The Great Migration Crisis: a pan-European debate

Sunday 18 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Cinema 3, Barbican Hot Off the Press

Over the past few months, it has been impossible to avoid the harrowing images of desperate migrants risking and sometimes losing their lives in an attempt to reach Europe. Throughout, debate has raged about the nature of the migrants – with often unhelpful labels such as ‘economic migrant’ and ‘refugee’ used to distinguish between those who are genuinely in need of help, and those who are not. Amid the human tragedy, Europe has struggled to formulate anything resembling a cohesive strategy to deal with the crisis – with responses varying from ambitious German commitments to accommodate up to 800,000 migrants this year, to Hungary erecting barbed-wire fences to keep the ‘marauding’ migrants from entering the country.

The British government came under increasing pressure during the summer, and despite agreeing belatedly to take in 20,000 Syrians directly from camps, it has so far opted out of any binding EU agreements to settle refugees. The differential nature of binding agreements - and the tensions they create for sovereign states in controlling their own borders – has angered Eastern European states such as Hungary and Croatia, who accuse Western European governments of ‘cultural imperialism’. Others argue that the focus should be on preventing migrants from leaving their countries in the first place by improving the situation on the ground, but commentators differ fiercely on whether military intervention in Syria would make things better or much worse.

At home, territorial sovereignty is key to the debate, as countries grapple with the practical and moral dimensions of mass migration. And with EU policy appearing to override nationally elected governments, some have questioned whether in our haste ‘to do something’, in the long term we are at risk of undermining one of the key tenets of statehood: the ability to control national borders. The issues are undoubtedly complex, but with little sign of the flow of migrants abating, how should we view the European response to the crisis thus far? Should we sympathise with countries such as Hungary who do not want refugees, and insist on maintaining the ability to control their own immigration policy? Or are German calls for European solidarity in accepting migrants the more ethical path – but if so, is it even feasible for Europe to deal with the sheer weight of numbers? And finally, should we see this as a short-term issue, with clear political solutions, or does this in fact mark the beginning of a trend of mass migration, thus challenging borders for the foreseeable future?

Sabine Beppler-Spahl
chair, Freiblickinstitut e.V; CEO, Sprachkunst36

Jon Holbrook
barrister; writer on legal issues; regular contributor to spiked

Philippe Legrain
visiting senior fellow, LSE’s European Institute; author, Immigrants: your country needs them and European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

Dr Łukasz Pawłowski
managing editor and columnist, Kultura Liberalna

Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng
promotions manager, Academy of Ideas; writer on politics and ideology

Produced by
Anwar Oduro-Kwarteng promotions manager, Academy of Ideas; writer on politics and ideology
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Left-wing moralising and EU bullying are making the case for immigration impossible

By simply proclaiming that 'migrants lives matter' rather than making any substantive case in favour of freer borders, many of the commentators around the crisis implicitly demonised those who harboured legitimate concerns about welcoming the migrants.

Luke Gittos,, 14 October 2015

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