Author: Irina KHALTURINA
Compared with the peak of the migration crisis in autumn 2015, the flow of refugees from Africa and the Middle East to Europe significantly decreased. However, the problem remains unsolved, as the EU continues to suffer from the largest migration crisis since the Second World War. There are about 1.5 million refugees illegally residing in European countries. It is obvious that the EU needs to adopt a general program on refugees, which would be managed from a single centre and ensure a fair distribution of migrants among all EU member states. But there is still no agreement or clear plan on how such a system should be developed. While the EU states are delegating responsibilities on each other to find a solution, a wave of populist and xenophobic sentiments is gathering momentum in politics. The Schengen zone, which allows visa-free movement within the EU, is under a serious threat.
Ghost borders of the EU
According to the European Council, the number of illegal migrants has fallen by 96% compared to October 2015. Nevertheless, new ships with refugees saved in the Mediterranean continue to arrive. According to various sources, up to 55 thousand refugees reached Europe from the beginning of 2018 till July 25. In July, hundreds of migrants landed on the coast of Spain after a long trip from Morocco through the Strait of Gibraltar and further to the port city of Algeciras. As reported by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), if the total number of migrants seeking asylum in Spain was a little more than 22,4 thousand in 2017, then from January 1 to July 27 of this year this number reached almost 21 thousand, plus 5,916 migrants since the beginning of July.
The inflow of migrants was redirected back to Spain after the new Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, refused to allow two ships ("Life Line" and "Aquarius") with hundreds of migrants on board to the Italian shore. During the last general elections, the right-wing party League of North promised to take a tough stance against immigrants by deporting the illegal ones. This should explain Salvini's follow-up statement when he said that his country said 'no' to human trafficking and illegal immigration business. The Italian Minister of Interior believes that Rome must deport even more migrants and those who have already received asylum from the Italian authorities should be distributed among other EU states.
The problem, however, is that Salvini's opinion is directly against the demand of his German counterpart Horst Seehofer from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the most conservative wing of the fragile government coalition headed by Frau Merkel. Seehofer believes that it is necessary to limit the movement of migrants within the EU and stop accepting new migrants who have been registered in another EU previously. His another idea, which is included in the Masterplan Migration, is the creation of a network of camps in the country for all the migrants with problems. In fact, this was Seehofer's ultimatum to the Chancellor Angela Merkel, which eventually provoked a serious crisis making it difficult to reach an agreement. For example, in accordance with the compromise reached, migrants on the Austrian-German border will be deported to another EU country where they have already applied for refugee status. This also applies to persons who were previously denied entry and residence in Germany. From the transit centres planned to set up at the border of Germany with Austria, the migrants will be deported to the EU states responsible for handling their cases.
It was because of Merkel's intention to somehow reassure his rebellious minister when she called an informal meeting of European leaders in early July. The EU leaders agreed on a number of measures on migrants, which, according to many observers, do not seem very convincing though. For example, the agreement on the voluntary creation of controlled migration centres for the reception of refugees in Europe still raises many questions. The same is true of the "regional platforms" for the settlement of migrants outside Europe. So far, it is not clear where and when such centres will be created, who will tackle this job, and how this whole venture will be funded, let alone ambiguous criteria for filtering out economic migrants and refugees fleeing from military conflicts and natural disasters.
In other words, even the tiniest likelihood of reaching agreement is still far away. For example, Italy and Austria are against the reception of migrants who were denied asylum in Germany, even if they were originally registered in these countries. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland have long had a similar opinion. Poland opposes the establishment of centres for the reception of migrants within the EU. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that migrants from Germany should be returned to Greece rather than to Hungary, which is usually their first entry point into the EU. The Czech authorities say that they will introduce control at the borders of the republic if illegal migrants are likely to cause a threat to their country. According to the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the migration crisis can be solved only if the illegal migration is stopped.
Greed or desire to help?
Another problem, which was widely publicised in European states this summer, is the suspicion that non-profit and human rights organisations involved in saving migrants at sea can cooperate with smugglers. This first person to openly voice the problem was again Matteo Salvini. In response, the Chairman of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani proposed an initiative to make a black list of organisations involved in the transportation of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe.
In this situation, it is very difficult to define the problem clearly. On the one hand, it is clear that many migrants could not reach Europe without criminal schemes specifically tailored for refugees. On the other hand, what about the refugees striving to survive in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea? According to the IOM, over 1.5 thousand migrants and refugees have died in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2018 in an attempt to reach the European shores. What about the children living in poor sanitary conditions for a long time and without access to medical care? According to the SOS Mediterranean, among the refugees on board the vessel that Italy refused to admit, there were 123 unaccompanied adolescents (13 to 17 years), 11 small children and seven pregnant women. Therefore, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) criticised the EU calling the agreement adopted by the EU leaders inhumane. "The only thing the European countries have agreed upon is, apparently, about stopping people at the European border, no matter how defenseless and vulnerable they are and what horrors they have experienced," the head of the MSF Emergency Department, Karlin Kleicher, said.
No-go-area of European politics
But this is not all the problems associated with the migration crisis. First, some of the migrants arriving in Europe commit serious crimes. For example, according to a recent government report, the proportion of migrants among the total number of offenders in Germany is disproportionately large and most often they are young men. It was they who committed sexual assaults on women during the New Year celebrations in 2015 in Cologne. And it's not the only case of violence. At the end of July, migrants aggressively broke through the Spainish border throwing lime, stones, sticks, Molotov cocktails, excrements and hashish at policemen, and using grinders, scissors, and hammers to cut through the barbed fences. It is unlikely that they will be more peaceful in the future. In some cities of Europe, there were migrant enclaves - no-go-areas, where police and other public services are afraid to go, and this problem was recently recognized by Merkel herself. Secondly, it is clear that refugees inevitably squeeze out the indigenous population from some areas of European cities. So, in addition to no-go-areas, there are already kindergartens and schools, where refugee children predominate. However, public discussion of these problems is not welcome because of the fear of being considered intolerant and racist. The Old World has become a hostage of its own liberal values, when the result is directly opposite - the growth of xenophobic attitudes in society and the popularity of similarly minded politicians.
In fact, Brussels has not many options to choose from. It should either develop mechanisms for solving the problem on the spot or stop the flow of refugees to Europe. Apparently, the first option is not an easy task to tackle with. The second is even more difficult. The main suppliers of migrants are Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ghana, and Sudan; that is, the countries where the international community, especially the most influential EU states (including the NATO members), G7 and G20 members, permanent members of the UN Security Council are fighting terrorism and help overthrow undemocratic regimes, send out humanitarian missions to combat poverty and disease, revive the agriculture, etc. and where they continue to mine minerals, including oil. Therefore, the greed of smugglers taking migrants to Europe is only the tenth priority issue of all the problems... The problem is much deeper and more serious. Stopping the inflow of refugees is possible only through social and economic transformation. Only after that, the residents of Africa and the Middle East will not flee in search of a better life. To solve the migration problem once and forever, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called upon the European Union to develop a Marshall Plan for Africa. However, in reality, one does not need to be a politician or an economist to understand the futility of these proposals.
The EU, however, is mostly busy with muddling through the situation. Thus, on August 1, the European Commission allocated almost €40m for the improvement of the reception conditions of migrants in Greece. Spain will get at least half of this amount. As one of the measures to prevent the flow of migrants to Spain through the Mediterranean Sea, EC also considers the provision of funds to Morocco and Tunisia to strengthen their national border services. But this does not solve the problem in any way, which means they will intensify and drive the EU deeper into the crisis in the future.