No more migrants shall die on the Mediterranean, Ylva Johansson

With Ylva Johansson now assuming the post of European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, there's an opportunity to make an impression on one of the biggest societal issues of our time. One of her most important tasks will be to protect the rights of people in flight and to solve the impasse in the EU policy that contributes to people dying on the Mediterranean.

December 2 2019

Seeking asylum and having one’s need for protection tried is a basic right. It is oftentimes profoundly tragic events that force people to flee and seek shelter elsewhere. People migrate for a number of reasons. Regardless of the reasons, we want to remind everybody that migration as a phenomenon is something positive that enriches the world, both culturally and economically.

It’s only rarely mentioned in the migration debate that the movement of people contributes to development and welfare. Instead, words like “volumes”, “migration management” and efforts to “curb migration” dominate political discourse within the EU and outside. We, therefore, welcome that Johansson, in her speech at the European Parliamentary hearing, said that “migration shouldn’t be seen as a security threat, everybody has the right to live in freedom in a democracy where the rule of law applies”.

For the past few years, the migration policy of the EU and its member states has had a devastating impact on the people in the world who flee and those who are most vulnerable and oppressed. Outsourcing the responsibility of “migration management” to undemocratic countries such as Libya, Niger, Turkey and Sudan is irresponsible and legally uncertain and puts already vulnerable people’s lives in danger.

An ever-increasing amount of the EU’s aid budget is used to prevent migration instead of fighting poverty. To make the EU dependent on authoritarian leaders in order to ward off people who flee has already proved to be a risky strategy, both from an economic and humanitarian perspective. Ylva Johansson has to put a stop to this form of “migration management”.

The world will be seeing more, not less, migration. For example, there’s a growing middle-class in African countries who are strong enough in resources to make the journey to Europe. That is one of the conclusions in the new UNDP report ”Scaling fences”. To have a policy that aims at closing borders and isolating oneself isn’t a realistic option.

According to the report, the majority of people who migrate or flee are aware that there are risks involved but undertake the journey anyway. Thus, making it harder to get inside the EU doesn’t stop people from trying to get in. Instead, the number of lives at risk is increased. The focus must be on creating safe and legal ways for migrants to access Europe. That is, according to the UNDP report, the best way to avoid social and political instability.

Can Ylva Johansson lead the EU’s work in that direction? We believe that the initiative ”Coalition of the Willing” could be an alternative. There it’s suggested that EU countries that participate by receiving refugees and migrants can receive financial support, while those EU countries who refuse are denied certain EU support. The Social Democrats have hitherto discarded the suggestion, while the Swedish Green Party supports it. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is a step forward.

At the European Parliamentary hearing, Ylva Johansson said that her aim is to find common ground and compromises that can unlock the deadlock in the EU’s migration policy. That aim must be an absolute priority. The unimaginable figure of 18 000 people has died on the Mediterranean, i.e. seventy people a week. The knowledge that it is political decisions, often populistic rather than based on facts about what influences migration and safety, that have led to so many children and adults losing their lives, is hard to take.

During the European Parliamentary hearing, Johansson said: “We cannot tolerate that lives are endangered on the Mediterranean and that lives are being lost. I have a clear mission to replace ad hoc-solutions. Saving lives at sea is our moral responsibility.” With all due respect for your extremely difficult task, show that you mean business, Ylva Johansson! Legal and safe entryways for asylum seekers should be your number one priority. It is also the only sustainable alternative. Show a brave leadership, dare to stand up for an EU where people’s basic rights are protected, regardless of what way the political winds are blowing.

Martin Nihlgård, secretary-general of Individuell Människohjälp
Deidre Palacios, president of RFSL
Eliot Wieslander, secretary-general of Läkare i Världen
Henrik Lysén, manager at Act Svenska kyrkan
Erik Alberius, president of Caritas Sverige
Petra Tötterman Andorff, secretary-general of Kvinna till Kvinna
Louise Lindfors, secretary-general of Afrikagrupperna
Alexander Clemenson, secretary-general of KFUM Sverige
Anna Tibblin, secretary-general of We Effect
Gerardo Liziano, chief of staff at Praktisk Solidaritet
Carolina Ernrooth, executive manager at Svalorna Indien Bangladesh
Julia Andén, president of Svalorna Latinamerika
Mikael Sundström, president of Jordens Vänner
Klara Knapp, president of Latinamerikagrupperna
Khalil Zeidan, president of Nordisk hjälptartik

The opinion article was published in Göteborgs Posten December 2 2019