The European migrant crisis arose through the rising number of refugees, and migrants coming to the European Union, across the Mediterranean Sea or Southeast Europe, and applying for asylum.
They come from areas such as the Middle East (Syria, Iraq), Africa (Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia), South Asia and Central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh), and the Western Balkans (Kosovo, Albania).
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of October 2015, 75% of the over half a million Mediterranean Sea arrivals since the beginning of the year are refugees coming from Syria (55%), Afghanistan (14%) and Eritrea (6%). Most of the migrants are adult men (69%).
The phrase “European migrant crisis” became widely used in April 2015, when five boats carrying almost two thousand migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with a combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people.
WHY THIS CRISIS NOW:
- It’s due to a combination of factors. The developing countries who are currently hosting the vast majority of refugees from Syria are reaching breaking point. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, sheltering 3.6 million Syrian refugees between them, are overwhelmed, and international humanitarian funding is falling far short of the need. Many would rather attempt the dangerous journey to Europe than subsist in impoverished, overcrowded refugee camps.
- The increased numbers have also been encouraged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge to Syrians that if they could manage to reach Germany, they could apply for asylum there – effectively suspending an E.U. law that requires the first country an asylum seeker arrives in to be responsible for documenting and processing his or her application, and resettling them. The rule has placed a disproportionate burden on the southern countries of Italy, Greece and Malta, who see the most arrivals from the Mediterranean.
- There’s also a self-perpetuating element to the crisis; people who reach Europe successfully encourage friends and families to join them, and several Facebook pages in Arabic provide information for people making the same desperate bids to reach the continent.
- Increased international media coverage may also be playing a part in the surge of migrants as rumors of impending caps on refugee numbers, or brief gaps in border control along various frontiers encourages people to try to cross while they can.
- But along with the waves of Syrian refugees are many people fleeing turmoil or poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Lots of them would have previously found safety or jobs in Libya but that country’s worsening instability has propelled even more people to try their chances on the Mediterranean.
This movement of people is unlikely to slow until winter arrives, making that journey even more difficult and dangerous than it already is.
With tensions running high, Europe’s leaders remain divided on how best to respond to the crisis. Germany has said it will spend $6.6 billion to cope with the 800,000 migrants and refugees it expects to welcome by the end of 2015. The country had already accepted 99,000 Syrians by July 2015, while Sweden has taken in 65,000.
The European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed national quotas to relocate an additional 120,000 asylum-seekers across Europe, on top of previous plans announced in May to redistribute 40,000 people.
The new proposal, which could be ratified on Sept.14 at a special meeting of the interior ministers from the 28 E.U. member states, hopes to move 60% of the refugees currently in Italy, Greece and Hungary to Germany, France and Spain.
France has committed to taking 24,000 migrants over two years and Spain said Wednesday it would take in an extra 15,000 people according to quotas.
Not everyone has welcomed the plans, with Poland and Romania opposing the idea – though Poland agreed to take in more refugees. Slovakia, which has only taken 61 Syrians this year, recently announced it would only take in Christian migrants and Prime Minister Robert Fico called Juncker’s proposals “irrational”.
Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister last week made a series of inflammatory remarks, including arguing that the influx of migrants from the Middle East poses a threat to Europe’s Christian identity. The country is focusing on building a barbed-wire fence along its border with Serbia.
DUBLIN REGULATION IN NEWS:
Entry-point states bear unilateral responsibility for migrants under the Dublin Regulation. Revised in 2013, this EU law stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in the first European country they enter and that country is solely responsible for examining migrants’ asylum applications. Migrants who travel to other EU states face deportation back to the EU country they originally entered.
Many policymakers agree that reforming the Dublin Regulation is an important step to establishing a common European asylum policy. Under the current system, the burden of responsibility falls disproportionately on entry-point states with exposed borders. In practice, however, many of these frontline countries have already stopped enforcing Dublin and allow migrants to pass through to secondary destinations in the north or west of the EU. Germany and Sweden currently receive and grant the overwhelming majority of asylum applications in the EU.
SCHENGEN ZONE IN NEWS:
The Schengen Zone is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. The Area is named after the Schengen Agreement of 1995. Today a total of 26 states, both within or outside the EU, are members. But the future of the Schengen zone is now under threat.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued an unusually sober warning that the passport-free Schengen zone — hailed as a success story — was under threat if the European Union did not agree a common asylum policy.
With Hungary sealing off its main train station to stop asylum-seekers moving across the EU and Italy saying it was ready to reimpose border controls, observers fear the genie is out of the bottle and there will now be a rush to restore internal frontiers.
Italy said that it was ready to impose identification checks at Brennero on the border with Austria. French leader Marine Le Pen said the open border policy has simply opened the flood gates to uncontrolled immigration.
Recently, Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, called for review of the Schengen rules in a way that would allow more checks to passengers’ identity and luggage, in effect reinstating some border controls.
PROPOSALS TO RESOLVE THIS ISSUE:
- In September 2015, EU ministers agreed to resettle 120,000 migrants—a small fraction of those seeking asylum in Europe—from Greece and Italy across twenty-three member states. (Greece and Italy will not be required to resettle more migrants, and Denmark, Ireland, and the UK are exempt from EU asylum policies under provisions laid out in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.)
- This plan was approved despite the vocal objections of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. This agreement builds upon a previous voluntary quota system that called on member states to resettle forty thousand migrants from Greece and Italy over a two-year period.
- Critics of this approach argue that free movement inside the Schengen zone effectively nullifies national resettlement quotas.
- In addition to taking in larger numbers of asylum seekers, many experts say the EU and global powers must also provide more aid to Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, which have borne the primary responsibility for Syrian refugees.
- Some policymakers have called for asylum centers to be built in North Africa and the Middle East to enable refugees to apply for asylum without undertaking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean, as well as cutting down on the number of irregular migrants arriving on European shores.
- Other policies floated include drawing up a common “safe-countries list” that would help countries expedite asylum applications and, where needed, deportations.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE:
Quota plans and naval operations may help EU member states better manage this crisis, but experts caution that these proposals alone will not stem the tide of migrants. For that, European leaders must address the root causes of migration: helping to broker an end to Syria’s civil war, restoring stability to Libya, and upping aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Barring a political solution to these regional crises, Europe will continue to struggle with migrant inflows.