Refugees flee­ing Is­lamic State for Europe sel­dom make it

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY JANELLE DU­MALAON

BERLIN | As con­flicts worsen in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, im­mi­grants from those re­gions in­creas­ingly are em­bark­ing for Europe in search of bet­ter lives. Many never reach their des­ti­na­tions.

About 1,600 im­mi­grants have died in the past three months en route to Europe, bring­ing the to­tal to nearly 2,000 this year alone, the U.N. Com­mit­tee for Hu­man Rights said in Au­gust. At least 700 more are feared drowned in a ship­wreck off the coast of Libya in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion.

“By now the EU is the dead­li­est bor­der on earth,” said Henk van Hou­tum, head of the Ni­jmegen Cen­tre for Bor­der Re­search at Rad­boud Univer­sity in the Nether­lands. “Un­doc­u­mented mi­grants are en­ter­ing in in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous ways. Many il­le­gal mi­grants have died on their way to the EU — more than 23,000 since 1993.”

The fa­tal­i­ties are the most vis­i­ble di­men­sion of the EU’s im­mi­gra­tion prob­lem. But they aren’t the only prob­lem: Im­mi­grants who reach the con­ti­nent pose other chal­lenges that are pit­ting Euro­pean coun­tries against each other.

Most of Europe’s im­mi­grants are head­ing to pros­per­ous EU mem­ber states like Ger­many or Swe­den, where jobs and so­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits are plen­ti­ful. But ac­cord­ing to EU laws, those who sur­vive the per­ilous jour­ney across the Mediter­ranean or through the Mid­dle East and Turkey must re­main in the coun­try where they first en­tered Europe.

That means many im­mi­grants are stuck in eco­nom­i­cally strug­gling bor­der coun­tries like Bul­garia, Italy and Spain that don’t have the re­sources to ac­com­mo­date them. Many im­mi­grants wind up liv­ing in dis­mal tent ci­ties and sub­sist­ing on aid from gov­ern­ments and aid or­ga­ni­za­tions.

South­ern Euro­pean coun­tries are ask­ing the rest of Europe for help in pro­cess­ing refugees who ar­rived on their shores but never in­tended to stay.

“Coun­tries on the Mediter­ranean rec­og­nize the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges that come with the search and res­cue of spon­ta­neous ar­rivals across the sea,” said El­iz­a­beth Col­lett, a Brussels-based an­a­lyst at the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute. “They would like other mem­ber states to help them with the asy­lum pro­cess­ing.”

Italy, for in­stance, is spend­ing $17 mil­lion a month on ships, he­li­copters, hous­ing and other mea­sures to ac­com­mo­date a 700 per­cent in­crease in im­mi­grants com­pared to last year.

At the same time, how­ever, Ger­many, Swe­den and other Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries ac­cept a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of asy­lum-seek­ers in Europe who have fled po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and vi­o­lence.

Ac­cord­ing to Euro­stat, Ger­many re­ported the high­est num­ber of asy­lum ap­pli­cants last year — 127,000 — nearly dou­ble the num­ber in France, which had over 66,000. Swe­den just had over 54,000, while the United King­dom had almost 30,000.

But get­ting EU mem­bers to agree on a common pol­icy has been a thorny prob­lem, Ms. Col­lett says.

The EU has ap­pro­pri­ated $4 bil­lion over the next six years to help mem­ber states han­dle the in­flux. But that fund­ing won’t be enough if Brussels does not com­mit to em­brac­ing an EU-wide im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, an­a­lysts say.

Euro­pean lead­ers have not changed EU rules to al­low asy­lum-seek­ers and refugees to move more freely within the EU, for ex­am­ple, a change that would re­dis­tribute their num­bers through­out the con­ti­nent.

“We ef­fec­tively have the vaguest set of com­mit­ments they could pos­si­bly make,” said Ms. Col­lett. “Be­cause any­thing more spe­cific be­came too con­tentious.”

In­stead, Euro­pean lead­ers fo­cus on bor­der se­cu­rity.

“It is eas­ier for Euro­pean gov­ern­ments to col­lab­o­rate on ar­eas where specif­i­cally there is a se­cu­rity im­per­a­tive,” Ms. Col­lett said. “Bor­der man­age­ment seems to be pro­gress­ing faster than the other is­sues, such as le­gal mi­gra­tion and asy­lum. Mem­ber states can see the ad­van­tages of col­lab­o­rat­ing on bor­der man­age­ment, but can’t nec­es­sar­ily see the same ad­van­tages in col­lab­o­rat­ing on asy­lum.”

The choice of Greek De­fense Min­is­ter Dim­itris Avramopou­los to re­place cur­rent EU Home Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner Ce­cilia Malm­strom, a Swede, in De­cem­ber sig­nals the EU’s hard­en­ing stance, said James Hamp­shire, a pol­i­tics lec­turer at the Sus­sex Cen­tre for Mi­gra­tion Re­search at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex.

“The fact that he is a de­fense min­is­ter sug­gests that the com­mis­sion wants to project a ‘tough’ ap­proach to the is­sues of bor­der con­trol and ir­reg­u­lar mi­gra­tion,” said Mr. Hamp­shire.

But in­creas­ing se­cu­rity on the bor­der won’t stem im­mi­gra­tion, said Mr. Van Hou­tum of Rad­boud Univer­sity. In­stead, it will likely re­sult in more deaths as im­mi­grants take big­ger risks to reach Europe. Ex­pand­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion would be bet­ter be­cause it would at least give au­thor­i­ties an op­por­tu­nity to con­trol how the im­mi­grants en­ter the EU.

“Peo­ple from coun­tries like Afghanistan, Syria and So­ma­lia almost have no pos­si­bil­ity to travel legally to the EU, and of­ten see no other op­tion then to en­ter il­le­gally,” said Mr. Van Hou­tum.

But lib­er­al­iz­ing EU im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy is un­likely, said Steven Peers, a pro­fes­sor of EU law and hu­man rights at the Univer­sity of Es­sex in Bri­tain.

“There are only a few peo­ple who would shrug off the loss of life and be in­dif­fer­ent to it, but at the same time, I think most peo­ple would like to save all those lives with­out hav­ing any ex­tra im­mi­grants,” Mr. Peers said. “That’s the prob­lem politi­cians have: know­ing that is where a lot of pub­lic opin­ion stands.”

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