European Deadlock: Refugees and Migrants

European Deadlock: Refugees and Migrants

According to the International Organization for Migration reports, 51,782 migrants arrived to Europe this year so far by sea. Although this is less than half of the figure for the same period last year, the death toll remains high with more than 1400 migrants are death or missing in the Mediterranean Sea by July 15. While the Aegean route between Turkey and Greece was in the spotlight in 2015, the central Mediterranean route between Italy and Libya topped the list in casualties both in 2016 and 2017, and Spain surpassed Italy this year with 18,653 people arriving since January against Italy’s 17,838.

With its policy aiming to prevent migrants from coming to the EU territory and keeping them in third countries, the EU has cooperated with Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey in the Mediterranean, especially in planning joint prevention and rescue operations as well as readmission of migrants, who somehow arrived the EU territory passing through these countries. For example, the EU-Turkey deal was signed on March 18, 2016 as a result of thousands of refugees from Syria arriving in Greece. Although the deal has been in force in last two years, there are still disagreements between Turkey and the EU regarding visa liberalization for Turkish citizens and financial aid that the EU had promised in return.

The central Mediterranean route has been the deadliest route because of the long distance between departure and arrival points. To tackle the problem of irregular arrivals, Libya and Italy has signed number of agreements, mainly to enable the Libyan coastguard to combat the traffickers. The EU also announced its 200 million Euros plan for preventing the arrival of migrants from Libya; but only 32 million Euros of it was earmarked for the training of the Libyan coastguard. In any case, cooperation with Libya has come under scrutiny recently with sustained claims by the Amnesty International regarding heavy violations of human rights in Libya, including the slavery of returned refugees.

There are also disagreements among the member countries, especially between the central Europeans and those bordering non-EU states. While members such as Hungary and the Czech Republic are against the quotas for refugees, Italy, Greece and Spain rightly complain about the heavy burden on them as the “first arrival country”, which are responsible for processing the asylum files and end up hosting most of them for years. Others are able to return the refugees to the first country of entry to the EU. Clearly, the regulation is not working efficiently but difficult to amend because of the reluctance of the central and eastern European members while anti-immigrant discourses gain popularity throughout the EU.

Recently, the EU leaders again gathered in Brussels on June 29 to find a better way out from the so-called “refugee crisis”. The result was an agreement to set up control centers in neighboring countries and send back the rescued migrants to them to process their asylum claims. The agreement also foresees further payments to these countries; i.e. Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Turkey. Of course, nobody bothered to ask the opinion of those countries before the EU leaders’ agreed among themselves, and Libya became the first country rejecting the proposal. As there is no meaningful explanation why the third countries should assume the EU’s responsibilities, the others would no doubt also reject the new proposal soon. What will most probably follow are lengthy negotiations between the EU and the related countries while refugees/migrants continue die in the Mediterranean or live in inhuman conditions in their first arrival countries. This will continue forever until and unless the EU finally stops trying to outsource its refugee problem by mainly paying more money to keep them away, but tries to deal the root causes of the problem in their countries of origin.

Mustafa Aydın, European Union,