On May 13, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted the head of the Europe bureau for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Vincent Cochetel, for an on-the-record discussion entitled, “From Ukraine to the Mediterranean: The Migration and Refugee Crisis in Europe.” Ian Lesser, GMF’s senior director for foreign and security policy, moderated the event, which attracted over 40 members of the Washington policy community.
As conflicts in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East continue to prompt mass migration to Western Europe, the leaders of the European Union (EU) are confronted by the challenge of mitigating the immediate risks to life and safety of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as the long-term consequences of these movements through bi- and multi-lateral partnerships. Given this reality, Cochetel’s remarks addressed the physical, social, and political obstacles for migrants seeking refuge in Europe, and the need for policymakers to create a comprehensive crisis management strategy.
Pointing to the heart of the issue, Cochetel called for addressing the root causes for these migration movements in source countries, such as violence, poverty, and oppression. This requires partnerships among EU member countries, and between the EU and migrants’ countries of origin. The lack of trust among some EU countries must be renewed by a collaborative effort to realistically assess the EU’s capabilities and develop a structured program that addresses security concerns and identification. While countering the trafficking networks, which transport migrants by dangerous means is a necessity, it is only part of a broader plan on the migration issue. The discussion included audience members’ questions on the roles of the United States and Egypt in the Mediterranean, responses to Ukrainian internally displaced persons, Turkey's willingness and ability to absorb thousands of Syrian refugees, ambiguity between those fleeing conflict areas and those seeking better economic conditions, current reintegration strategies, and how the UNHCR can position itself to respond to today’s environment of global protracted conflict.