Calais migrants are not invading: they're just a small part of a global refugee crisis

by Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

[This article was originally published on The Conversation]

Much of the media coverage and political rhetoric of recent weeks has implied that the UK is undergoing an uncontrollable invasion by migrants attempting to jump on moving lorries in Calais.

To put this “crisis” in some perspective, it is useful to consider where most of residents of the “new jungle” at Calais come from and how they reached continental Europe. Many of the inhabitants of the new migrant camp in Calais are survivors of those dangerous Mediterranean boat journeys that until a few weeks ago seemed so distant from Dover.

They come mostly from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq devastated by years of civil war, repressive and dictatorial regimes, with no future to offer for their youth. This growing mobility across the Med is not surprising given we are witnessing the most severe refugee crisis since World War II, according to Amnesty International. But these incidents also indicate the scarcity of regular and safer migration routes in the region.

Increased military and humanitarian presence at sea since April this year has meant that the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean has been significantly reduced, perhaps evidence that many of those deaths were avoidable if EU political will had been quicker to coalesce. A side effect of this otherwise positive result has been the reduction of public solidarity in the UK, and to different extent across Europe, for boat migrants. There has been a robust return of the “migrant invasion” rhetoric with its corollary of “swamp”, “swarm” and “tidal wave”.

Compare the 500 daily attempts to jump on the back of lorries to the 137,000 migrants who reached Italy and Greece in the first half of 2015, and the numbers are far from huge. It is worth considering that they are often multiple attempts by the same people. While certainly enough to disrupt the Eurotunnel operation – combined with current disruption caused by prolonged strikes by ferry workers in France – these incidents and the surrounding rhetoric of invasion bolstered by journalists’ easy access to Calais should not let us lose sense of the broader picture. Calais is not a local issue. It is one manifestation of the global refugee crisis, but not one of the acutest.

Behind the numbers

Circular and seasonal migrations in the region have a very long history, arguably as old as Western civilisation. However, much of the coverage in recent months has been about the irregular crossings of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach the EU.

Rescued migrants arriving in Palermo, Sicily in July.
Mike Palazzotto/EPA

Traditional and social media have certainly played a central role in framing coverage of recent migration, but so have those who provided the figures that validate the invasion talk. One of the main sources is Frontex, the EU Border Agency. Leaving aside the consideration that Frontex resources in many ways depend upon the number of migrants that the agency is able to intercept and count, which may highlight a potential vested interest, there is a more structural point here. The organisation’s budget has rocketed from €6.3m (£4.4m) in 2005, to nearly €42m in 2007, topping €115m by 2015. Frontext figures, often repackaged by other agencies, count migrants that have been intercepted at sea or at land borders.

The more resources and capacities to intercept Frontex has, the more migrants may be intercepted and counted by Frontex. In turn, if there are fewer Frontex officers patrolling a land crossing that means fewer migrants are likely to be intercepted. In other words, while hard to prove unequivocally, it may be at least useful to think that the “invasion” we are told about may be as much the result of the global refugee crisis as of the number of border officers we send to patrol specific stretches of the EU border.

Not ‘typical’ undocumented migrants

The migrants living in the new jungle in Calais are one of the most visible parts of the global refugee crisis. Yet of 625,000 asylum applications in the EU in 2014, 65,000 were lodged in France and 32,000 in the UK. While it can be argued that a country such as Italy is a port of entry and a place of transit, this is less so for France and most people who apply there are likely to wait for the decision of their case in France. It may be obvious for any readers outside the UK, but not all migrants and refugees in France want to come to the UK: taking the views of the minority of migrants who reside in the new jungle as representative of the views and intentions of all asylum seekers and migrants in France is misleading and only stirs public hysteria.

To reassure the British public, new jungle residents contribute only in small part to the undocumented migrants in the UK. My own research shows that only a minority of undocumented migrants in the UK entered the country illegally – for example on the back of a lorry. Most undocumented migrants enter the country legally and overstay their visa. Despite the high profile accorded to Calais migrants, the “typical” undocumented migrant in the UK is more likely to be a white Australian, or a young Brazilian.

The Conversation

Nando Sigona is Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at University of Birmingham.

Read the original article.

