The refugee crisis is creating mayhem in Europe, with thousands of civilians seeking asylum, diplomacy is seen at its worst form. The term “Refugee” became widely popular after April 2015 when boats carrying thousands of refugees headed towards Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, which resulted in a devastating death toll. With over half a million refugees entering Europe since January 2015, the majority of them are coming from West Asia and Africa. These numbers clearly demonstrate the increase in domestic instability in these continents, forcing entire communities to witness chaos and death.
These crisis has created several dimensions of conflict and tensions within the nations. The masses migrating from West Asia and Africa is creating a situation of grave insecurity which continues to threaten many lives still today.
Despite their rapidly increasing numbers, Europe is constantly facing criticism in the international arena for strengthening their borders and preventing any refugee entering their territory, instead of providing humanitarian aid. With a number of stakeholders involved, it is very difficult for global community to understand whether the EU and other agencies are equipped to handle this situation or find alternate solutions to it, as efforts to contain the situation continue to fail.
These crisis has created several dimensions of conflict and tensions within the nations. The masses migrating from West Asia and Africa is creating a situation of grave insecurity which continues to threaten many lives still today. Moreover, the European Union continues to struggle with the masses coming to Europe, fuelling the fire in an already abysmal situation. In 2014, the European Union has received more than 625,000 asylum applications and were only able to grant protection status to 180,000 of these applicants. European nations are now forced to reinforce border patrol operations, reintroducing quota systems, and are making strategies to prevent resettling of asylum seekers on the border.
Moreover, these steps taken by the governments have created tensions due to disagreeing opinions in such matters. While many nations such as Germany and France are sympathetic to the arrival of the refugees, while nations such as such as Hungary, are strongly opposing the incursion of migrants. It is also true that this crisis involves a lot of stakeholders and there is no concrete policy which can effectively address the issues altogether. The issue is extremely important to address and the action should be decisive and swift to save millions of lives from this widespread impact.
…not all migrants are refugees or asylum seekers. Some individuals can be categorised as economic migrants whose solely objective is economic betterment and are escaping due to poverty and unemployment. They do not have the same protection under the international law.
Migrant vs Refugees
To discuss this issue in detail, let us first understand the difference between an asylum seeker, migrant, and a refugee as these three groups are classified separately. Each of the group has been assigned different levels of assistance and protection in the international law. An asylum seeker is an individual who is escaping prison or prosecution from the state or is a victim of conflict in their country forcing him to seek international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees. This is the principle legal document that defines the status of the refugee and his rights followed by legal obligations of nations. On broader terms, a refugee is an asylum seeker who has been granted permission by a country. The UN defines asylum seekers as those who are in the state of fleeing persecution as refugees as well, irrespective of their claim being approved or not. A migrant is an umbrella term for above mentioned groups.
Moreover, it is important for us to note that not all migrants are refugees or asylum seekers. Some individuals can be categorised as economic migrants whose solely objective is economic betterment and are escaping due to poverty and unemployment. They do not have the same protection under the international law.
These status differences further add complications because Europe is currently experiencing a “mixed migration phenomenon” where asylum seekers, migrants continue to arrive in Europe altogether. With an increase in the illegal migrations European Union along with the governments are unable to identify the true numbers of asylum seekers, inconsistencies continue to rise in the application process. Importantly, thousands of men and women risk their lives to travel to Europe by sea in dangerous conditions, or by land through Turkey or the Balkans.
The Escalating Crisis
This mass migration has now been termed as a “refugee crisis” due to the large number of migrants coming to Europe, crossing illegal border. This is surprisingly not a first incident that European Union has faced, during the Arab Spring in 2011, thousands of Tunisians fled the Middle East. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there were more than 60 Million migrants in the globe in 2014 alone. This is the highest level of recorded movements since the World War II. These high levels can be attributed to the ongoing Syrian civil war, Afghans migrating due to Taliban insurgents, and deteriorating security and living conditions in nations such as Somalia and Sudan.
Syrian refugees alone make up the highest numbers (3.9 million), followed by Afghan refugees (2.6 million) which had been the largest groups for three decades.
Syrian refugees alone make up the highest numbers (3.9 million), followed by Afghan refugees (2.6 million) which had been the largest groups for three decades. Most of the Syrian refugees are crossing to nations such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. However, most of the migrants are crossing over to developed economies, in a hope to live a better life. Germany became the top recipient with more than 200,000 asylum requests, out of which 20% were from Syrian refugees.
The Rule of Law – Legislation on whose side?
There are two important legislations that play a key role in the proceedings while granting migrants asylum. First, the Dublin Regulation which designates that the European Union is unilaterally responsible to view the requests from the refugees. The law further states that those who seek asylum will remain in the country they have arrived in, and the country is solely responsible for the processing of their application. Those who travel to other states are subject to deportation back to the EU, where they were finger printed in, when no humanitarian reason is brought forth. These conditions are henceforth made to prevent “asylum shopping” as asylum seekers send requests to numerous nations in the EU. It also protects from “asylum orbiting” when no member nation comes forward to take the responsibility of the migrant. The Dublin Regulation has faced widespread criticism because of disproportional liability on peripheral states with exposed borders.
