The Last few months have witnessed a sharp rise in the refugee crisis in Europe, with an increasing number of refugees and immigrants attempting to cross into European territories whether through land borders in eastern and southern Europe or via the sea or air, in addition to a rise in the number of refugees trying to reach specific countries inside Europe which offer them better opportunities.
Greece and Bulgaria are at the centre of this European asylum crisis, with refugees directing themselves to these two countries as they approach from Turkey. However, Greece and Bulgaria are then used as a transit to richer countries within the European Union.
In the few past days, clashes have taken place at the Greek and Macedonian borders when thousands of refugees- the majority of them Syrian- attempted to cross the border between Greece and Macedonia on 21/8/2015, with the Macedonian police using tear gas to force them back. On 22/8/2015, thousands of refugees stormed the barbed wire between the two countries and crossed the border into Macedonia.
These clashes mark the beginning of a new phase in this crisis. Previously, the border police of the asylum countries would deal with asylum cases on an individual bases, or in the hundreds when it came to those entering via boats. However, this may be the first time in which thousands of refugees collectively attempt to storm the border of a European country.
The Size of the European Crisis
European Union official figures report that the number of refugees that have reached Europe this year have already exceeded double that of 2014’s figure. According to official figures, 50,000 people – the majority of them Syrians- reached the Greek islands in the month of July alone.
Counting from the beginning of the year until mid August (20/8/2015 more specifically), 149, 028 people have reached Greece during 2015, whilst 103, 864 have reached the shores of Italy.
Until now, Germany has taken in the largest number of asylum seekers, with estimations of the number of asylum requests reaching 800,000 by the end of the year, according to official German estimations.
The Policy of Exporting the Crisis
Reading he movements of refugees and their data indicates that many countries practice the policy of “exporting the crisis”: they make it easy for refugees to move to Europe, after which some of the European countries, and especially those on the border, try to export the crisis to the richer European countries, which in turn attempt to export the crisis within themselves.
The majority of Arab countries hosting Syrian refugees (in which they are seen as either residents or guests) make their daily life restrictive through being militant in their request for identity documents which the refugees do not own, in addition to repeated security summons. This is whilst they allow smuggler groups to flourish and spread their local numbers on social media pages.
The Turkish authorities work in the same manner, lessening their security hold on the border with Macedonia as well as the sea area close to Greece whilst blatantly ignoring smuggler groups which even have offices in Turkish cities to which refugees pay money.
Government apparatus in Greece, Italy and Bulgaria also employ violence and torture against refugees before releasing them in their own lands. At times, they release them in areas close to the border in an effort to push them to migrate to other European countries.
The refugee crisis in Calais (France), in which refugees are attempting to cross the channel into the UK whilst French authorities refuse to take action against them is an example of the French trying to export the refugee crisis in its lands to the UK.
Countries producing the refugee crisis engage in deliberate acts to push its civilians to migrate outside the country in order to push their internal crisis to neighbouring countries, and then internationally, making the solutions to the problem more complex. The Syrian regime has worked hard on pushing Syrians outside of the country in a glaring and increasing manner, so much so that Syrians have become the number one people seeking asylum, as well as the highest number of refugees in the world.
In order to push Syrians towards migration, the Syrian regime has repeatedly committed massacres whilst opening up crossings and borders from which civilians can flee to neighbouring countries. The Syrian regime has also restricted Syrians in the issue of identity documents as well as practicing other policies which have transformed the crisis inside Syria to one of the whole region, before transforming it into an international issue.
Death at Sea
The year 2015 has witnessed a sharp rise in the death of refugees attempting to cross the sea to reach Europe. Most of those who drowned were those attempting to reach the shores of Italy, in comparison to a lesser number that died in their attempt to reach the Greek shores. According to figures of the International Migration Organisation, 1930 people drowned as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy during 2015, whilst 70 drowned in their attempt to reach Greece in the same year.
According to the organisation’s figures, April witnessed the highest number of deaths in 2015, with 1265 refugees drowning at sea.
