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Does Europe have a responsibility towards the migrants who seek to reach its doors ?

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The legacy of the colonial past of European countries has undoubtedly had a significant impact on the migratory movements we are currently experiencing. This legacy is nourished by the persistence of stereotypes and prejudices against the colonized populations.

Journalist Philippe Bernard writes that "while it is commonplace to note and even denounce the persistence of colonial stereotypes in the fate of immigrant populations, considering certain migratory flows as the consequences of colonisation is taboo".

Several of the EU member states have, for many years, been present in countries whose citizens now wish to reach the gates of Europe, often at the risk of their lives. The European Union, through its Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has set itself the duty to protect and ensure justice for all individuals. However, more and more countries are adopting austere border and migration policies. It is therefore legitimate to ask the question: Does Europe have a responsibility towards the migrants who seek to reach its doors?

Understanding immigration through the colonial legacy is a key point offering a new perspective on the migration policies that can be envisaged. In France, for example, almost 40% (Insee, 2018) of its immigrant population is made up of citizens from former French colonies, with a large representation of individuals from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Côte d'Ivoire seeking to reach its borders.

Sociologists Abdelmalek Sayad and Pierre Bourdieu, on the subject of the French case, were able to demonstrate how “the confiscation of land following colonisation and then, during the Algerian war, the French policy of forced and massive regrouping of villagers had contributed powerfully to the departures towards the metropolis, in a context of free movement” (Philippe Bernard, 2006).

The fewer the better

The border and migration policies of some Europeans geared towards mass screening of migrants and refugees marks a step backwards in the protection of the lives and rights of refugees and migrants. The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights writes "Along the central Mediterranean route, in particular, many of the measures taken recently appear to be aimed at institutionalising a practice of giving the Libyan coastguard a free hand to intercept people at sea, which has resulted in almost 20,000 returns to Libya, where people are exposed to serious human rights violations".

Immigration is not a threat to the integrity of a country but should be seen as an opportunity for development and it would therefore be interesting for states to move in this direction as there is a demographic decline and a lack of available labour on the European labour market, in particular.

Take the example of the 2006 agreement between the EU and Turkey. The EU promised Turkey 6 billion Euros to help regulate the flow of migrants to Europe by taking in refugees from Greece who are ineligible for asylum and increased border control. This agreement has led to precarious and inhumane conditions for refugees stranded on the Greek islands.

As a substantial financial contributor to development cooperation, the EU should continue its work to address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement. This should however not lead to development aid being used to strengthen the “Fortress Europe” (European Movement International, 2017).

The wider repercussions of this situation should not be underestimated. It is hard to see how Europe can ask partner countries to keep their doors open, to host large-scale refugee populations and prevent further movements while at the same time Member States refuse to shoulder their fair share of responsibility for protecting people who flee their homes (Joint NGO Statement ahead of the European Council of 28-29 June 2016).

Assuming European responsibility for managing migration flows would restore some of the balance of power at stake between the colonized countries and the European continent. It could also become a solid basis to fight the phenomenon of migrant smugglers and push fewer immigrants to choose the dangerous illegal migration routes.

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