By Sauvé Fellow Costin Ciobanu

We are migrating species. […] The utopia is to believe that we can control the borders.” With these powerful and unequivocal words, François Crépeau, the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, began his encounter with us.

As we, as Sauvé Fellows, decided to concentrate and mobilize our diverse skills, energy, and expertise towards refugee inclusion in Montréal, the encounter with Professor Crépeau was a unique opportunity to contextualize and to try to clarify the causes, scope, impact and possible solutions to a growing global crisis.

François Crépeau argued for a human rights based approach, which has two fundamental merits. On the one hand, it is based on individuality and rejects all discourse that singularizes and accusatorily points at ethnic or religious groups. On the other hand, it is more than just principled discourse, as it is highly practical.

More concretely, according to Professor Crépeau, it is perfectly realistic for Europe to accept and integrate 3 million Syrian refugees, with an annual quota of 0.5 million distributed among the European nations. (As an example, Germany would receive, were such a plan to be put in place, approx. 80-85,000 Syrian refugees per year).

Solutions to the current predicament are not lacking. They should involve the acceptance of the open borders concept, with multiple-entry visas for temporary workers from Africa and the Middle East, tackling the current European black labour market, and adopting a pan-European resettlement policy.

Pinpointing the heart of the issue, François Crépeau defended this approach by arguing that “the migration issue is not a crisis of capacity; it is a crisis of moral and political leadership.” Given that refugees are not allowed to vote, few politicians decide to speak out for them, or to balance security concerns with the protection of human rights. As long as the voices of refugees are not heard, this discrimination will continue.

This is why François Crépeau pleaded for the empowerment of migrant communities through the assistance of committed NGOs, lawyers and politicians. For meaningful change to happen, a double shift has to take place. First, we must acknowledge that we have entered an era of global migration, where diversity is part of the solution. Second, we must use studies and analyses to reject false claims that blame migrants for their perceived negative impact on welfare systems and on Western culture.

The Fellows were fascinated by how, in the conceptual framework shared by Professor Crépeau, what is right is enhanced by what can be done. We learned that a solution to the European refugee crisis is possible by combining realism and idealism. The challenge is for decision-makers, both at national and international levels, to act.

Professor Crépeau’s deep personal commitment to the rights of migrants, coupled with his expertise, made of this encounter one of the high points of the Fellows’ program year. We offer our thanks and full appreciation to Mr. Crépeau for a fascinating intellectual journey and an inspiring Leadership Encounter.

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