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Ahead of UN summit, Theresa May urges more control over migrant crisis

British Prime Minister May's arguments will differ from those of President Obama, who is expected to announce new commitments from world leaders to assist refugees. 

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    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London, Sept. 14, 2016. Mrs. May is expected to criticize the West's response to the migrant crisis at a United Nations summit.
    Toby Melville/Reuters
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British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to call this week for greater control of economic migrants, as well as European countries' rights to control their borders, in an effort to stem the dangers of today's "uncontrolled mass migration."

"While we must continue our efforts to end conflict, stop persecution and the abuse of human rights, I believe we also need a new, more effective global approach to manage migration," Ms. May said ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where she is expected to speak more on this subject. "We cannot simply focus on treating the symptoms of this crisis. We need to address its root causes, too."

May's remarks stress a comprehensive approach to the migrant crisis, which has seen 65.3 million displaced because of war, sectarian conflict, and persecution in 2015. But May's comments also fuel the debate over how much European countries should relax their migrant restrictions for refugees fleeing conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, as well as for economic migrants.

When she addresses the summit, May is expected to roll out a tough-love plan that would help refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, according to The Guardian. In the French port city of Calais, for instance, thousands of migrants in "the jungle" camp are seeking a way to enter Britain. But May is also expected to urge a better distinction between refugees who qualify for asylum and economic migrants. She will also defend the right of all countries to control their borders.

"Her arguments appear to echo those made by David Cameron's government, which targeted most of its aid to refugees in countries bordering war zones, in contrast to Germany's approach of accepting hundreds of thousands of people who had journeyed across Europe," writes The Guardian's Rowena Mason. "It does, however, leave the door open for the UK to accept more refugees straight from camps, who have not embarked on journeys across seas and borders."

May's arguments are also a continuation of her vow in August that Britain, in its Brexit negotiations, will seek to stop the free flow of European migrants across its borders, according to The Telegraph. 

May's forthcoming remarks are reminiscent of the June 2015 controversy over the Schengen agreement, which was signed in 1985. The 30-year-old agreement turned much of Europe borderless, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana and Nick Squires reported. But the agreement also allows a country to reintroduce border checks if they claim their national security is at risk, and stipulates that asylum seekers must have their cases processed in the first country they step foot in.

As the Monitor reported, French authorities began to check the passports of refugees attempting to cross the border from Italy, prompting a diplomatic argument between the two countries. The controversy also highlighted the growing tension in Europe over whether all migrants, or just those who qualify for refugee status, should receive asylum.

This became increasingly problematic, as a recent EU report found "the majority of migrants rescued at sea … are sub-Saharan West Africans, who generally speaking are not eligible for relocation" under EU asylum rules, as the Monitor’s Fred Weir reported in August. The report pointed out that "less than half of those rescued and brought to Italy apply for asylum upon arrival, and a large majority of these are rejected, indicating that the majority of arrivals seem to be economic migrants," rather than refugees fleeing war or political persecution.

May's forthcoming speech will also differ from President Obama's, as he hosts a separate summit on the refugee crisis in New York to coincide with the main UN event. Obama is expected to announce new commitments from world leaders and business executives to assist refugees, which includes a vow to welcome 110,000 into the United States next year, according to The Washington Post. This new target is nearly a 30 percent increase from 2016.

The Obama administration has said they have enlisted six nations as partners in the summit – Jordan, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Ethi­o­pia – and dozens more will announce pledges to accept more refugees.

In the migrant crisis, the war in Syria between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebel forces, including the self-declared Islamic State group, has forced 4.8 million refugees to flee to Turkey and Europe. 

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