The European Migration Context
Since September 2015, Open Arms -a Barcelona-based NGO working in the Mediterranean- has rescued 61.058 people that would have otherwise drowned in international waters. The numbers are striking and highlight the devastating consequences of the extremely criticized European migration policy. The European Commission itself defines its first migration policy goal as “improving external border controls”. However, the European Union (EU) is committed, at least on paper, to act differently concerning migrants that classify as asylum seekers.
The EU has been trying to provide relief to the situation in Southern European countries with quotas of relocation since 2015. These “refugee quotas” have been a failure as some countries -like Hungary or Poland- refused to comply with them and the rest have only done so partially. The EU, seeing that the countries, as sovereign, had the last call decided to change strategy this last month of September. Now member states will be offered economic relief –10,000€ per person– if they accept refugees but they will be under no obligation to do so -in a solidarité à la carte approach-. This measure has been widely controversial with activists denouncing the EU’s lack of commitment. Even European deputies in the parliament such as Sophie in ‘t Veld have condemned it as a reward to hatred and fear.
At the same time, and since the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse. Conditions in refugee camps and other living arrangements have worsened -the Moria Camp in Lesvos burned down in early September and had before experienced severely unsanitary conditions-. And due to the closing of borders, migration routes have shifted and asylum granting procedures have slowed down, both perfect conditions for human smuggling.
The situation is indeed tragic but the migration issue hides a deeper reality: a lack of decisive action. As an example let’s focus for a second on the current situation in the Canary Islands, Spain, and analyze the discourse surrounding it
The Canary Islands (Canaries), has recently been the scenario of arrival of migrants who decide to cross the distance between them and the North-Western African Coast by boat. Since the beginning of 2020, the islands have received 16,760 people with a big spike occurring in the last two months. This spike was not predicted and as such, the Canaries were unprepared.
The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the islands hard. In a region that is extremely tourist-oriented the current unemployment rate is, unsurprisingly, 24.9% higher than last year. This presented at first a solution as empty hotels could be used to host migrants. But fear of losing a good image for tourists especially after international attention by Dutch media and the lengthening of a situation that was meant to be temporary have caused hotel owners to stop offering their services. Military barracks, tents and other temporary housing solutions have been offered but the conditions in some of those spaces have forced for further relocation. There have been stressful situations such as the recent incident in the Arguineguín Port where 227 people were told by the Police to leave without having anywhere to stay.
The local government has already asked for help from the Spanish authorities and their criticisms have been met with the reassurance that while Canarias is important “we should remain calm and not inflame passions”. And although economic help and an investigation on the government shortcomings have been promised the problem is far from resolved. Ana Oramas, Congresswoman for the Coalición Canaria Party shaped the problem in just two questions “Are we Spain? Are we Europe?”. The solutions for such a complex issue as migration cannot be expected to come from a local government and, as such, the search for responsibility goes to the nation-state and, if found lacking, to the supranational organization that is EU.
But the response at both levels has been slow. This lack of quick solutions at the European and national level left a space that NGOS have had to step into. And some, like Open Arms, even faced retaliation from the government for overstepping in the rescue of migrants.
The danger of inaction
We have seen, by analyzing the issue of migrants and asylum seekers in the European Union how there is a lack of decisive action at the supranational and national level. This is extremely dangerous in terms of legitimacy. As Manuel A. Maldonado states:
“A democracy unable to make effective decisions can see a legitimacy shrinkage. It is then that the decisionist temptation arises: the promise of ending with the democratic chatter by banging a fist on the table”Maldonado, 2018 
This yearning for leadership can easily be taken advantage of. Furthermore, if we add to it a disregard for the current establishment because it is seen as inept, out of touch, or -starting a Manichean division- as having bad intentions we can easily fall into Müller’s moral distinction between the people and the elite . This anti-elitism is one of the basics of populism which, as Kendall-Taylor and Frantz argued, has been on the rise in recent years. This context of authorization is defined by them as “difficult-to-counter populist-fueled democratic backsliding” .
Therefore, to ensure that we have healthy democracies there cannot be a disregard of issues when it is time to act even if there are discussions about the topic. If not we might find ourselves with more and more citizens who -from both sides of the political spectrum- might feel that their needs are not being heard.