Policies that try to deter migration are not working and are set to fail, according to researchers who are calling for safe and legal ways to cross to the EU.

As things stand, there does not seem to be much political will to increase legal access to the EU, but people are still migrating and, sadly, dying, Maria Pisani, one of the researchers, told this newspaper. Dr Pisani, a sociology lecturer at the University of Malta, was speaking ahead of today’s launch of a policy discussion based on a study called Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat.

Written by researchers from the Warwick and Malta universities and the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, it is based on more than 250 interviews in Kos, Malta, Sicily, Athens, Berlin, Istanbul and Rome between 2015 and 2016.

For Dr Pisani, who took care of data collection in Malta and Istanbul, the findings challenge the economic-refugee binary that is used to grant protection.

Migration flows are much more fluid and fragmented than what we are used to, she explained: “We need to think again about why people are forced to move and what protection they need when they reach the other side. Some people just don’t fit the current legal categories.”

For too long, policy has been developed and migration debated without the voices of people on the move being heard

Dr Pisani recalled narratives that stood out from Syrian mi-grants in Istanbul  who could not be reunited with their relatives: “Different people from the same family flee their home – literally running to safety.

“On the way, however, they are separated, and the thought that there is no way of getting back together ever again is of massive distress. In some cases, they do not know whether their relatives are alive or dead.”

She noted that migrants often kept moving on from one country to another because of conflict, poverty or discrimination. They did not have a particular final destination in mind.

The report, which is being distributed to MEPs and the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), among others, lists policy recommendations that would alleviate the ongoing, so-called migration ‘crisis’ while highlighting the failure of EU policies based on testimonies.

As the crisis began to take hold in 2015, the EU announced its Agenda on Migration as an attempt to respond to a situation perceived as out of control.

“Yet these policies have not succeeded – and we argue that they are unlikely to do so,” the report’s principal investigator, Vicki Squire, from the University of Warwick, told this newspaper.

“By mapping and documenting complex and precarious migratory journeys and experiences, our research aims to provide an analysis of the impact of policies on those they affect most directly: people on the move themselves.”

Dr Squire highlighted the importance of listening to the migrants themselves when drafting policy.

“We argue for the importance of understanding not only the journeys and experiences, but also the expectations, concerns and demands of people on the move,” she noted.

“For too long, policy has been developed and migration debated without the voices of people on the move being heard.

“How can policies prevent deaths at sea if there is not proper appreciation of the conditions and reasons people continue to make these journeys even while knowing the dangers that they face along the way?”

Policy recommendations

▪ Replace deterrent border policies
▪ Revise migration and protection categories
▪ Open sufficient safe and legal routes to the EU
▪ Invest in reception facilities and halt policies that violate rights
▪ Improve rights-oriented information campaigns

People on the move in their own words:

▪ “We should be treated as human. It doesn’t necessarily mean giving humanitarian aid; that doesn’t make me a human. It means they should acknowledge that I am human by not deciding things on my behalf.”

▪  “We were forced to get on the boat. We had no choice – to stay there? And to die? In a war zone?”

▪ “Where I come from, you can’t sleep because you’re scared maybe something might happen any minute, any time. Here I sleep peacefully every day”

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