Lawyers should not ignore the immigration crisis – it demands an EU-wide response.
If you go to the continent for your summer holiday, you will see many signs of Europe’s current upheavals.
When you pay in a eurozone country, you will receive more for your pound. You will also be confronted in most countries by signs of the other great upheaval: mass immigration. If you travel by car through the Channel tunnel, the consequences of thousands of migrants on the Calais side may affect you. I have just come back from 10 days in the hill-towns of Umbria, Italy, where there were African men begging in the streets and outside supermarkets.
We are in the middle of an enormous, heartbreaking crisis.
Immigration is a lawyers’ issue. There is nothing we can do about the source of the emergency. We can’t bomb the smugglers’ boats, restore peace to Syria or grant economic prosperity to sub-Saharan Africa – or whatever else it would take to stop the flood. But we can make sure that the immigrants who arrive are advised. There are heroic individuals and groups providing help and advice at various flash-points but, as has been said many times, this is a Europe-wide crisis and needs a Europe-wide response.
The 2015 figures provide the justification. In the first half of this year alone, 79,000 illegal immigrants arrived in Greece from Turkey, and 67,000 arrived in Italy from Libya. Most don’t stay in those countries. Some end up in Calais and 67,000 entered Hungary through Serbia from Greece (the newest route).
The European Commission has built a wonderful EU Immigration Portal, giving advice to those seeking to come to the EU lawfully. It has sections on each country and you have to choose whether you wish to come as a worker, student, researcher or family member. Of course, it would be wrong for there to be a portal for those seeking to come to the EU illegally. But illegal immigrants are here in large numbers. It is in everyone’s interests, not least in the interests of justice and the rule of law, that they are properly advised.
We are in the middle of an enormous, heartbreaking crisis
If I wish to fly off now to the Greek island of Lesbos (where Syrian people are landing in great numbers in small boats coming from Turkey) to assist those who are walking across the island to the capital Mytilene, how would I know what legal advice to give? The immigrants need help on a range of issues: principally immigration (for instance, asylum), but also local rules regarding employment, benefits, accommodation, travel, and then tailored advice for children travelling alone.
Since they are illegal migrants, they probably have few (if any) legal entitlements, but what other options are available? The reality is that, untended, they are smuggled further across the land border through Serbia into Hungary. And what advice should they be given on arrival in Hungary?
Many EU countries are affected. Sweden, far away from the Mediterranean, has the most asylum applicants per capita, with 8.4 per 1,000 residents, nearly twice as many as second-ranked Hungary. Germany has taken the most in numbers, with more than 200,000 asylum-seekers, mainly from Syria, Serbia, Kosovo and Eritrea.
The EU is slowly – too slowly – gearing itself up. Part of its strategy should be an EU-wide legal response. I can think of two actions straight away. First, the production of leaflets in many languages, giving appropriate legal advice about these migrants’ rights in each member state (the same has been done by the EU for those arrested for a crime, or those who are victims of crime). Second, there should be a network of lawyers, specially trained in the issues facing new arrivals, who can be called on to deal with sudden emergencies, such as in Lesbos or Hungary.
Some might feel that this would encourage further illegal immigration, but the evidence is that even fatal journeys and large smugglers’ payments do not stop the flow.
Immigration is a politically inflamed issue. There is a grave impact on jobs, housing, education, health, benefits and social cohesion, none of which should be ignored. But I believe we should not stand by and watch when, for reasons well beyond our control, tens of thousands of desperate people are washing up on our shores and need advice.
The scale means that it is impossible for us to cope alone. The EU should establish mechanisms to ensure that consistent, good quality, local advice can be given to those arriving, and that there are enough trained and motivated lawyers to provide the advice needed. Anything less shames the rule of law.
Jonathan Goldsmith is a consultant and former secretary-general at the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs