Images are Property of the British Broadcasting Corporation
By Matthew DiStefano
The ongoing conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East, including those in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as poor economic and human rights situations in nations such as Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have resulted in the migration of hundreds of thousands of people to Europe per year. The lawless and politically fractured situation in Libya, which currently has no central government, has allowed for the rapid expansion of people smuggling programs, which arrange for migrant journeys to Europe via the Mediterranean. The Civil War in Syria, already in its fourth year with no sign of peace in the near future, has led to a constant rising number of refugees across the neighboring Middle Eastern states. Over the past two years, portions of this refugee population have begun moving towards Europe, either through sea routes to Greece, or land routes through Turkey, seeking safety and economic security.
The European Union has conducted programs to help rescue migrants in the Mediterranean sea, most notably, Operation Triton, which replaced Italy’s more extensive rescue program Operation Mare Nostrum. However, Operation Triton has been deemed as ineffective in stemming the rising number of refugees that have drowned at sea. The EU is also beginning to increase aid to war torn nations in a bid to end migrations, but many critics, including the United Nations, have dismissed this as not viable. François Crépeau, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants who recently suggested that wealthy countries should agree on a comprehensive plan to take 1 million refugees from Syria, dismissed the notion that increasing aid spending to help stabilize turbulent countries would immediately help stem the flow of migrants and refugees.
In 2014 almost 2,000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. Since January of this year, 350,000 migrants have arrived on the coasts of European nations, with 2,600 more individuals drowning during the journey. The Turkish government has reported its coastguard rescued over 42,000 migrants in the Aegean Sea in the first five months of 2015 and more than 2,160 in the one week of September alone.
European Union (EU) nations are struggling to manage the large influx of refugees and migrants arriving on the continent. Hungary has erected a razor wire fence along its southern border, declared a state of emergency, and has enacted strict laws that allow for the arrest of migrants who cross the border. Hungarian riot police forces have begun to employ tear gas and water cannon to try to prevent refugees from crossing the border, while some refugees have stormed police lines to attempt to break through, leaving dozens injured on both sides.
Germany’s ability to resettle migrants has been stretched to its maximum, with over 10,000 traveling through Austria to Germany in one two-day period alone. Germany, and Austria have had to declare temporary border restrictions to control the thousands refugees they are allowing to pass through. Greece has reportedly sent ships to the Island of Kos as shelter facilities can no longer house the thousands of refugees arriving.
Croatia’s border authorities have been overwhelmed as thousands of refugees arrived following the enforcement of Hungary’s border policy last week, with over 20,000 arriving in a four-day period. In response, the Croatian government has refused to register many of these refugees and has transferred 8,000 of these migrants to Hungary. Hungary claims this action is a violation of international law. Germany and Hungary have also witnessed social disruptions due to the crisis, with several right-wing groups violently attacking refugees.
The EU has scheduled several emergency high-level summits in recent weeks to attempt to deal with the crisis. However, there is disagreement over how to settle the migrants and refugees. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has called for the distribution of 180,000 migrants across the EU, with France and Germany backing this plan. Italy and Austria agree that the EU should develop a concrete and unified policy to deal with the crisis. However, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are against this plan and instead want to reintroduce travel restrictions within the European Union to stem the flow of refugees across internal EU borders. Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has stated that the crisis is “not a European problem, the problem is a German problem” and does not want all EU nations to be involved in a resolution to the problem.
A recent vote among the EU has put mandatory quotas in place, but some Eastern European Nations, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are attempting to appeal against this decision and bring the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).