International Conference


Vienna, 24 June 2016

Angelino ALFANO, Wolfgang SOBOTKA, Wolfgang SCHÜSSEL

Angelino ALFANO, Wolfgang SOBOTKA, Wolfgang SCHÜSSEL

In their opening statements the Interior Ministers of Austria and Italy, Wolfgang Sobotka and Angelino Alfano, called the migration problem one of the most serious the EU is confronted with. Migration had a high impact on the outcome of the BREXIT referendum.

According to Minister Alfano, the recent flow of refugees to Europe – the largest since the end of World War II – endangers peace and stability on our continent. The cumulative effect of the economic and the refugee crisis has seriously weakened the EU. In order to overcome both crises, the EU must come forward with realistic initiatives. The EU should conclude agreements both with countries of origin of migration and transit countries based on the principle “more for more” (for the benefits these countries are receiving from the EU, they will prevent that their population leaves in great numbers for Europe). Minister Alfano described three different approaches to migrants arriving in Europe:

  • There are people who are welcoming every migrant entering Europe (this position is unaffordable and therefore irrational)
  • The other extreme is the rejection of all migrants including refugees (this is inhuman)
  • The right balance between rationality and humanity is to rescue migrants who risk to drown in the Mediterranean Sea and to resettle in Europe those migrants who are granted refugee status.

Minister Sobotka emphasized the need for a long-term strategy and a series of short-term measures. Europe’s relations with its Southern neighbors are to be reset around the goal of preventing mass-migration. Mr. Sobotka mentioned the intention of the EU- Commission to pull together and retarget around € 8 bn over the next four years from various existing EU funds. This should be reinforced over the long term by establishing a European External Investment Fund, which would try to raise about € 60 bn of mainly private money for projects that help tackle the root causes of migration. Among short term measures Minister Sobotka mentioned the closure of the “Balkan route” for migrants and the opening of the Joint Operational Office against Human Smuggling Networks in Vienna. Furthermore he referred to the proposal made by the Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, to send migrants back who illegally entered the EU, to establish registration centers for migrants outside Europe and to open legal channels for migration to Europe. Incentives for illegal migration to Europe (“pull factors”) must be eliminated.

1. The root-causes of migration

There are four main root-causes (Papademetriou). People are fleeing

  • from scarcity, poverty and climate change
  • from persecution
  • from war and other forms of violence (80 – 90% of migrants worldwide, but produced by only 6 – 7 countries)
  • to improve their living conditions (opportunity migrants)

In a normal year, about two million migrants are entering the EU. In 2015 more than three million came, including at least one million “irregular migrants and refugees”. This additional number created enormous difficulties. There was a widespread perception among Europeans that their governments had lost control over borders and inflows. In a way one could argue: Europe became a victim of its attractiveness.

The migratory pressures from the Middle East and Africa were foreseeable for quite some time, but the EU was unwilling to take preventive measures. Who is talking today about Algeria, an unstable country which might fail in the near future? The EU has no migration strategy. It would be the task of the EU-Common Foreign and Security Policy to deal with the root causes of migration according to the principle “prevent and be prepared”.

2. Efficient control of external borders, security requirements, limitations for migration

Most participants of the conference emphasized the need to control external borders. An efficient migration management requires border control and the possibility to deport “irregulars”. The refugee flow can only be stopped at the beginning, but not at a later stage. Now Egyptians are beginning to migrate in growing numbers to Europe (Papademetriou). One participant added that the control of migrants must take place outside EU territory: “once they are in, we will not get rid of them”. Enclaves must be established in Africa to select migrants eligible for a transfer to Europe.

90 % of refugee/migratory travels are organized. Smuggling refugees to Europe is a very profitable business: in 2015 smugglers earned € 6.3 bn (Körner). Europol has more than 40.000 smugglers in its files. Often the smuggling of people goes hand in hand with other types of criminality. For migrants it is dangerous to accept the services of smugglers: in 2015, about 10.000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Europol is good in collecting data related to migrant smuggling crimes but we need to do more to stop the financial flows related to these crimes.

