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Managing migration flows while living with a pandemic: lessons learned and new tools

    • Meeting in digital format
    • 11 February 2021

          The international landscape, for both Europe and for Italy, has changed significantly since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, pushing migration issues even more sharply to the fore.  The movement of persons has not ceased and migratory flows toward Europe remain considerable, albeit asymmetrical. An example is how movement toward Greece has diminished while Italy is seeing an approximately three-fold increase, mainly from Tunisia and Libya. Restrictions due to the pandemic have reduced the movement of people via some traditional routes, while stepping up those of other routes: Spain, for example, has seen a lull in migration across the Mediterranean but increased arrivals via the Atlantic route. The widespread economic crisis owing to the pandemic is not predicted to cause any significant contraction in these flows.

          Thus, improving collaboration with migrants’ countries of origin and transit becomes indispensable, along with reinforcing solidarity among European nations. There is broad consensus on the need for cooperation between the European Union and third countries to include a dialogue aimed at ensuring the safety of legal migration routes and reintegration of migrants returning to their home countries.

          However, according to many analysts the pandemic crisis has shown that Europe still has no real policy on migration and asylum. The problem was confronted in 2016, but that plan failed due to the limitations imposed by some countries. In September 2020, the European Commission offered a new proposal for creating development opportunities in countries of origin, for the greater resilience of borders – with a “federal” management that would not leave the onus on individual nations –, efficient visa issuance procedures and increased legal channels for migration. Setting clear and efficacious internal EU rules would lead to the equitable sharing of the migration burden, which would no longer rest on the shoulders of first-arrival countries but rather distribute migrants across the membership, thereby facilitating management of the entire system.

          The goal of this new proposal is, therefore, to connect all the components of the system organically and fluidly through better European level coordination and bilateral dialogue between the EU and individual members, particularly those most exposed to incoming flows. The balance between solidarity and responsibility is critical to defining ad hoc migration policies: if the European Union offers solutions, the political balances within individual member states will also reap the benefits, consequently subduing populist and nationalistic impulses.

          Existing tools will need to be improved with investments aimed at strengthening a European border-control force. Additional investments will go toward third countries with the aim of fostering a dignified life that precludes the need to migrate. To be reinforced, in particular, are partnerships with geopolitically pivotal countries, such as Turkey, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. Those partnerships must be strengthened by means of courageous investments, and not only financial but also cultural, intellectual, political and symbolic ones. The logic behind these interventions is clear: to promote effective agreements on legal channels would contribute to stemming the tide of illegal immigration.

          Another tool that seems to work and that could be improved are humanitarian corridors, accords that allow for the legal entry of persons in vulnerable circumstances. This model, based on public/private partnerships, the involvement of the civil society and sponsorships aimed at covering costs, ensures both the receivers and well as the received. Moreover, Europe could achieve convergence in function of its interests to obtain a targeted form of migration, on the model of Canada.

          Formulating a strategy based on migration flow data is essential to understanding global migratory models, and to how they can be correlated to various political and economic factors in countries of origin and destination. Handling migration flows requires the use of political, diplomatic, legislative and technological instruments. Technology, thanks to the massive amounts of data at its disposal, makes it possible to organize those data in the service of efficient migration management. This is a matter of knowing how to use shared and shareable databases to make the most of Artificial Intelligence and tools such as blockchains – excellent for tracking, for instance – the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning. That these tools use algorithms to refine data makes it possible to design a model that gives policy makers and public security authorities greater insight into complex scenarios.

          Visa issuance procedures are also facilitated by technology, considering that visas have economic value in terms of competitiveness, attraction and security. With particular regard to attraction, Italy ranks third for the number of visas issued within the Schengen area, and this facilitates commercial networking and the attraction of highly skilled workers, thus creating a positive impact in terms of the country’s competitiveness. The need to collect and process data by means of adequate methodologies emerges as an urgent priority, as do the valuable solutions offered by systematic coordination between countries, enhanced rules, public/private cooperation and technology.

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