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Refugia: the limits and possibilities of Buzi’s Refugee Nation

Professor Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

Professor Robin Cohen, University of Oxford

This is a guest blog by Robin Cohen, emeritus professor of development studies and former director of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford.

Jason Buzi, an Israeli-born entrepreneur living in the USA, has proposed that a ‘Refugee Nation’ should be created to solve the world’s refugee problem. Let us call this country ‘Refugia’. His solution has generated a mixed response, but his moral outrage, his diagnosis of the scale of the problem and his attempt to energize and galvanize a response adequate to the crisis have gathered at least some support. (Buzi’s proposals are set out here).

My esteemed colleague, Professor Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre, has responded in an informed and considered way (a précis of his interview with Radio 4 is provided in the news and media section of the Refugee Studies Centre). This blog furthers the dialogue.  Betts does not dispute the need for creative and innovative ideas to provide succour to the 60 million refugees (the highest number since the Second World War) but remains ‘unconvinced by the proposed solution’. His objections to Buzi’s proposal are three-fold:

Negative historical precedent
What happens to the long-standing population when a new nation is created? Betts evokes the negative historical experiences of Israel and Liberia. He is right in both his examples, while Buzi undermines his own case by praising Israel and describing it as ‘essentially founded as a refugee nation’, thus suggesting an analogy with his proposal. This account completely elides the colonizing and settler origins of Israeli society before the Second World War and the fate of the Palestinians. Liberia was equally deleterious for the local population as the Americo-Liberians, sent there by the American Colonization Society, dominated and oppressed the locals (though, to be fair, this is not an example that Buzi used).

If we have to use historical precedent, a better case would be the mixed experience of the Mandates established by the League of Nations in response to the unsettled conditions following the First World War, arguably a comparable situation to our current crisis. The mandated territories were Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, Mesopotamia, British Togoland, French Togoland, British Cameroons, French Cameroun, Ruanda-Urundi, Tanganyika, South West Africa, South Pacific Mandate, Territory of New Guinea, Nauru and Western Samoa. This is hardly a list of great success stories, though some perfectly viable countries did emerge from the Mandate experience. Rather than assess the final outcomes, I draw some important principles and lessons. There has to be a legitimating body – the League of Nations, now the United Nations. The initial authority should not be an established nation – the mandated territories looked far too much like another form of colonization by the winners of the 1914–18 war. More positively, the idea of ‘trust’ was borne – a double mandate to the international community and to the people of the territory who were, on an agreed timetable, destined to inherit the state.

Dangerous diversity
Betts is also worried that yoking together populations of diverse origins in a new refugee nation could potentially create conditions of conflict because of cultural and perhaps religious difference (he does not specify), leading to further displacement and the creation of another wave of refugees. This clearly is a possibility, but it is doubtful that this is intrinsically more probable than conflict with settled populations in neighbouring countries or xenophobia and violence in more distant countries. There are many examples of successful plural societies (including Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, the USA and Australia). Moreover, Buzi may be right in assuming that self-selection (his scheme is entirely voluntary) will mean that most ‘Refugians’ will be keen to start new and peaceful lives in a new setting.

Although Betts concedes that ‘states are showing declining willingness to provide territory to refugees’ this seems to me wholly to understate the issue. In Lebanon, the very existence of the state is being challenged. Jordan has shown amazing hospitality to the waves of newcomers but there are clear political limits to its generosity. In Western Europe, the numbers of refugees and migrants are still relatively small, but the growth of right-wing populist parties has now become so ubiquitous and so strident that it is only a small exaggeration to conjure up the spectre of fascism. However much we disapprove of angry manifestations of xenophobia, as the South African authorities found to their cost, ignoring nativism can result in very large losses of life.

More obvious solutions
Betts, finally, is right in saying that increasing support to the Jordans of this world is a more obvious way of giving support to refugees from contiguous states (the overwhelming majority of refugees). It is worth bearing in mind, however, that not all states can administer immense grants successfully or provide effective, continuous security. Need I mention the depredations of ISIL? Again, as Buzi points out (and Betts ignores), there is a strong reluctance of neighbouring states to grant full citizenship to refugees though, in some cases, as Tanzania shows, a grudging and gradual de facto citizenship might emerge. One of the attractive aspects of Buzi’s proposal is that he starts from the principle of full, active citizenship being granted from Day One.

