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What does an ideal framework for migration governance entail? The international AdMiGov project, funded by the European Commission, analysed the most important fields of migration governance and the most pressing problems on the ground. A total of 54 researchers worked for over five years in 15 countries in and outside of Europe to analyse how governments deal with the entry and exit of migrants and with temporary migration. These findings were carefully evaluated in accordance with universal principles that prioritise the protection of migrants and refugees.

Big gaps in addressing the needs of migrants

‘We can only conclude that there are big gaps in addressing the needs of refugees and migrants in all the fields that we studied,’ states political scientist and project coordinator Anja van Heelsum. ‘Member States are obsessed with keeping unwanted immigrants from entering the EU. They have lost their awareness that human rights should be respected.’ Van Heelsum warns that if Member States stop respecting the fundamental rights of one group of people, there is a risk of a sliding scale where exemptions become the norm. ‘The potential consequences are alarming, as any group of people could be denied these fundamental rights in the future.’

We highlight two striking gaps that the project found in addressing the needs of refugees and migrants within the current migration governance system.

Investing in non-effective and inhumane exit policies

A first striking gap emerged following an analysis of exit policies. These policies refer to the set of regulations, procedures and practices established by governments to facilitate the voluntary or forced return of individuals to their home countries or another destination. ‘It is striking that the EU as a whole, and most Member States, continue to invest most of their resources in forced removal, while these increasing investments in resources and personnel are largely ineffective,’ states anthropologist and AdMiGov researcher Barak Kalir, who was involved in this part of the study. ‘We are talking about billions of euros of taxpayers’ money.’

The “voluntary return” schemes that are currently in place put returned migrants and refugees back to square one and immediately looking to migrate or flee again Barak Kalir

According to Kalir, this prompts one to consider the immense possibilities that could arise from reallocating the significant budgets currently allocated to border securitisation. ‘Rather than funnelling the next 10 billion euros towards more oppressive mobility measures, which are inhumane and do not work, they might contemplate the alternative areas that could benefit from those funds.’

Dehumanising refugees

Another striking gap concerns the increasing tendency to see refugees as exceptional in legal terms. ‘The rights to safe travel and hygienic conditions in shelters, that Europeans have, do not apply to them, ’ is how Van Heelsum explains this gap. ‘Increasingly harsh methods are being used to block illegal entry and the conditions in refugee camps are failing to meet the international protection standard. This comes after the terrible conditions that refugees encounter on their journey, including the risks of being robbed, shot at and tortured to extract ransom.’

They have managed to normalise harsh methods and deplorable conditions that flagrantly violate human rights Anja van Heelsum

Van Heelsum and Kalir regard politicians’ successful dehumanisation campaigns as concerning and the challenge of combatting the narrative of migrants as dangerous ‘others’ who threaten European security and prosperity as impossible. ‘They have managed to normalise harsh methods and deplorable conditions that flagrantly violate human rights.’

New EU migration deal

Kalir and Van Heelsum call the new migration deal that EU countries have just agreed upon, focusing on border control and detention centres in frontline states, ‘only a re-invention of the hotspot approach’. An approach they state AdMiGov has shown how bad that worked. ‘The way in which the deal came about shows that right-leaning leaders have taken the lead on migration policy in Europe. Like the duo Rutte/Melloni whose main argument is their electorate, and who are not interested in research outcomes.’

A tool to test migration policies

Van Heelsum and Kalir argue forcefully that ‘Europe should not be a continent where individuals are subjected to violence and harm for seeking refuge from war-torn regions. A fairer, non-violent world would undoubtedly benefit all European Union citizens.’ To help national governments adhere to UN standards, the AdMiGov project researchers developed a list of indicators to test migration policies and improve these. ‘So far, we have tested three countries – the Netherlands, Turkey, and Spain – that did very poorly,’ says Van Heelsum.

They hope that this list will evolve into a global ranking system, capable of prompting governments to engage in meaningful discussions about their migration policies. However, Kalir is very sceptical about this impact on policymaking. ‘EU-funded projects like AdMiGov have no, or extremely minor, influence on policymaking. This is mostly the case because the EU has no accountability mechanism for policies in the migration/deportation field.

Dr. A.J. (Anja) van Heelsum

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

Dr. B. (Barak) Kalir

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas