Skip to navigationSkip to content
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers the opening address at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 25, 2018.
REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
“Migration should be out of hope not out of despair.”
CHAOTIC DEBATE

Europe’s populists are having “irrational” debates on migration, says the UN head

Abdi Latif Dahir
By Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporter

Limiting irregular migration is a topic dominating the agenda of European leaders.

As migrants fleeing war, famine, and poverty across Africa and the Middle East have increased in recent years, the EU has debated whether to pull the drawbridge or welcome them. The various responses have prompted diplomatic standoff among nations, led to the political stalemate over how to properly tackle migration, and has boosted the forces of anti-immigration politics to upend liberal governments all over Europe.

And while a majority of people in EU nations favor taking in refugees, a Pew Research survey in September showed that many citizens disapproved of how their governments handled the migration issue.

Italy’s government, for instance, delivered a jolt to European migration politics in June after refusing to let in a rescue ship carrying hundreds of mostly sub-Saharan Africa migrants. Hungary passed tough laws that made it nearly impossible for migrants and refugees to resettle there. German and British leaders opted to look to trade and investment in Africa as an option that could create viable livelihoods and disincentive migration. Last week, Austria joined Hungary and the United States in boycotting the global compact on promoting safe and orderly migration, with its vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache saying “Migration is not and cannot become a human right.”

These arbitrary responses to migration from the EU has harmed its ability to decisively manage irregular migration to the bloc, says United Nations secretary-general António Guterres. In an interview with Quartz, Guterres said the “disorganization of the process” meant countries couldn’t come together and have “a rational discussion about migration and refugees.” And with no cooperation between countries of origin, transit, and destination, he said, things turned “chaotic.” The pressure to deal with the issue, he added, then went to specific host nations including Germany whose leader Angela Merkel took in one million refugees.

“What was regrettable for me was the fact that Europe was not able to come together and to deal with the problem as a European problem and if the problem had been handled as a European problem in total solidarity among all European countries, the problem would be manageable.”

Guterres said that the world and the EU should look to migration as a positive phenomenon “that has always been part of the solution of global problems.” If not, migrants will continue to undertake harrowing journeys to Europe and be exploited by traffickers and smugglers. “And in some countries, there’s this appearance of invasion … that triggers irrational feelings that then are profited by populists that launch an irrational debate on migration.”

The secretary-general said nations should come together to minimize the adverse situation that forces people to leave their homes. “Migration should be out of hope not out of despair.”

Subscribe to the Daily Brief, our morning email with news and insights you need to understand our changing world.