An immigration crisis

Thursday, 2018-09-06 18:46:49
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The number of deaths while attempting to enter European Union (EU) countries by sea has increased considerably. (Reuters)
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NDO – The immigration crisis that has plagued Europe over the past few years has temporarily subsided, with the number of refugees and migrants travelling to Europe falling sharply in 2018. However, the “underground wave” of migration is still proceeding as the number of deaths while attempting to enter European Union (EU) countries by sea has increased considerably. Ahead of an EU meeting on the issue of refugees, analysts said that migration still remains a major issue for Europe in the near future.

Statistics recently released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that the influx of illegal immigrants into the EU has declined. In the first seven months of 2018, an estimated number of more than 58,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean to enter Europe, down 41% from the same period last year. However, what’s a big challenge is that the sea migration is still the deadliest crossing on the planet. As announced by the UN, nearly 1,600 people died on their journey across the Mediterranean to the EU between January and July 2018. For every 18 people crossing to Europe over the central Mediterranean, one person died, much higher compared to the rate of one death for each 42 refugees and migrants attempting the crossing over the same period in 2017. The head of the bureau for Europe in UNHCR emphasised that the problem now is no longer whether the wave of migrants is controlled or not, but whether it is possible to focus humanitarian efforts on saving more lives.

The challenge for the EU is also to ensure security and social security, as well as to solve problems related to the migrants who have arrived in Europe. UNHCR recently expressed its concerns regarding the deteriorating living conditions of migrants in Greece, particularly those on Lesbos island, where the refugee camp has become overloaded. Since 2015, Lesbos has become a major European destination for nearly one million Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi people, who make up more than 70% of all migrants currently in Greece. UNHCR stated that the situation was getting tense at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos island, where more than 7,000 asylum seekers and migrants were crammed into shelters built with a capacity for 2,000 people. Of those sheltering in Moria, many have been staying there for more than six months and 25% of them are children. Given this fact, UNHCR has called on EU countries to help the frontline countries, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, to tackle the problem of migrants.

Meanwhile, the issue of immigrants still remains a thorny problem to which a solution has yet to be worked out by the EU countries. The EU once allocated quotas of receiving immigrants to its member nations, but this proposal faced a backlash from some countries. Representatives of EU countries convened a meeting in July to thoroughly discuss plans to set up control centres in Europe, where illegal migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean, aiming to limit the movement of migrants within the bloc. The EU also proposed financial support to encourage member states to voluntarily receive migrants. The measure takes a step-by-step approach to relieving the burden of receiving migrants from Italy in the context that the country, after a long period of receiving waves of migrants from Africa, has clamped down on its reception of migrants. However, up to date, there remains no comprehensive, effective solution worked out to lift the EU out of the increasingly serious migrant crisis.

At a recent meeting in the Austrian capital of Vienna, Austrian Defense Minister Mario Kunasek recommended mobilising the EU's armed forces to assist the bloc’s border protection forces in blocking the flow of illegal immigrants. Accordingly, the use of the EU nations’ military assets such as medical units, soldiers and helicopters will be allowed if the police are overloaded when preventing illegal immigrants. Police and civil officials can monitor all activities of the soldiers. The aforementioned suggestion has been made as the ruling coalition in Austria is seeking closer control over the EU’s land and sea borders.

As planned, the EU leaders will meet this month in Salzburg, Austria, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, in order to discuss the migration crisis. However, analysts said that in the context of the serious wave of migration into Europe at present, the efforts of the EU as well as Austria’s aforementioned proposal are not enough to end such a complex crisis which has countless victims. Economic experts stated that the issue of migration still remains the biggest challenge for the EU in the context of rising populism and as more and more politicians are pursuing the policy of rejecting immigrants.