Commonalities and ways forward
Both Buzi and Betts emphasize migrant agency. Betts has elsewhere written acutely on how Syrian refugees have reshaped their camps into communities in defiance of the sterile lines of tents put up in military fashion by the international agencies. As he says, ‘people have skills, talents, aspirations’, but this is not significantly different from Buzi noting that doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics are being penned up in camps ‘without using their abilities’. Why not, Buzi asks, let them use their talent to build a new nation?

Buzi is not always right but he is creatively provocative. It is true that the NGOs and international agencies have been placed in impossible positions, but they have also been slaves to old ideas and modes of coping. The scale of the refugee crisis and the growing resistance of host populations (wearied by war, insecurity or austerity) to new appeals to their generosity have produced a new dynamic. It is obviously an exaggeration to say that creating a refugee nation is THE solution. But we need also to recognize the limits to stretching the goodwill of neighbouring and distant states. Those efforts should nonetheless continue, as must attempts to create political stability in regions like the Middle East and the Great Lakes.

Alongside such traditional solutions, I think we need to give Refugia a try – as a model, a ‘new Jerusalem’, an alternative that might spawn imitations and improvements. By this, I do NOT mean a sordid camp, but a country that offers citizenship, security, employment and a future for young people. Of course, there are legitimate questions of finding a location that does not adversely affect a local population, of leadership and full democracy, of whether full religious freedoms can be offered when overzealous beliefs have triggered such murderous consequences. I have a starting point on these issues that departs from Buzi’s agenda. He is too beguiled by money and benign billionaires. I think a temporary UN Trust, a High Commissioner of the stature of Mary Robinson, protection by the Blue Berets until a standing army can be raised and a timetable for full control by Refugians show a better way forward. I think he is right to call on us to act to ameliorate the major moral mutilation of our times.

Citation: Cohen, R. (2015) ‘Refugia: the limits and possibilities of Buzi’s Refugee Nation’, Postcards from, 30 July 2015:


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EU Migration Agenda as a cloud

EU migration agenda as a cloud, Nando Sigona, 2015

EU migration agenda as a cloud, Nando Sigona, 2015

Not sure what to make of this, interesting to see the prominence of ‘member states’, as they are certainly crucial in determining the success or failure of the strategy. Given the responses in the last few weeks (including France’s pushback at Ventimiglia), the latter seems a much more likely outcome. Assuming that the ‘kingdom’ in the cloud stands for the UK, it confirms that the UK is a major player on this agenda, despite having the right to opt-out from some components of it.

Interesting also to see the difference between ‘migration’ and ‘migrants’, a sign perhaps that EU legislators are much more comfortable with the process than with human beings. Not surprisingly, ‘smugglers’, ‘criminal network’and ‘smuggling’ also make the top 150 words, but not ‘traffickers’, term often used by the Italian PM to justify is interventionist agenda. Finally, the EU solutions are also there: ‘return’ (larger), ‘resettlement’, ‘relocation’, ‘distribution’ but also ‘border’ and ‘borders’.

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Cracking down on illegal migration doesn’t change net migration

Watch my interview on, below a summary of what I said

Photo opportunism for Theresa May and David Cameron who joined enforcement officers on an immigration raid on the day ONS data are released.

Photo opportunism for Theresa May and David Cameron who joined enforcement officers on an immigration raid on the day ONS data are released.

Today’s announcement of a crackdown on illegal migration to coincide with ONS latest figure on net migration is misleading. Clearly, undocumented migration has nothing, or only marginally, to do with net migration as the latter are a measure of legal migration only.

So the announced measures were just an attempt (mostly successful only with Tory media) to divert attention away from what is a remarkable failure of Cameron’s previous government to deliver on its own immigration pledge (for a critique of the immigration pledge see here).

We have also witnessed a poor attempt by Cameron to shift the blame for the failure on Lib Dem. This is totally misleading as the Home Office, and the Immigration portfolio in particular, have been firmly in Tory’s hands throughout the previous government.

Illegal migration in the UK is a much smaller phenomenon that the government would like people to believe. Due to its geographic position and extensive border control, the UK is nothing like the EU southern border, but smuggling and irregular migration in the Med have had extensive coverage in the last few weeks, so this was a classic attempt to bridge the announcement to the Mediterranean crisis story.

