As with countless other pressing issues, the migrant crisis that faces the continent of Europe, and the European Union (EU) alike, has been removed from the media spotlight in recent months, replaced by the Covid-19 global pandemic. This is understandable, but not excusable. Europe faces a continual humanitarian crisis, and the media should be relentless in its coverage of this issue.
Recently, this crisis has been thrust into public consciousness once again by some rather disturbing events. Firstly, in June, Greece ordered 11,000 refugees to leave migrant camps and EU subsidised accommodation provided during the early phases of the pandemic. However, without the necessary tools for integration, the majority of these refugees have been left on the street, unable to find a job to support themselves. More recently, a fire destroyed Moria camp, situated on the Greek island of Lesbos, leaving 13,000 migrants homeless with their few possessions destroyed. These concerning events remind us that Greece is overwhelmed by the number of people trying to enter Europe, as it has been for a very long time. Camps are overcrowded, asylum applications are slow to be processed and people’s lives are put on hold as they live in dangerously poor conditions. These are the human consequences of EU policy.
Currently, the EU’s focus is on controlling migration, arguably at the expense of ensuring human rights. EU member state Greece is praised by EU leaders as Europe’s ‘shield’ against the influx of migrants. Greece shoulders the burden by providing camps on its outer islands for refugees to stay in until their asylum claim is granted. In return, Greece gets financial assistance from the EU to help with the necessary infrastructure and to help soften the economic blow to an already weak economy; £609 million was sent in March 2020. Similarly, the EU has ‘outsourced’ the problem to non-member states like Lebanon since 2011 in a reciprocal arrangement whereby Lebanon has provided refugee to 1.5 million Syrian refugees in exchange for $2.8bn in aid from the EU since 2011. This policy is beneficial for EU member states; they are shielded from the reality of the crisis as few migrants are reaching their borders. In reality, the EU is deliberately putting poorer, weaker countries under immense pressure.
A combination of unsustainable EU policy and continual unrest and poverty in asylum seekers’ home countries makes the migrant crisis a problem that is a long way from being solved. The most effective solution would be to reduce the migrant flow which would inevitably relieve pressure on host countries like Greece and Lebanon in the long term. The EU should concentrate on policies that addresses the ‘push factors’ of migration – factors such as civil war, religious persecution and poverty that encourage migrants to leave their home country. Address these issues, and less people will arguably feel the need to seek refuge in Europe. Of course, stopping all war and poverty is a pipe dream that is unlikely to ever become reality. Nevertheless, the point holds that the more supportive the foreign policy of more developed nations is towards helping those in the direst situations, the less likely those people are to feel compelled to leave. Whether that be in the form of charity work, foreign aid support or, as a more drastic measure, intervention, richer countries must help to ensure a quality of life for people that means they don’t need to risk their lives to change their lives.
However, in the short term, this solution does not help the millions of refugees and asylum seekers currently either stuck in Greece or in non-EU member states trying to gain access to Europe. One solution would be to streamline the asylum process, meaning people can be moved into permanent host countries within the EU far more quickly, avoiding the overcrowded human traffic jam of temporary camps like those in Greece. However, without addressing the push factors, a quicker asylum process would simply encourage more asylum seekers to make the perilous journey, potentially perpetuating the situation.
A quicker asylum process would also require an attitude change within the EU. Currently, right wing media outlets often portray asylum seekers as a threat and a burden. A more welcoming approach that portrays people as people and does not ‘other’ individuals would enable migrants to be dispersed equally throughout Europe. However, with growing support for anti-immigration parties across the EU, as demonstrated by the growth of the AfD in Germany or the Orbán government in Hungary, a positive change in attitudes towards migrants in Europe is extremely unlikely.
There is no quick fix to the migrant crisis. Europe has itself in a mess that is remarkably complex to solve. In the long term, the best suggestion seems to be committing to aid overseas. The less people feel the need to migrate, the less the European system will creak.
Image: Tjeerd Royaards via Flickr