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The European Union’s Dublin Conundrum

Despite a sharp decline in the number of asylum seekers reaching Europe, politicians continue to exploit the issue. But the real question that needs to be answered is not how to keep migrants away from Europe's borders, but rather which country should be responsible for those who have already entered EU territory.

BRUSSELS – Tensions over immigration continue to dominate European politics. In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a populist firebrand, is monopolizing the public’s attention with almost daily outbursts against immigrants. Likewise, Salvini’s German counterpart, Horst Seehofer, created a crisis in the governing coalition in order to secure new measures against asylum seekers trying to enter Germany from Austria. With their countries having been left to fight illegal immigration on their own, Salvini and Seehofer claim, they must focus on national, not European, solutions. They are wrong.

The truth is that the European Union has been instrumental in reducing the flows of irregular arrivals, which have declined considerably since the massive influx of Syrian refugees, via Greece and Hungary, in 2015. Thanks to the agreement that the EU reached with Turkey in March 2016, very few people are now crossing into Greece. Likewise, the number of arrivals in Italy is a mere fraction of the total just last year. Overall, illegal crossings into the EU have been reduced to about 100,000 annually, compared to the estimated more than one million who arrived in 2015.

Given the EU’s population of over 500 million, that number is eminently manageable. Nonetheless, politicians continue to exploit the migration issue, with some highly visible arrivals – in particular, the large number of migrants who have been rescued off the coast of Libya – keeping the issue in the news.

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