As a result, many nations have ignored the Dublin Regulation and allows migrants to move freely in their country. Today, Germany and Sweden receives highest numbers of asylum seekers. Due to its widespread criticism these regulations have created a larger rift between the nations that dump large number of migrants back and forth between one nation and another. This not only strains the political relationships within nations but also harshly effects the life of an individual. A burden sharing system has already been brought as a temporary mechanism to deal with the crisis, however it is important for policy makers to establish a dedicated European asylum policy to prevent loss of lives and mayhem.
If the influx of migrants continues to grow at such unsustainable levels, more countries will be forced to impose stricter border controls.
The Schengen Agreement between 26 nations forms an area where border checks are restricted and are enforced only externally. Bordering nations on the “Schengen Zone” are required to enforce border controls and can reinstate internal border controls only for a time period of two months, that too only in the light of a valid issue of public policy or national security. The illegal movement of migrants from one country to another takes place majorly because of the visa free Schengen Zone. The Schengen Agreement was initially regarded a key element in the formation of the European Union. The failure to enforce Dublin Regulation’s has created a new term on the Schengen Agreement’s calling it a “free movement of the people” and hence resulting in an ineffective management of migrants, creating influx along with a great threat to nations security.
However, the refugee crisis has been viewed differently by many governments within the EU. Some nations have begun ignoring the agreements, which can easily be illustrated by France’s rapid response in securing its borders during the Syrian civil warin 2011 followed by the siege in Libya as hundreds not thousands of Tunisian migrants sought refuge in Italy. Alternatively, Germany too suspended the Dublin Regulation, temporary in August 2015 for asylum seekers from Syria in light of the deteriorating conditions of the Syrian Civil War. As such steps taken by the wealthiest and the largest state in the EU, this decision was taken to strengthen the entry points of Europe. However, with ignoring and suspending such regulations effects more on the lives of migrants, an effective policy to track and allocate refugee seekers is a must. If the influx of migrants continues to grow at such unsustainable levels, more countries will be forced to impose stricter border controls. This soon may take the form of permanent measures towards the influx, eradicating the existence of Schengen Agreement and questioning the EU’s key philosophy of integration.
…countries now view this as a threat towards national security.
The Issues at hand
While understanding the crisis, there are several issues that affects the nations involved: the refugees, the countries, and the citizens of host countries. It is very much necessary to taken into account the opinions and circumstances faced by such stakeholders in order to begin approaching the problem.
Varying viewpoints towards the issue have proved to be a hurdle in creating an effective policy. Earlier nations used to view this as a humanitarian crisis seeking protection and security from the host countries. Today, countries now view this as a threat towards national security. Hungary, one of the border states, have adopted a series of emergency laws since the first wave of refugees, which came in September 2015, thus making border crossings punishable by law. It gave more powers to the police and harsher punishments to anyone who breaks the law. The Hungarian government has stationed armoured regiments on the border. Moreover, it is also communicating with Serbia, to construct a fence along the border to prevent further influx of refugees, pouring from Syria and Afghanistan.
Anti-Immigration sentiments are widely flowing within many nations in the EU. Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has moved towards implementing effective laws in a desperate attempt to save the migrants, more importantly, her humanitarian steps were heavily criticised by German nationals. Financial and Economic Slowdown and the Global Financial Crisis have made domestic citizens worry on increasing taxes and jobs getting stolen by refugees. The European Commission’s emergency aid fund have proved to be far from successful as the influx continues to grow.
…the European Refugee crisis is a multi-layered issue and identifying a solution with single sided approach is impossible.
Additionally, conditions for migrants have been deteriorated due to the rise in lack of sensitivity and negative attitudes towards the crisis. Migrants have to go for dangerous routes to enter into Europe as the laws grow stricter on the borders. This has increased the cases of migrants smuggling in an unsafe environment. Once they reach Europe, they face harsher regulations imposed by the nation. In Italy, under the Bossi-Fini immigration law, migrants must carry work permits from the country they leave before entering into Italy or else they will face deportation. In Greece, asylum seekers are quite frequently mixed with criminal detainees and has been the centre of outrage from many human rights groups. Consequently, migrants prefer moving to the developed economies, such as the west, despite facing harsh difficulties, in a hope for improved quality of life and treatment. They have much better asylum centresand have generous settlement polices. Although, these nations are very difficult to penetrate.
One of the highly contested issues rests on the burden of responsibility. Germany had 40,000 migrants arrive within one weekend when it temporarily suspended the Dublin Regulations in August 2015. These conflicts highlight the importance of devising a quota system to alleviate the strain experienced by a specific group ofcountries.
The Way Forward
As mentioned earlier, the European Refugee crisis is a multi-layered issue and identifying a solution with single sided approach is impossible. While addressing this issue, it is important for policy makers to understand the relationships between the stakeholders, domestic conflicts between the citizens, and difference on opinion between the nations primarily on refuges. The large influx of migrants makes it very difficult for nationsto create an effective European policy. Instead of focussing on a unanimous approach, nations must first implement effective rehabilitation programs that will make a sustainable environment for the migrants and for the host countries, without hampering the nations’ economies. Socially, it is very important for host countries to control the anti-immigration sentiment which poses a huge hurdle in making a peaceful and integrative society.