MS Risk Blog

Migration Crisis

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The volatile situation in Middle East and in North Africa, along with the economic recession that plagues many states, have resulted in increased migratory flows found in overcrowded boats heading towards Europe. Data collected from the EU border agency Frontex in the first two quarters of 2015 present a worrisome situation since the percentage of irregular migrants attempting to cross to Europe is much higher than in the same period last year. Italy and Greece are on the frontline due to their geographical position and their proximity to areas such as Libya where the conflict and the lack of political control has created a fertile ground for the smugglers. Italy and Greece have been unable to shoulder alone the heavy load of irregular migration and they have urged their EU partners to do more to help.

The number of migrants reaching Greece by sea has soared to 63,000 this year, surpassing the 62,000 who arrived in Italy by sea. This increase of the migratory flows towards Greece can be explained by the fact that the voyage from Libya to Italy is longer and more hazardous. Migrant deaths at sea this year reached 1,865 by June 10, and of those, 1,816 died trying to reach Italy. A shipwreck off Italy’s Lampedusa island on 19 April took some 800 lives. So, more migrants, especially Syrians, choosing Greece as their destination instead of attempting to follow the Libya route. To the present, according to Frontex, some 153,000 irregular migrants have been detected at Europe’s external borders. That is a 149 percent increase compared with the same period in 2014 when the total was 61,500. One of the biggest operations that tested Italy’s and other states’ rescue teams’ abilities and underlined the need for an immediate solution took place on 6-7 June. During these two days nearly 6,000 people were rescued from the sea and taken to southern Italy. A surge has also been detected towards the Greek island of Lesvos where daily the authorities have to rescue migrants packed on flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats, putting a huge strain on local resources. The mainland borders of Greece are not to be ignored since they remain a major transit point using Turkey or nearby Balkan countries hoping to reach one of the countries in northern Europe. Additionally, Hungary has emerged as another major pressure point. From January to the end of May 50,000 irregular migrants attempted to cross the borders from Serbia into Hungary, an 880 percent increase compared with the same period last year. Due to these increased numbers, Hungary’s authorities have urged EU not to send back migrants that their entry point was Hungary. At the same time, the government announced its plan to erect a fence across its border with Serbia to discourage future migrants from choosing Hungary as their entry point into Europe.The civil war in Syria has triggered a huge flow of migrants towards Europe declaring Syrians as the largest migrant group by nationality with more than 8,000 people. Then come migrants from Eritrea with more than 3,000 and Somalia with more than 2,900.

In November 2014 Italy ended its search and rescue mission called Mare Nostrum. It was replaced by a cheaper and more limited EU operation called Triton, focused on patrolling within 30 nautical miles of the Italian coast. However, under the increased migratory flows Triton proved to be inadequate. After argument due to the strain under which the coastal guards were in, the EU leaders decided to triple funding for operation Triton reaching the spending levels of Italy’s Mare Nostrum. At the same time, many European leaders committed to send naval assets to the Mediterranean in an attempt to shoulder some of the burden the European countries of the south face.

At an emergency summit on 23 April, EU leaders agreed to strengthen maritime patrols in the Mediterranean aiming at disrupting people trafficking networks and capture and destroy boats before migrants board them. However, any military action will have to conform with international law. EU’s new plans focused on eliminating the smugglers and handling the condition that facilitated their existence, focusing on the Libyan crisis. The EU was seeking a UN mandate that would allow military action to destroy or halt smugglers’ boats in Libyan waters. According to EU these operations fall under chapter seven of the UN charter that authorises the use of force to maintain international peace. However Libya criticised EU proposals stating that EU’s intentions were unclear and ‘’very worrying’’. At the same time, military action could leave migrants trapped in Libya in desperate conditions. According to rights group Amnesty International many migrants reported that they were driven to make the journey across the Mediterranean in a haste under the threat of ‘’horrific abuse’’, including abduction, torture and rape in Libya.

Recently, EU’s efforts to tackle the migration problem have focused on the introduction of new measures that impose migrant quotas on the 28 countries of the union under a distribution ‘’key’’ system. The states will be required to accept asylum seekers in proportions to the size of their economy, unemployment rate and population. The commission’s proposals would start modestly, calling for the distribution across the EU of 60,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers, 40,000 already in Italy and Greece and 20,000 still to make the Mediterranean crossing. The plan was greeted with mixed reactions. UK, Denmark and Ireland were given the option not to participate in the quota system due to special opt-outs with the EU on asylum policy. Germany accepted the plan but demanded some corrections been made. Italy, Austria and Sweden has also supported the plan. However, many countries have strongly opposed to the plan, such as France, Poland, Spain, Estonia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and the Baltic states deeming it unfair and against their national interests. At the same time, the countries that oppose the plan pointed that the redistribution of asylum seekers may contravene the UN convention to refugees, which enshrines the right of people to file for refugee status in the country of arrival. For the implementation of the plan France’s and Spain’s support, along with Germany’s, is necessary. Some other measures considered by EU are:

However, in many cases, the adoption and implementation of these measures is obstructed by the internal problems that EU currently faces such as the surge of right-wing parties in many countries, the economic difficulties that many countries face and the high unemployment rates. Even if the EU approves the proposed quotas system its implementation is going to be difficult if one considers the sporadic implementation of the existing asylum system under the Dublin Regulation. According to this regulation, responsibility for examining the claim lies primarily with the member state which played the greatest part in the applicant’s entry or residence in the EU. Often that is the first EU country that the migrant reached, but not always, as in many cases migrants want to be reunited with family members that often resident in other European states. Its full implementation is dubious since many countries, such as Greece, complain they are inundated with applications since their geographical position makes them the more accessible entry points of the migrants. Germany and Finland have already stopped sending the migrants back to Greece despite the regulation being in full effect. Under this conditions more and more states decide to act unilaterally in an effort to protect their national interests. Austria threatened to reimpose controls on its Hungarian border and UK is considering increasing security around the French port of Calais. Hungary announced that it will no longer readmit asylum seekers who had traveled to other EU countries after officially entering the EU’s border-free Schengen area in Hungary. At the same time, the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, said that if no equitable deal is struck, Italy will start issuing migrants with temporary visas allowing them to travel elsewhere in Europe, stop receiving the hundreds of boats arriving from Libya and refuse docking for foreign ships rescuing those stranded at sea.

Judging by the way the European states responded to the proposed quotas plan, and the unilateral actions that they adopted to secure their nations against the migration problem it seems that the solution of the migration problem will not be achieved anytime soon. The states seem to be reluctant to accept the fact that the migration crisis is a European problem and a common comprehensive approach is needed. An approach that will not only solve the distribution of the migrants but will view it not as the main problem but as a symptom that arises though causes such as the conflicts, instability and poverty that infest many countries at the European neighbourhood.

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