Europe faces mi­gra­tion cri­sis

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Rashid A Mughal Email:mughal_rashid@hot­

PER­HAPS the most sig­nif­i­cant cri­sis fac­ing Europe since last two years is the mas­sive in­flux of mi­grants, mostly from Mid­dle East, un­der­tak­ing a per­ilous jour­ney on un­safe boats and des­per­ately try­ing to reach EU coun­tries for a safer life. For them it is the only way out to es­cape per­se­cu­tion from au­to­cratic regimes and find a bet­ter future for them and their fam­ily. From Jan­uary to June 2015,roughly 245000 mi­grants en­tered Europe but from July to De­cem­ber 2015, this num­ber touched over one mil­lion in­di­cat­ing the na­ture and ex­tent of cri­sis.Ini­tially, the host gov­ern­ments wel­comed them with open heart and pro­vided them all the pos­si­ble help but it seems that now the tip­ping point has reached.

Weary of astro­nom­i­cal num­ber of mi­grants, reach­ing Euro­pean shores, the hosts are now find­ing ways and means to cur­tail this num­ber by all pos­si­ble means, which, in­ter-alia, in­clude con­fis­cat­ing mi­grants valu­able pos­ses­sions. Den­mark, Swe­den and Hol­land ini­ti­ated this ex­treme mea­sure. Some east Euro­pean coun­tries like Poland and Hun­gry have flatly re­fused en­try to mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers. On March 08 2016, Mace­do­nia, Slove­nia and Croa­tia closed its bor­ders for mi­grants. In some cases, de­por­ta­tions have started from some of the Euro­pean coun­tries on the pre­text of so-called crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties like mi­nor street crimes. So the scene is now chang­ing and with fast chang­ing sce­nario the time when Europe closes its bor­ders may come any time soon.

The United Na­tions refugee agency said on March 09 that pro­posal to send back refugees’ en masse from the Euro­pean Union to Turkey would, con­tra­vene their right to pro­tec­tion un­der Euro­pean and in­ter­na­tional law. Turkey has of­fered on to take back all mi­grants who cross into Europe from its soil in re­turn for more money, faster EU mem­ber­ship talks and quicker visa-free travel for Turks. EU lead­ers have ac­cepted the of­fer in prin­ci­pal.

“The col­lec­tive ex­pul­sion of for­eign­ers is pro­hib­ited un­der the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion of Hu­man Rights” said Vin­cent Co­chetel, Europe re­gional di­rec­tor of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.“Any agree­ment that may re­sult in a blan­ket re­turn of for­eign­ers to a third coun­try is not con­sis­tent with Euro­pean law and is not con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law”. Co­chetel said nine in 10 of those ar­riv­ing in Europe each day were Syr­i­ans, Iraqis and Afgha­nis “flee­ing for their life” who de­served in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion.Europe’s com­mit­ment to re­set the 20,000 refugees over two years, on a vol­un­tary ba­sis, re­mains “very low” , he said.

Europe had not even ful­filled its agree­ment last Septem­ber to re­lo­cate 66,000 refugees from Greece, re­dis­tribut­ing only 600 to date within the 28 na­tions bloc. Turkey is host­ing nearly 3 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, the most world­wide and has “done more that all the EU coun­tries to­gether”, he said. But its ac­cep­tance rate for refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran is “very low”, at about 3 per­cent. Be­fore an EU sum­mit on March 17, “sup­ple­men­tary guar­an­tees” must he put in place so those sent back to Turkey will have their asy­lum re­quest re­viewed, he said. Chil­dren’s rights to claim in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion must be guar­an­teed. Chil­dren should not to be re­turned if they face risk in­clud­ing de­ten­tions, forced re­cruit­ment, traf­fick­ing, or ex­ploita­tion”.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said in May 2015 that Europe must do more to help mi­grants, call­ing for search and res­cue op­er­a­tions in the Mediter­ranean sea to be “fur­ther strength­ened”. Fol­low­ing Ban’s com­ments, the EUs bor­der agency an­nounced it would ex­pand its search and res­cue op­er­a­tion to help cope with the up­surge in mi­grants try­ing to reach Europe. The move con­sti­tutes a dou­bling or tripling of the re­sources de­ployed up to now and comes a month af­ter EU lead­ers agreed to in­crease the op­er­a­tion’s monthly fund­ing from three mil­lion eu­ros ($3.3m) to nine mil­lion eu­ros.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional hit out re­cently at Europe’ sham­ful” re­sponse, say­ing most EU coun­tries had “sim­ply de­cided that the pro­tec­tion of their bor­ders is more im­por­tant that the pro­tec­tion of the rights of refugees. Vi­enna has come un­der fire for or­gan­is­ing talks, not least from Greece, and for im­pos­ing daily lim­its on the num­ber of mi­grants who can ap­ply for asy­lum in Aus­tria or tran­sit to other coun­tries. But de­spite sharp crit­i­cism from Ger­many, Vi­enna says that it has no choice be­cause the EU has failed to get off the ground any ef­fec­tive com­mon strat­egy. An EU scheme agreed in Septem­ber to re­lo­cate 160,000 peo­ple among EU na­tions un­der manda­tory quotes, has seen just 598 re­lo­cated so far, with some mem­bers of the bloc op­pos­ing the plan and fil­ing le­gal chal­lenges.

As a re­sult of the EUs fail­ures, coun­tries through­out the western Balkans have be­gun uni­lat­er­ally to im­pose re­stric­tions sparked by Aus­tria’s much crit­i­cized daily mi­grant lim­its. Mace­do­nia has closed its fron­tier to Afghans and in­tro­duced more strin­gent doc­u­ment checks for Syr­i­ans and Iraqis seek­ing to travel to north earn and Western Europe. Mi­gra­tion has thus be­come a di­vi­sive is­sue for Europe as it has dented the unity of the bloc, at least on this thorny sub­ject. So far no col­lec­tive pol­icy re­sponses have come from EU as each coun­try is try­ing to limit the in-take of the refugees. How­ever one most im­por­tant thing they all need to re­mem­ber is that they are not deal­ing with a com­mod­ity but they are deal­ing with hu­man be­ing in whose body the colour of blood is not dif­fer­ent than theirs and they are the creation of the same God, Who cre­ated them. — The writer is for­mer con­sul­tant, IOM&ILO.

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