A new study released by the National Institute of Democratic Studies (known by its French acronym, INED) on Wednesday reveals that the principle reason many African migrants in Europe are reluctant to return to their home countries is the existing immigration framework, i.e, the difficulties in obtaining legal status or asylum. Drawing from a series of interviews conducted with Congolese and Senegalese migrants, INED researchers concluded that “the harder it is to migrate to Europe, the greater the reluctance to return home.”
The report comes on the heels of the most murderous year in European migration since 2000: in 2014 alone, some 2,500 migrants were killed during maritime passages to Europe (exact statistics are impossible to gather). When refugees do make it into the E.U., many face bureaucratic obstacles to legal integration into their host countries. Southern countries like Malta and Italy are reeling from the continuing arrival of tens of thousands of migrants on their shores – over 130,000 were rescued at sea over the past year, most from war-torn Libya – and are calling on other E.U. states for assistance, many of which have adopted a ‘not my problem’ approach.
There is a growing pushback however, and not only from human rights groups. On September 30, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the E.U. commissioner-designate for migration and home affairs, appeared before the European Parliament to insist that while effective policing of Europe’s external borders is necessary, the pressure to create a so-called “Fortress Europe” is dangerous. Instead, a better and more effective legal immigration framework is needed to combat the influx of illegal migrants. Avramopoulos’ statements echoed an open letter penned by a U.N. independent expert and submitted to the E.U. Committee on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. According to Special Rapporteur François Crépeau, “If Europe is to witness a significant reduction of human suffering at borders, it must bank not on strict closure, but on regulated openness and mobility.”
Yet such entreaties look to fall on deaf ears across Europe, which has seen the rise of far-right parties, many of which have further politicized the issue of illegal migration. Parties like the Front National in France and the Netherlands’ Freedom Party in particular have succeeded in confounding xenophobic platforms with general frustration with Europe’s continuing economic woes. For now, with little public will – and even less support from E.U. leaders – Fortress Europe is unlikely to come down any time soon.