It is also remarkable in today’s speech that the government continues to use ‘net migration’ and the pledge to reduce it to ‘tens of thousands’ as a benchmark of its immigration policy despite experts have highlighted several reasons why it is a wrong criterion for immigration policy, not least because the government has no control over emigration. But, perhaps more importantly, high level of immigration in a country with such a low unemployment rate is clearly a sign of an healthy economy that demands more foreign workforce to run.

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The dead sea: collection of tweets, articles, maps and figures on the migration crisis in the Mediterranean

storify euco


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Disgraceful, embarrassing, useless

Fabrice Leggeri, director of Frontex

Fabrice Leggeri, director of Frontex

“Triton cannot be a search-and-rescue operation. I mean, in our operational plan, we cannot have provisions for proactive search-and-rescue action. This is not in Frontex’s mandate, and this is in my understanding not in the mandate of the European Union,” Leggeri told the Guardian.

If the EU plan leaked by the Guardian is confirmed at today’s meeting, it is a very sad day for Europe. The plan shows an astounding lack of political leadership and vision. It is not only impractical but also inhumane. It will undermine EU’s international standing and do little to address boat migration. Out of about 21,000 arrivals this year via the central Med route, roughly half of them are from Syria and Eritrea: where is the EU planning to ‘rapidly’ send them back to (about 10,000 people)? Where is the magical number of 5,000 resettlement places come from? Germany alone in the last four years took 30,000 Syrians (the UK only 143, just for the record).

If they are serious about saving lives at sea (and I honestly have serious doubt about this) they have to do three things: a) immediately restart Mare Nostrum under a EU-wide mandate or fund the Italian Navy to do what they did so well last year; b) substantially increase the number of resettled refugees from Syria (up to 150-200,000 a year) – this will reduce the need for people to use smugglers and risk their lives (ie empty the demand); c) create new pathways for low-skilled economic migration into Europe. The next step is of course to stabilize Libya and reach a long-term settlement in the Middle East. If you ask me why the EU plan includes ensuring that every and each migrant is fingerprinted in its 10-point action plan for ‘saving lives’, well, because the 10-point plan has very little to do with saving lives and much more with political posturing and militarizing the Mediterranean.

A footnote: International leaders have put together some kind of charming offensive.

The Italian PM Matteo Renzi spoke to the New York Times but, as pointed out by Alexander Betts (RSC, Oxford), he is ‘still badly missing the point – this is not about “trafficking”; it’s an asylum crisis!’. His spin doctor has also recommended him to repeat incessantly two phrases: a) ‘we need a political response, not an emotional one’ – that is to say no Mare Nostrum this time around; b) ‘migrants are everyone’s problem’, that is to say we are not going to pay for this alone.

Meanwhile, the UK PM David Cameron and his Deputy Nick Clegg spoke to The Guardian and the BBC saying that they regret to have criticised Mare Nostrum, accusing the operation to cause more people to die at sea, however, this move seems to have more to do with the forthcoming UK general election than the EU action plan, where it is clear that the UK and the others have no intention to launch a EU search and rescue operation. Better some ‘surgical’ strikes in Libyan ports.

'A rescue operation may not always be the best solution' - anonymus

‘A rescue operation may not always be the best solution’ – anonymous

[will write a longer and more reflexive piece later today]

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EU weighs up the political and economic cost of saving lives at sea

By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

How much is a human life worth? How many more people have to die to generate enough momentum for Europe to intervene? Unfortunately these are not rhetorical questions. More than 1,500 people have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean on their way from North Africa since the start of 2015.

Many Europeans are wondering how much longer Europe can ignore the tragedy unfolding on its doorstep while politicians and policy makers weigh up the political and economic cost of saving lives at sea.

Italy has argued that its search and rescue Mare Nostrum operation, which saved 150,000 asylum seekers and migrants in 12 months at an estimated cost of €9m a month was economically unsustainable to run.

