It has now almost been three years since Europe saw itself at the centre of a rapidly emerging migration crisis. Immigrants came primarily from Africa and the Middle East, overwhelmingly so from countries befallen by violence and war. Although the overall number of migrants has now decreased, the issues are not over. Yet, the migration crisis has largely vanished from newspaper headlines, only sporadically making reappearances in broader assessments of the situations in Syria for instance. The problem, however, is far from being solved.
Countries in Africa and the Middle East have been swamped with political, economic and social problems for some time, yet the increase in migration in 2015 was not necessarily caused by a worsening situation there. Rather, a change in Macedonian legislation, now allowing migrants a three-day time period to travel across the country and temporary asylum permits, caused a high increase in migration by allowing a considerably shorter migration route to Europe. It has also been said that Germany’s proclamation to offer temporary residency for refugees in 2015 encouraged many migrants to move to the Western Balkan route to enter Germany. Since then Europe has found itself overrun by immigrants.
The European Union felt overrun metaphorically, rather than in terms of numbers, as effective legislation was and remains absent. The EU has still not developed a cohesive, effective and fair strategy on how to cope with and distribute responsibility for refugees. The Dublin regulations state that the EU nation on which the migrant or refugee first landed is responsible for their asylum application. As it became increasingly difficult for frontline states like Italy or Greece to cope with the high numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, the EU moved to reform the Dublin regulations. It attempted to establish refugee quotas to relieve pressures on the frontline states, as well as some of the more attractive countries for refugees such as Germany and Sweden. This has however, been unsuccessful, as some countries (Hungary and the Czech Republic) refused cooperation, as they were worried about their own country’s national homogeneity and cohesion. Even subsequent aims by the EU to sue these states failed.
The crisis has also caused some domestic political difficulties. In Germany Merkel’s ‘open-door-policy’ caused such a high influx of refugees, creating anti-refugee sentiment and consequently helping the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which secured a seat in the German parliament last autumn. Considering the migration crisis’s enormous impact on EU countries, surprisingly little has been done to tackle the issue, abroad, at home or on the migration routes.
A recent UNICEF Report shows the reality many of the migrants still face on their journey to Europe. The Report’s four key findings concerns the dangers of exploitation and abuse on the two most popular migration routes, the Central Mediterranean Route (CMR) and the Eastern Mediterranean Route (EMR). The CMR appears to be considerably more dangerous especially for youths, 77% of which reported exploitation compared to 17% on the EMR. Adolescents and youths from sub-Saharan Africa are particularly high risk of trafficking and exploitation, especially on the CMR, possibly due to underlying factors of racism. Furthermore, those travelling alone and with lesser education face greater risk of exploitation on both routes.
The Report then provides a six-pronged plan to battle such exploitation and decrease the danger migrants face on their journey to Europe. It proposes the creation of safe and legal channels for child migrants, strengthening child protection schemes and providing assistance and information. It calls for an end to detention of refugee and migrant children by creating practical alternatives, such as foster care, and urges to keep families together, as well as provide education and health care to uprooted children through collective efforts by government and communities. Lastly it presses for action on the causes that uproot children from their homes and combating xenophobia and discrimination, often at the heart of exploitation and abuse.
Although this Report was published in September 2017, little has changed in Europe’s attitudes and approaches towards the on-going migration crisis, as the EU seems bogged down in domestic political affairs following elections in many of its major countries and continuous debates surrounding Brexit. There is an on-going failure to take collective action and responsibility for asylum seekers and to create safe and legal channels to enter Europe. The crisis in Syria is nowhere near to be controlled and neither are many of the social, economic and political problems in Africa and the Middle East. The migration problem however, will not stop before the conflicts have subsided. Regulating migration is one thing; going to the source is another and arguably the more sustainable option. If the EU continues to neglect these issues it will soon face an irreversible and uncontrollable situation. The silence surrounding reports of the refugee crisis does not mean that it is over, and the European countries would do well to remember this.