The most efficient way to stop the smuggling of migrants is to send “irregulars” back to their countries of departure. Smuggling to Spain has ceased since the Spanish Navy brings rescued migrants back to Africa. The Italian Navy and FRONTEX bring them to Italy, thus offering a sort of “maritime taxi service” to Europe.

Since the EU-Turkey migration deal entered into force, very few migrants use the Eastern Mediterranean route. The main problem is now the Central Mediterranean route to Italy. Since the Balkan route is closed, a parallel route is emerging: migrants travel on land from Turkey to Bulgaria and further to Hungary. FRONTEX praises the successful cooperation with Greece on the border along the Evros River. To regain control of the “blue border” at sea, one has to cooperate with neighbors. FRONTEX is training the Libyan Coast Guard. For the time being FRONTEX is not entitled to return rescued migrants to North Africa. The European Parliament, Council and Commission have reached an agreement, endorsed by the Council on 22 June 2016, on the Commission’s proposal on a European Border and Coast Guard Agency (new name for a reinforced FRONTEX). The new regulation will be submitted to the EP for a vote and to the Council for adoption. The Agency will strengthen the control of the EU’s external borders and will help to manage migration more effectively. It will i.a. coordinate all return related tasks and provide EU-countries with technical and operational reinforcement to return illegally staying third country nationals.

The coast line of Greece has a length of 16.000 kilometers. Such an extended border cannot be effectively patrolled. 500 FRONTEX-officers are operating in Greece.

There must be more joint European action for securing borders against the illegal migration because it also brings terrorists into Europe. More than 900,000 people have passed through the Republic of Serbia since the beginning of the migrant crisis. Last year Serbian police laid criminal charges against 1,127 smugglers.

Some people are of the opinion that migrants have a humanitarian right to move into the most attractive countries. This view violates the “property rights” of nations.

There are thresholds (upper limits) for the number of migrants a country can reasonably receive. The receiving capacity varies from country to country; it depends inter alia on public sentiment and tolerance. Last year, Sweden has accepted 190.000 refugees – this was definitely too much.

One participant put the migration problem in a broader context. Referring to books by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“Out of Control”, “Awakening”) he explained that after the end of the East-West divide, no country has the ability to control major international developments. The world moved from an extremely regulated system during the Cold War period to uncontrollable developments. Only great powers nurture the illusion that they can still take sovereign decisions. In some parts of the world we witness the rise of popular masses that used to be silent. Under the guise of humanitarian intervention, political regimes were changed from the outside. This resulted in a political destabilization of countries. “The tragedy between Russia and Ukraine might only be the beginning of more tragedies in the post- Soviet space”. We can see the redrawing of political maps in the Middle East (the territorial provisions of the Sikes-Picot agreement are no longer valid) and in parts of the former Soviet Union (Central Asia).

3. Humanitarian relief for refugees

Jordan hosts the largest number of refugees per capita of its population (2,8 m). Social services and the education system are overburdened. Jordan’s financial requirements over the last three years amounted to US $ 8 bn.

In Turkey only 9 % of 2,5 m Syrian refugees live in camps. Turkey has no integration policy. Due to a lack of financial resources and teachers, 500.000 children of refugees are without education. 54% of Syrian refugees arriving in Turkey are younger than 18 years. 45.000 children per year are born to refugee parents. To provide all of the minors with education, Turkey would need 50.000 additional teachers and US$ 500 m on foreign aid. It is good to shelter refugees close to their countries of origin. But countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey must be financially supported by the international community (Erdogan). Another very important reason for the financial support of these countries: If we do not invest in the schooling of refugees etc. we destroy the future of Syria.

Around the refugee camps there exists a second risk for refugees: to become victim of the organized crime through labour and sexual exploitation. The criminal networks move very fast, there always is a strong presence of gangs around accommodation facilities in order to bring them further to exploit them.

