The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea en route to Italy has more than doubled this year. Spain, France, and Greece have seen smaller increases. That rising tide has added momentum to the most significant overhaul of immigration policy in Europe in decades.
On Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen joined Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Lampedusa, a speck of an island where nearly 12,000 migrants have arrived in just the past week. Their visit highlighted two key issues: how northern European countries should help their southern neighbors cope with the newcomers while their claims of asylum are considered, and whether the European Union can work better with undemocratic regimes in North Africa to stem the exodus.
Embedded in that debate is the idea that an individual’s dignity must remain intact as immigration law is applied. “European migration policy is always built on humanitarian spirit,” Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party, told Euronews. “But on the other hand, we have to fight against illegal migration.”
Globally, the population of international migrants is nearing 300 million. Many are driven from their homes by conflict, climate change, and political instability. For recipient countries, a key challenge is separating genuine refugees seeking asylum from those simply looking for better economic prospects.
The European Parliament is now debating whether to ratify a pact reached in June between states along the Mediterranean coast and the rest of the EU’s 27 members to share the burden of migration. It’s about more than cost or national identity. According to a Eurobarometer poll last year, 69% of Europeans said helping legal immigrants integrate was an important investment.
Concern for a shared well-being is widespread in Europe. One resident of Lampedusa told The Guardian that the reason she is dismayed over the influx of immigrants is that they “deserve respect, and so do we.” Far to the north, in the French Alpine city of Briançon, volunteers at a hostel for immigrants expressed similar frustration. “We’re saturated to this day,” a board member of the nonprofit Solidarity Terraces told Le Monde last month. “It’s no longer manageable, neither in terms of the dignity of the welcome nor the tensions it generates.”
If the EU pact is formally adopted, it will require northern European countries to accept an agreed-upon number of migrants each year or, if they choose, pay southern states roughly $22,000 per individual. This “mandatory solidarity,” Ms. von der Leyen said, strikes a balance between protecting borders and protecting people. It shows “that Europe can manage migration effectively and with compassion.” The challenge of migration has pushed the EU to better apply the values that hold the bloc together.