Europe’s migrant crisis got an impetus in 2015 when one million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan sneaked into the continent, particularly Germany. The then Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, took the challenge of large-scale illegal migrants as an opportunity and, instead of ordering their deportation, embarked on an ambitious program for their resettlement.

Around a decade after the massive wave of migrants, the European Union launched a program of migrant relocation in different EU member countries to manage the refugee crisis.

On April 10 this year, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that his country would not accept a European Union immigrant relocation mechanism despite the European Parliament’s approval of legislation to curb migration into the continent. According to reports, “European lawmakers voted earlier on Wednesday on a revamp of the bloc’s migration system to cut the length of time for security and asylum procedures, and increase returns of migrants to reduce unwanted immigration from the Middle East and Africa, a high priority on the EU’s agenda”.

Furthermore, on April 10, the EU parliament adopted stricter migration rules under asylum reforms, binding the 27-member union to accept responsibilities for settling migrants in their respective countries so that the burden is shared justly. The legislation will come into force in 2026. The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the new rules a “historic, indispensable step” for the European Union.

It will not only help the influx of illegal immigrants exploiting the asylum laws of EU member countries but will pursue a coordinated approach for their resettlement. According to EU asylum reforms, border control centres will be established to send back those sneaking into EU countries, particularly Greece and Italy, to safe countries. Both far-right and left parties have criticized EU asylum reforms, with the far-right arguing that instead of outright deportation of illegal immigrants, the EU will give them time and space to stay in Europe.

Whereas the far left termed EU asylum reforms tantamount to a serious violation of human rights and betrayal of European Union values. 160 migrant charities and non-governmental organizations engaged in helping migrants protested against the passing of legislation by the EU parliament.

The parliament or assemblies of EU member countries will have to ratify legislation about asylum reforms, which will be an uphill task.

Supporting migration reforms, the migration minister Dimitris Kairidis from Greece, the worst hit from illegal migration, one of the country’s worst affected arrivals of growing numbers of undocumented migrants, commented that “this is a breakthrough and a very important step towards a common, and therefore more effective, management of the migration challenges of our time.” EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said adopting this reform was a “huge achievement for Europe”. “Today is indeed a historic day,” the European Commission president told a news conference after the European Parliament adopted the reform.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said the bloc “will be able better to protect our external borders, the vulnerable and refugees, swiftly return those not eligible to stay” and introduce “mandatory solidarity” between member states. Will the EU asylum reforms for managing migrant crises help curtail the influx of illegal migrants who want to sneak into prosperous countries of Europe to get a better future and save their lives from violent conflicts and wars in their country of origin? Why countries from where the bulk of asylum seekers and migrants sneak into Europe are unable to better their conditions?

One needs to mention the fact that the EU had also launched a program involving Turkey and Libya from where the majority of illegal migrants try to reach Europe, offering financial incentives to make sure potential economic migrants are offered better job opportunities in their home countries. But what EU can do to manage armed conflicts, violence and wars in the Middle East and North Africa to discourage migrants from sneaking into Europe? Risking their lives, migrants, including those from Afghanistan and Pakistan, try to reach Europe by paying heavy sums of money to agents while putting their lives at great risk. The EU’s reaction to the migrant relocation program needs to be analyzed from three perspectives. First, opposition was launched from far-right and far-left parties against that program for different reasons.

The far-right wants to impose total control over illegal migrants, and the far left, on account of humanitarian grounds, wants to open EU countries for migrants from countries worst hit by armed conflicts and wars.

Since 2015, when Europe faced the worst migrant crisis when one million people sneaked into Europe from Greece, crossing various countries and reaching Germany, their favourite destination because of its strong economy and better prospects for livelihood, the continent has been grappling with the issue of preventing the influx of illegal migrants and their resettlement in different EU member countries.

So far, far-right groups are not the majority in the European Parliament. However, it is feared that if the migrant crisis is not managed, the hold of liberal and left-wing parties in Europe’s highest constitutional body will dwindle. For those opposing the relocation programs of asylum seekers, as proposed by the European Parliament, it will make no difference if migrants are relocated because as long as they have the freedom to travel in 27 EU member countries, they can return to the place of their choice.

Second, far-right groups are in favour of a total ban on migrants, particularly those who enter EU countries to seek asylum. But, it will not be possible to prevent the influx of migrants from Italy and Greece, the two countries coping with the pressure of illegal migrants. The proposal that EU members should share the burden of migrants is counterproductive because countries like Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic tend to rule out their consent.

EU reached an agreement with Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia to control the flow of migrant from their countries to Europe, but despite offering financial incentives, that plan is not working. Germany, Spain, France and Italy, along with Greece, take a maximum number of migrants, which the EU consider unfair and wants other members to share the burden of settling migrants. Finally, there is a counterargument to reject the assertion from right-wing groups in EU countries that migrants pose a threat to European values and way of life and cause an economic burden.

Those who support migration to Europe argue that to strengthen the economy, the contribution of migrants cannot be undermined. The positive approach pursued by the then German Chancellor Angela Markel enabled her to deal effectively with the influx of one million migrants in 2015. She argued that since most migrants who happen to be from the Middle Eastern countries were young-bodied people with enormous energy, they would prove to be an asset for the German economy.

The ageing population of Germany and other European countries is a significant push factor to support the influx of migrants and strengthen the workforce.

Those concerned about the EU’s migrant legislation include Eve Geddie from Amnesty International, who described it as “a failure to show global leadership. For people escaping conflict, persecution, or economic insecurity, these reforms will mean less protection and a greater risk of facing human rights violations across Europe, including illegal and violent pushbacks, arbitrary detention, and discriminatory policing.”

Furthermore, in a joint statement, 22 charity groups, including the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, said the pact “leaves troubling cracks deep within Europe’s approach to asylum and migration, and fails to offer sustainable solutions for people seeking safety at Europe’s borders.” A major reason the EU parliament adopted migration rules is that, in June, elections for the European parliament are due, thus preempting the victory of right-wing groups in forthcoming polls.

From any standpoint, allegations of racism and xenophobia in Europe overlook the fact that millions of people who are historically, religiously, ethnically and culturally different are living side by side with locals. There may be incidents of harassment and racial attacks against Muslims living in Europe, but by and large, as compared to the Muslim world where people from the West are generally not tolerant, that is not the case with Europe. Islamophobia may be a factor in an anti-migrant drive, but still, European countries are flexible in granting permanent status and citizenship to migrants, unlike the majority of Muslim countries where migrants and foreigners wishing to get permanent status and citizenship do not have smooth sailing.

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