4,5 m Ukrainians live abroad as labor migrants mainly in Southern Europe and Russia. The status of 2,5 m Ukrainian women providing care services in EU countries should be legalized. As a result of the war in Eastern Ukraine, 1,5 m people live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in other parts of the country. Most of them stay with family members or friends. The privately organized support begins to dwindle. Caritas Ukraine and other humanitarian relief organizations need financial support from abroad (US $ 280 m), otherwise, many IDPs might move onwards to EU countries. Caritas Ukraine demands

  • unhindered access to non-governmental controlled areas
  • a program of social integration of IDPs and
  • measures to strengthen the civil society in Ukraine

4. Social, economic and cultural integration of refugees

The most efficient tools for integration are the learning of the language of the host country and participation in labor activities as soon as possible. In Germany, refugees are requested to participate in “integration courses” (2016: 560.000 participants, 600 hours/course). Those who take part in the courses can freely choose their residence after three years (otherwise only after five years). Young refugees in vocational training have a secured residence permit (for the time of the training plus six months). The number of registered migrants (“easy registration”) who arrived last year in Germany reached 1,1 m (205.000 during the first five months of 2016), but out of this number only 480.000 requested asylum in 2015 (310.000 between January and May 2016). The rest of the registered migrants either moved on to other countries or provisionally stays with family members/friends in Germany. There are 100 mobile teams all over Germany for the registration of migrants and the initiation of asylum procedures.

An optimistic forecast indicates that 50% of the newly arrived refugees can be integrated in the Austrian labor market within a period of five years. In the Middle East and Turkey, without intense integration efforts we risk to get a permanent refugee population dependent on international assistance, just the way the international community has been dealing with the Palestinian refugees after 1947/67 .
The Austrian Labor Market Service checked the level of education and the professional qualification of recently arrived refugees: it turned out that Iranians have by far the best job qualifications, followed with distance by Syrians. Afghans have – according to this competence check – by far the lowest qualification.

An early integration of refugees with a posttraumatic syndrom into the European labor market is impossible. It requires intense medical treatment.

Sinn is of the opinion that the principle of “social inclusion” in tax-financed social benefits which is dear to many European countries can no longer be applied to EU migrants without endangering the stability of social security systems. This, of course, cannot apply to refugees from non-EU countries. In Germany, the “guaranteed minimum salary” makes the integration of migrants into the German labor market rather difficult because the big problem for integration is illiteracy: The TIM Study Syria shows that 55 % of people with secondary education are illiterate. So are 46 % in the Turkish refugee camps.

Migrants who attend integration courses only after being granted refugee status are much less integrated after ten years than those who join such courses soon after their arrival. Investing in refugees is profitable, both for refugees who stay and for those who return to their countries of origin. It is even better to build human capacities in developing countries and to invite at a later stage some of these people to Europe. It is detrimental for the social systems of European countries if they receive people who are not needed at their labor market. By the way, the development of a middle class in poorer countries is the best antidote against emigration.

The idea that Europe needs more migrants for its labor force is outdated. The digitalization decouples productivity from the number of workers. Fewer people will be needed in the production and in parts of the service sector, while other areas – especially care services – are expanding. Migration will be a dominant issue in the coming years. What happened in 2015 will be felt in the next ten to fifteen years at the European labor market and in the financing of social services. But we often forget that the largest number of refugees is in Africa and yet to come. Many children are sent as unaccompanied refugees knowing that the UN Convention on the Protection of Children gives juvenile migrants the right to stay in Europe.

Concluding remarks by the Chairman of the conference

  • 2015 was an exceptional year, Europe is unable to receive a similar number of refugees every year
  • More tools and financial support are needed for the countries where migration originates
  • We also need a better assessment of risks and possible causes of migration. A risk profile with “early warning charts” should be developed
  • The Geneva Convention which was conceived in the 1950s for European refugees fleeing from Communist repression and not for mass-migration from other continents to Europe should be revised
  • There is an utmost need for efficient border controls
  • Reduce the “pull factors” for migration: Rethink the social benefit issue not only for refugees but also for EU citizens.
  • Spread the information in the countries of origin that only refugees according to the Geneva Convention can stay in Europe.
  • Investigate the new communication channels (social media) and use them actively to prevent opportunity migrants from coming just to be rejected. There has to be an information campaign to counter (attractive) rumors spread in the social media.


  • The root causes of mass-migration: military conflicts, massive violation of human rights, socio-economic instability
  • Efficient control of external borders, security requirements, limitations for migration
  • Humanitarian relief for refugees
  • Social, economic and cultural integration of refugees

Statements and Papers