The asylum and migration ‘crisis’ in perspective

17 March 2017 /

On the 10th of February 2017, the Odysseus Network held its annual conference on asylum and migration law and policy. While the event is aimed at fostering discussion among experts in the field, it is also a way to develop new understandings of the issues at stake in order to generate long-term change.


Everything seems to be about migration and asylum, these days. The media, universities, NGOs, social movements… many actors take action on this topic. After all, we are in the middle of a ‘crisis’, right? In fact, the image of a crisis is often responsible for a broad misunderstanding: would migration be the 21stcentury’s main issue? This interpretation is limitative since a lot of other matters are to be tackled such as social issues, the place of finance in the economic system, democratic deficit, etc. Concerning asylum and migration, even though they have lately become ‘hot topics’ due to important flows of refugees reaching the European coasts, the phenomenon by itself is however much older.

Founded in 1999 by Philippe de Bruycker, of the Institute for European Studies (ULB, Brussels), the Odysseus Academic Network is a platform for the exchange of knowledge and expertise between academics, policy-makers, practitioners and NGOs in the field of immigration and asylum law and policy.

‘Beyond crisis’ or how to think change in asylum and immigration policy

On the 10th of February 2017 Odysseus’ annual conference, “Beyond ‘crisis’? The State of Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy in the EU” took place. With this event, organised in cooperation with the European Commission’s Representation in Belgium, Odysseus aimed at discussing the evolutions in the field in a critical perspective. The main evolutions of the asylum and migration framework were thus pointed out in the course of the event. Issues such as the border and coast guard system, the Blue Card, Dublin IV, relocation and the role of courts were raised.

The discussions were split into three ‘streams’: cooperation between Member States, protection of persons and the management of migration flows. Even though these broad topics often overlapped – how can we think management without having at heart the protection of individuals? – they allowed for constructive discussions and debates to be held. In total, nine workshops were offered to the participants, whom could choose three of them to attend. The panels were made of experts in the field of immigration law, coming from academia, research centres, EU institutions/agencies, Member States administrations, as well as NGOs and international organisations. The fact that the speakers came from different backgrounds was a great opportunity for diverse views to be debated during the sessions.

The opening lecture of Odysseus Annual Conference 2017 | Photo credit: Eyes on Europe

From ULB’s Auditoriums to the Charlemagne Building

The event was a big success, both in terms of amount of participants and speakers as for the quality of the debate. All of these evolved importantly in the past three years. Also, the 2017 edition was organised in cooperation with the Commission’s Representation in Belgium, which allowed for much larger audiences to be reached and welcomed in bigger rooms (i.e. the EU Commission Charlemagne building). It is however reasonable to think that the interest of the Commission’s Representation in the topic is also due to the general context in Europe. As stated before, indeed, immigration and asylum are very hot topics for policy-makers. A matter of importance for the network will thus be to see if such great events can still be organised in the future – or if they should go back to organising them at ULB. However, the sole fact that people residing outside Belgium took a flight to come to the event is an important achievement for Odysseus. This is surely helpful for the organization to constitute a broader network, and be followed by a larger number of experts in the field.

Experts, in an Ivory Tower?

But what is the impact of such a network on society? It is clear that the target of the conference are practitioners, policy-makers and experts themselves. So is the blog EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, managed by Odysseus. Outsiders will thus be unable to properly follow every debate that is brought up by the network. However, that doesn’t mean that all knowledge is set to remain far from reach, and that society will not benefit from the work of the network. The idea is that the exchanges of views and production of knowledge would trickle down, to eventually have an impact on society as a whole. Information to the public is limited but the latter is to be impacted indirectly by the work that is carried out by the experts through the network.

By offering an arena of reconstruction of concepts and practices around immigration and asylum, where they can be debated, Odysseus is providing the policy area and the academic world with a more acute comprehension of the phenomenon at stake. By questioning the idea of an asylum and migration ‘crisis’, wondering what is beyond, Odysseus takes part in a broader movement of (slow) improvement of asylum and immigration policies. In fact, there is probably nothing better than a ‘crisis’, even a constructed one, to compel actors to change, since it challenges the very foundation of their most common ways of doing. The real success for an organization as Odysseus, however, should also be to reach the wider audience, that is, European citizens, to drive change at the society level. Then, we could definitely go ‘beyond the crisis’.

Some of the discussions that were held during the 2017 Annual Conference will be discussed in three upcoming Eyes on Europe articles. These will deal in particular with the issues of data collection in the EU and the subcontracting of its migration policy (Loïc Charpentier), the inadequacies of EU asylum policy (Marin Capelle), and Frontex’ death and resurrection (Matteo Guidi).

Pauline Claessens is the Secretary General of Eyes on Europe

*Information about the Odysseus Network were obtained thanks to Katharina Bamberg, member of the Conference’s organizing team.

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