sciences and Philosophy who drew on current research from the fields of economics, political science, sociology and philosophy to help increase public understanding of how the current crisis arose and propose possible policy responses.

Dr D’Arcy spoke about the policy failures that have led to the current crisis: “Firstly, foreign policies in Middle East have stoked regional tensions and created zones of instability and conflict where life is intolerable for ordinary people and trafficking rings can operate. While many see the current crisis as the result of Western inaction in Syria, it is better understood in terms of the general failure of foreign policy actions in the past decade.”

“Secondly, reactive EU border control policies to the flight of migrants across the Mediterranean have incentivised traffickers and migrants. Instead of putting in place a sustainable long-term strategy the EU has reacted to events as they have unfolded leading to perverse and unintended effects. After the Lampadusa tragedy in 2013, the EU funded rescue operations that increased incentives for traffickers and led to surge in numbers. In 2015, the closing of borders has led desperate migrants to flee, feeling it might be their last chance.”

“Finally inadequate humanitarian response in countries neighbouring Syria has left refugees with few options. Underfunding of UN humanitarian operations in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where most refugees are located, has made conditions for refugees untenable and unsustainable. These policy failures are the result of the domestic politics in the EU – right wing governments in key countries; the uneven distribution of refugees among EU countries; the enduring strength of identities of nationalism rather than universalism; and the principles of sovereignty upheld in the international system that contain inter-country wars but trap people in internal conflicts.”

Professor Carol Newman, Associate Professor of Economics, put forward economic arguments in favour of the liberalisation of labour market policies.

“There are very strong economic arguments for relaxing restrictions on the movement of labour. The estimated net gains globally from only modest increases in labour mobility from poor to rich countries are in the billions, more than the total amount of global overseas development assistance, with most of this benefit accruing to developing countries. Evidence also shows significant net welfare gains in recipient countries. The economics are clear. The constraint is politics. The big open question is – what are the policies that will also be politically acceptable in rich countries?”

In her talk, she also put the current migrant crisis in a global context pointing out that there are an estimated 60 million people displaced globally, 20 million of whom are refugees and 86% of these are in developing countries.

“It is important to put the current migration crisis into context and see it as a wake-up call to the scale of population displacement across the developing world and the injustice associated with it. Climate change will lead to displacement on a much larger scale than this in the years to come with the poorest and most vulnerable worst affected. Injustice of this proportion requires a global response. Aid continues to be crucial but even more important is that migration policy is given priority on the international policy agenda.”

At the event Professor Paul O’Grady, Associate Professor of Philosophy, argued that the swell of public opinion has catalysed politicians to address injustice issues at home as well as abroad.

“For policy makers the challenge is to balance the tension in policymaking between the urge to give aid, support and refuge to the large numbers of displaced people and the equally strong urge to protecting one’s own interests, whether economic, political or security-based. Proponents of global justice argue for redistributive policies, while opponents argue that such policies are unworkable, utopian and hence discredited.”

“With an expanded notion of self-interest, which includes a conception of the kind of people and societies we aspire to be, this tension may be reduced. The groundswell of public opinion, generated by a strong emotional response to the crisis, seems to have catalysed the will to start effectively tackling homelessness and direct provision at home.”

Dr Elaine Moriarty, Assistant Professor in Sociology, analysed the distinctions between migrants, illegals and refugees. She also examined the admissions, borders and passports policies which dictate who can and who cannot move legally into and within Europe and the flouting of international law and conventions which feature large in governmental responses.

“There is a central contradiction between the nation state’s quest for control of population movement into and within its borders and the transnational logic of international mobility in an era of globalisation. Europe has played a key role in moderating this tension through enabling free movement of labour and skills within the European Union, externalisation of security threats and Europeanisation of internal mobility and security policies. These large scale geo/political dynamics are experienced at the human level, with individuals being constructed as legitimate or illegitimate dependent on how they are categorised and documented, which can sometimes have tragic consequences.”

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