Mare Nostrum was duly replaced by the Frontex-led Triton operation. This scaled-back programme, which had originally been conceived to support Mare Nostrum and ended up replacing it, only stretched to 30 miles off European coastlines at a cost of roughly one third of the programme it replaced. EU officials argued Triton would deliver better value for money – but, tragically, you get what you pay for. Triton is certainly smaller in scale and has a narrower mandate – to police and monitor European sea borders rather than carry out rescue operations including in international waters. But with so many dead already this year, is the political sustainability of Triton now to be called into question?

The latest tragedy may trigger enough of an EU-wide sense of indignation to create the political support needed for a new search and rescue operation similar to Mare Nostrum. Such an operation should see a substantial involvement of the EU and of EU member states – not just Italy, Latvia, Malta, Iceland and a few others.

Where is the EU’s response?

The EU has substantial resources, but member states have so far failed to agree a common strategy to respond to Mediterranean irregular crossings that are turning the sea into a mass graveyard. The response from Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi – to call for an emergency meeting of the European Council – is a start but it remains to be seen if this time he can mobilise the support of the big EU players.

In particular he must overcome the past striking silence of France, the timid support of Germany and open opposition of the UK. Several previous attempts have failed. However, this time the Italian PM can count on the support of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief and former Italian foreign minister in Renzi’s cabinet. The death toll of drownings this year now stands at 30 times higher than at the same point in 2014 when Mare Nostrum was still active, so a new enhanced version would certainly help to save lives.

Federica Mogherini
Valda Kalnina/EPA

Some, like UK prime minister David Cameron, have argued that search and rescue operations are a “pull factor” for people to attempt to make crossings, ultimately also causing more migrants to die. However both the current level of migrant arrivals and the death toll among those who never make it prove he was wrong and that migration flows have multiple causes.

However, it is also clear also that rescue operations alone won’t offer a long-term solution to irregular crossings in the Mediterranean, as they do nothing to address the root causes of migration in the region, and a comprehensive EU strategy is needed.

Long-term strategy

As Mogherini recently reaffirmed, stabilisation of the long corridor that goes from Libya to Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq should be the priority for such a strategy. But the situation in the Horn of Africa, a decade-long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and violent insurgencies in Nigeria and Mali also contribute to large movements of population that increase the flows across the Mediterranean.

To start with, the EU should focus on Libya where the end of Gaddafi’s regime left a power void. Sarkozy’s France and Cameron’s UK were as keen in leading the international military campaign to oust Gaddafi as they are now reluctant to deal with the consequences of their bombs. The ongoing civil war has torn apart communities and devastated the economy, leaving ample opportunities for human smugglers. This is unlikely to get better any time soon and boats will continue to depart from Libya for the foreseeable future.

From a EU perspective, it may prove more effective in the short term to look to Libya’s relatively more stable neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt, to help in patrolling the North African coast and intercepting boats – and perhaps the proposed EU-run migrant and asylum processing centres could be established in those countries.

These could then be used for screening of intercepted boat migrants, allowing those with a valid asylum case (which was more than 80% of those rescued during Mare Nostrum) to be resettled in an EU country.

Job opportunities

The processing centres could also operate as job centres where recruitment opportunities both in Europe and in EU-funded initiatives in the region for migrants would be available. Such a solution would facilitate regular mobility for some – but it is hard to imagine that this would offer a solution for many as it assumes a static understanding of the job market and the willingness of employers to subject themselves to more scrutiny – which would inevitably reduce opportunities for exploiting cheap undocumented labour.

Whatever solutions are implemented, some people are still likely to try their luck with smugglers – so a second line of interception closer to the EU shore would be needed. This should resemble Mare Nostrum but under a concerted EU leadership. Once boats are detected in EU waters or in international waters in case of need, they should be taken to shore but rather than ending up in Italian reception centres, migrants should be taken to EU-led centres in the closer EU member states with national and international personnel.

These centres would operate as a tertiary filter for migrants. This would mean saving lives but would offer no guarantee of a right to stay. But rather than envisaging mass repatriation schemes, not least because they are extremely costly and hard to implement, it may prove more economically beneficial to Europe to establish a system of temporary residence permits with right to look for work and, for sake of minimising internal political opposition, limited access or no to welfare provision.

While not free from risks of exploitation, such a system would give people a chance to demonstrate their entrepreneurship and willingness to work and contribute to Europe’s ageing societies.

The Conversation

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