The number of people who have drowned in 2015 so far are thirty times more than the number of those who drowned in 2014.
Where do the Refugees Come from?
Syrians form the largest number of refugees that arrive to Greece, mostly due to the fact that most of them come from Turkey and because it is easier for them to reach. In 2015, 60% of refugees that arrived to Greece were Syrian. However, when it comes to refugees arriving to Italy, the largest number are those from North Africa with Syrians only forming 9.7%.
Causes of European Crisis
The international refugee crisis is centred mainly in Europe, regardless of other rich countries and safe countries in the world, due to its geographical position; as it is difficult for migrants coming from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to go to the United States, Canada, Australia and other areas which are separated by sea from their countries of origin. However, the arrival of refugees from different countries is causing a crisis within Europe itself, as refugees are attempting to come in from countries which are not member to the Schengen agreement to countries which are members. In the same manner, refugees are moving to rich countries which are member to the Schengen agreement without registering themselves in the poorer European countries.
The richer countries are suffering from a crisis within themselves due to the orientation of refugees towards specific cities due to laws within cities of the same country being different, as is the case in Germany for example.
And in the official figures released by the EU in the middle of this year, Germany has accepted the largest number of asylum seekers, the number reaching to 171,000 cases of asylum, in comparison to Iceland or Croatia whose cases for asylum have not exceeded 80.
What can Europe do with the Refugees?
European countries hold responsibilities towards the refugees due to their being rich and active members of the international community, as well as due to the fact that the refugees have arrived into their lands, and therefore Europe is bound by international and European agreements on human rights to protect them and deal with the violations which they are suffering from. These responsibilities are mandatory, unlike the humanitarian responsibilities towards refugees who do not reside on one’s land.
Although the EU nations have received many refugees, there is still more that they can do to protect these refugees, including:
- Putting pressure on international organizations to stop the violations which are causing the flow of refugees- the most prominent of which are the violations taking place in Syria- and to stop working with regimes which do not support human rights and which are responsible for pushing out their civilians in search for a safe and dignified life.
- To work on securing a legal alternative to identity documents for Syrians as well as renewing those documents which do exist, as the Syrian regime uses these documents to put pressure on Syrians and blackmail them, pushing them to seek refuge in European countries.
- To put pressure on Arab countries hosting refugees in order to act more leniently with the Syrian refugees, and especially when it comes to the issue of expired travel documents.
- Working with the international community to secure safe areas inside Syria, so that these areas can provide a safe haven for Syrians seeking protection.
- To put pressure on countries into which refugees are entering either via land borders or via the sea to deal with them in a dignified manner and to stop torturing them or dealing with them in an undignified manner, as is practiced in particular by the Greek, Italian and Bulgarian authorities. This includes forcing the refugees to leave these countries through severe beating which causes their limbs to break, as well as through the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, and police dogs, as well as the theft of refugee luggage and money.
- To work on setting up a European body to monitor the performance of EU member states with regards to the refugee crisis. This body can also measure the implementation of human rights of these states with regards to the way they deal with refugees and document any violations which take place.
- To ensure that any work taking place with refugees is grounded in human rights. This includes dealing with them equally regardless of their religion, colour, and ethnicity. During this current month, two unprecedented stances have been witnessed by the countries of Slovakia and Poland, both of whom have refused to take in any Muslim Syrian refugees. This does not correspond with international and European standards of human rights.
- To work on unifying asylum laws within these countries in order to stop the crisis from overwhelming certain countries whilst other countries do not step up to any responsibility.
- To work on the issue of smuggler gangs, who use refugees, exploit their needs, and put their lives at risk. Although these gangs are mostly active in the Middle East and North Africa where they work in a semi-public manner and place their adverts and communication on social media, they have representatives in Europe who make their work easy for them.
- Asylum requests should be studied with care and consideration in order to distinguish those who require protection due to their activities in the public affairs from those who are migrating due to financial or other reasons.