As a member of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) International Steering Committee organizing the Civil Society Days at the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), I have thoroughly enjoyed the last three days at the GFMD. Hosted by Istanbul, a city in the midst of the current migration crisis, and with Turkey now being the largest host country for refugees in the world. The days were rich in discussion and debate with several excellent speakers and the Syrian crisis weighing heavily. Although there are many thoughts to take away from these exciting days I would like to highlight three:
- Professor Ahmet Icduygu, Koc University, highlighted that we need to distinguish between asylum seeker and refugee flows and situations of mass influx. Several countries such as Turkey and Greece are now in times of mass influx where clearly the rules are unwritten. New approaches, guidelines and policies need to be developed to assist states in dealing with mass influx. How can states accommodate children in education as soon as possible? How can needs be met in mass influx? What is the role of civil society in times of mass influx and how do we coherently develop this?
- In the opening ceremony it was stated by a survivor crossing the Mediterranean “you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. This statement reiterates the need for EU governments to realign priorities towards protection. Migrants do not get on plastic boats because they are forced to do so at the peril of scrupulous smugglers. They get on the boats because within the unfathomable options they are currently facing- it is the best option. They know the risks. They choose to get on the boats in order to seek protection from the situations they are facing. The UN Depute Secretary General, his excellency Jan Eliasson stated that the first priority of international states at this time has to be to Save Lives. Increased border controls are the not the priority, but missions such as the former Mare Nostrum that seek to save migrants lives need to be reinstated.
- His excellency, Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commission on Refugees, said in his plenary speech in open space that “It does not make sense to ask Turkey to keep some doors open and close other borders”. Last week in discussions with Turkey, the European Commission was negotiating with Turkey to increase border patrols to stop boats coming to Europe. This is a key question of priorities and values. As the moral centre for Europe, Mr. Sonke Lorenz, Head of the Unit, Migration Issues, Government of Germany stated at the GFMD Civil Society Days closing ceremony that the greatest challenges currently facing Germany include providing protection to migrants en route to Germany and integration. These are core challenges that should be the focus for all of Europe.
The Government days are currently ongoing in Istanbul where critical discussions will be held on the situation in Turkey, protecting migrants in transit, and managing situations of mass influx.
For more information on the GFMD click here.