The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean has topped the agenda at the 25 - 26 June meeting of the European Council where EU leaders reluctantly agreed to relocate 40,000 migrant over the next two years. As countries such as Italy and Greece are left to cope with large numbers of migrants from North Africa, the plan is rather modest and Europe remains in need of a common long-term strategy to tackle the unfolding crisis. According to the latest Eurostat figures, during the first three months of 2015 alone, 185 000 first time asylum seekers applied for protection in the European Union, up by 86% compared with the first quarter of 2014. Since the beginning of the year over 153,000 migrants have tried to enter the EU , with 63,000 migrants reaching Greece by sea and about 62,000 entering Italy. Over 1,8000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean this year attempting to reach Europe's shores.
Many Europeans are outraged by the humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep, while European leaders scramble to find a viable long-term solution to the crisis after EU countries have rejected initial proposals by the European Commission for mandatory quotas to relocate migrants across the EU.
We’ve asked three OneEurope contributors what the EU's response to the migrant crisis should be. Here are their answers:
'The Mediterranean refugee crisis has taken its toll on Europe with the increasing flows of migrants from North Africa and Middle East trying to make their way into Europe. Most of these people come from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Syria, Iraq. Essentially the majority of them are fleeing persecution and war. This year has taken a tragic turn with nearly 2,000 people losing their lives in the Mediterranean, turning it from a safe haven into a cemetery for European values.
EU’s response up to now has been meager and short-sighted. Firstly, by ending the sea rescue Mare Nostrum operation and introducing operation Triton, the EU through Frontex, instead of stopping or diverting the migrant flow, put them at more risk. Even now, the decision of the EU Parliament to share the asylum burden between the North and the crisis torn South, will not solve the problem. Nor will Frontex's commitment to identify, capture, and destroy traffickers ships, and operational command solve the crisis. As long as countries such as Lybia, which is the main hub where the smugglers operate from, remain a failed state nothing will improve.
In market economic terms, the demand will be there. Somalia, Syria and other countries continue being war torn states where authorities cannot ensure the safety of their citizens. Thus, if there is demand there will always be supply. New smugglers will come to substitute the old ones and facilitate this journey of souls. And for every illegal migration route that the EU will close, another one more dangerous will be created. The EU should work towards a long term response, by attempting to stabilise the countries of origin of refugees. Secondly, there should be a coordinated attempt to create safe havens that can operate as legal refugee hubs in North Africa and the Middle East through which the refugees can apply for asylum into Europe before taking the trip.
If these steps are not taken and the refugee stream continues, Europe will have to bear the moral responsibility for those drown in the Mediterranean in search of a better life. On the other hand, internal EU pressures will increase with anti-immigration far-right parties lobbying in favor of a stricter and inhumane Australian-like “return the vessels back” approach staining even more EU’s human right reputation.'
Ana Isabel Oliveira
'The EU and its member states should first of all tackle the problem of the lack of solidarity among EU member states and their residents. Increasingly a lack of compassion for migrants seems to be embedded in the minds of many EU citizens. I wonder if those who refuse to help undocumented migrants would like to be treated this way were they the ones fleeing their countries due to war, famine, persecution etc. It's not a question of weighing out pros and cons of hosting more people - it's about saving lives from an almost certain death. You would like to be helped too!'
'Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said at a talk given in Barcelona two years ago that 'fascisms have lately been raising in Europe because they give simple answers to problems that are much more complex'. I truly believe that one of such complex problems is the current migration crisis and the poor people drowning into the seas. Here you have some of the ‘simple’ responses to that problem: “Supporting search and rescue missions for sinking vessels is a pull factor encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing”; and another: “They are coming here to get what is yours”.
Problems are far more complex than that. The famous 99% did not appear in a social vacuum. This is the result of years of colonisation, imperialisms, wars and so on. People do not like to put their lives at risk for nothing. In reality, they do that because they are desperate, they have no other option. We cannot really imagine how bad their situation must be, because we already are on the other side. It is all about empathy. And empathy does not play the game of numbers, rationality and economic decisions. Dan Ariely, a prestigious professor of psychology and behavioural economics, has written some books where he argues that rational thinking blocks human empathy.
This is exactly what occurs when we count the number of migrants drowned on Europe's shores or when some politicians point out economic reasons for not doing anything when it comes to save these people. We must stop seeing them as numbers or percentages that are dying. Above all, they are human beings, as you and me. As simple as that. Almost every day, I hear that widespread comment that: “well, it is so sad that people are dying, but there is nothing we can do, here we also have problems”. If you think like this, you are within the rational domain. Though empathy does not work there. Once we start seeing “the others” as equals, the simple answers to complex problems will begin to disappear. Unfortunately, we are running out of time.
How do you think the EU should tackle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean? Should more funding be allocated to rescue operations? Would a compulsory quota system work?