From top: Turkish soldiers patrolling in Hatay province along Turkey’s border wall with Syria in Feburary; and Edel McGinley, director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland
The development of EU border security is not only costing lives, it’s also serving to deepen the demographic dilemma facing Europe.
Edel McGinley writes:
Last Saturday, at the start of World Refugee Week, Turkey’s border guards shot dead 8 Syrian refugees – four women, one man, and three children – fleeing a war-torn country. This is truly appalling, but it received very little media attention. Is this our new normal?
There is no good reason to deny people seeking protection access to a country, though people with vested political and economic interests will try to say otherwise.
Let’s take a step back and look at what is often missing from the debate surrounding such terrible tragedies.
Border security creates violence, dehumanises and increasingly facilitates the indiscriminate killing of innocent people. This is not just on the Turkey-Syria border, but at borders across the world and at our EU borders, in our name and paid for with public funds.
The EU Turkey deal – an external border agreement to readmit refugees and migrants from Greece to Turkey – reinforces the EU policy approach of externalising our borders. This was the case with Libya, whose agreement with the EU blocked the movement of people from Africa to the EU until the fall of Gadhafi.
A lucrative industry has grown up around border security. The excellent Migrants’ Files follows funds that flow through public and private hands to expose corporate interests and arms dealers at the heart of EU border security and policy development.
But the shoring up of EU borders is not a new phenomenon and has been in progress for a long time. Between 2007 and 2013, EU funds favoured border investment over investment in people seeking protection. In Spain, the EU gave 30 times more to border controls than it spent on refugee supports. In the same period, Greece was allocated 10 times its refugee budget to ‘control’ its borders.
So no veiled approach there – clearly, EU policy favours exclusion and coercion over rights integration and inclusion. This is not surprising, given the EU’s response to people seeking protection at our borders. However, the crisis facing the EU’s migration system is not limited to its borders and the large-scale movement of people.
Missing from political debate are the facts that the EU needs labour; there are limited channels to allow that labour to come; and our policies deny rights and protections to those who do come.
Europe faces demographic challenges: there is a declining population of working age and the number of dependent older people is increasing. The fact is that the EU’s workforce will decline by approximately 50 million by 2060.
In tandem, long-term care is the fastest-growing area in the health and social care sector within the OECD. The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to almost double over the next 50 years to reach approximately 152 million in 2060. People living with long-term illness and disability are also projected to increase.
In Ireland, someone turns 80 every 30 minutes.
The lack of joined-up thinking in response to the humanitarian crisis of our times is astonishing. Connecting the large-scale movement of people and the need for up to 50 million workers would seem like a no-brainer. A small child could join these dots better than the EU Commission and our political leaders.
As of May 30th 2016 (last available stats) out of the 4,000 people Ireland has agreed to accept under relocation and resettlement fewer than 300 people have been resettled and only one family of 10 relocated from Greece.
I am not saying that everyone who comes to Ireland will have the qualities, skills and desire to provide care services, but that we are in a pivotal moment: a moment where we have to pay attention to demographic change and how to address it.
Unemployment is falling and our economy is growing. We need more people to support our aging populations, through tax revenue and to bolster our social welfare system. As a society we have a duty to care for those who are vulnerable, including older people, children and people seeking refuge. Unfortunately we have never been great at forward planning, despite repeated warnings issued to the Government.
It seems like we want it every way. We need a strong social welfare system to provide a social safety net for our aging population but don’t want to open up channels for migration outside of the EU which will alleviate this. We want cheap flexible labour with limited rights so people find it so unbearable that they don’t put down roots, and we think this is how to extract the best labour from them.
The irony is we could have it all. We could have more secure pensions and a greater tax take; we could have stronger links with countries all over the world; we could have a care system that works for carers and those in need of care; and we could reach out to people fleeing war, conflict and destitution and give them a safe place to live and work. These possibilities are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they’re deeply intertwined.
If Ireland is to be attractive to people to come here, to live and work and raise families, we need a system that is responsive, that strengthens rights and protections for families and workers. Ireland and the EU must adapt to our new reality.
The inescapable fact is that we need more migration not less; that we can’t survive on our own and that we live in an inter-reliant world.
Edel McGinley is the director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) and Chair of PICUM, the Platform for International Co-operation on Undocumented Migrants.
Pic: Human Rights Watch/Anadolu Agency