EU: Recent Migrant Influx Questions The Block’s Policy

EU: Recent Migrant Influx Questions The Block’s Policy

A summer surge in migrants during the global coronavirus pandemic proves to be challenging for the European Union. The block’s tougher stance on migration since the 2015 crisis will likely require adjustments, as an influx of migrants from the Middle East and Latin America burdens the southern Member States. However, internal collision on the issue is unlikely to lead to substantial migration policy reforms. 

Pressure on Europe’s approach to migration

EU Members States’ inability to tackle a surge in migrants is revealed amid recent immediate tensions between the Member States. A summer influx of people seeking to cross the EU’s borders amid the coronavirus pandemic coincided with overcrowding of migrants camps in Italy and Greece. It also overlapped with increasing difficulties in implementing health and safety regulations. A recent fire led to the displacement of several thousand people who lived the overpopulated Greek camp of Moria, effectively forefronting the EU’s lack of a comprehensive migration strategy. Member States have long quarrelled over the redistribution of migrants and failed to adopt a mandatory quota system. However, violent conflicts in the Middle East and Latin America has enabled a sudden increase of migrants on European shores, and thus put pressure on improving the bloc’s flawed approach.

Europe’s tougher stance on migration

The European Union’s soft approach on migration has changed since the 2015 migrant crisis. Earlier this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allowed Syrian refugees to cross the border with Greece, saying that Turkey could not cope with the current refugee flow from Syria. This violation of the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement, was not just met by the block’s diplomacy. Despite not being comparable to the greater 2015 migrant flow refugees attempted to cross the border and Greece used tear gas and violence against them. Athens also blocked asylum application; an action which was criticised by the European Commission. Furthermore, the EU sent 700 million euros to aid Greek border management and attempted to fortify its external borders.

However, this year has continued to challenge the block’s approach to migration. Around 40,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea in 2020. Although these numbers are not high in comparison to last year’s trends, a migrant flow has proven challenging for southern countries, which fear that overcrowded migrant camps risk the spread of coronavirus. One can simply look to the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos for an example. After 35 migrants tested positive for COVID-19, a fire broke out in the camp, which led to the displacement of its entire population of 13,000. Moria, which was intended to host 3,000 refugees, has now burned down and imposed inhumane living conditions on migrants.

Italy has also struggled to manage its camps and daily arrivals of migrants. In July, 129 migrants tested positive for coronavirus at the overpopulated Lampedusa migrant camp in Sicily. In the next month, 200 people escaped the camp to avoid mandatory quarantine, which led to the deployment of military forces in the region. In addition, both Italy and Malta have blocked migrant boats and imposed mandatory quarantine regulations, which has resulted in migrants being indefinitely forced to stay on oil tankers and other unsuitable vessels.

The innate political nature of the burden-sharing between the Member States has prevented the adoption of cohesive EU-wide migration policy. While southern countries have pursued a mandatory redistribution system, central and eastern Members States, like Poland and Hungary, have disregarded the idea. Currently, neither the Dublin Regulation for managing asylum applications nor the partially implemented Malta Agreement which sought mandatory redistribution, prove to be efficient.

The conflicts behind the migrant flow

The sources of this summer migrant surge are on-going conflicts in the Middle East and Latin America. According to the European Asylum Support Office, despite a drop in applications after the introduction of coronavirus regulations, 2020 asylum applications are predominantly made by Syrian and Afghan nationals. Since December 2019, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been trying to regain control over the last rebel and jihadi stronghold, the north-western province of Idlib. The violence inflicted on the region has resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis, which has increased the number of people crossing the Turkish-Syrian border in pursuit of safety and security.

Similarly, on-going violence in Afghanistan has led to a surge of migrants. Despite hopes of successful intra-Afghan peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, attacks in the country have continued increasing. At least 1,500 people have been killed in Afghanistan just in July. Since 2019, Afghan nationals have become the predominant refuge crossing the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe.

Economic crises and violent power struggles have also resulted in large displacements in Latin America. The Venezuelan economic downfall and political struggle between the authoritarian government of President Nicholas Maduro and the opposition of self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido, has led to hyperinflation, power cuts, and food and medicine shortages. As a result, almost 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Relentless internal conflicts and drug wars in Colombia have additionally displaced millions. The high levels of violence have persisted, despite the 2016 historic peace deal between the government and the left-wing guerrilla movement Revolution Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Prognosis 

The European Union is attempting to rescue its migration policy. After the fire at the Moria migrant camp, the EU has decided to assist Greece in establishing the new Kara Tepe camp. Germany itself has vowed to accommodate 1,500 migrants. In addition, the European Commission is to announce its new pact on migration and asylum at the end of September, which was originally expected in the spring.

Despite these efforts, an internal division is likely to impede the European Commission’s efforts to establish a mandatory quota system to redistribute migrants. Unlike 2015, the political climate within and outside the EU has ultimately changed with right-wing, populist, and nationalist tendencies becoming more widespread. Notably, in May, Hungary closed its migrant “transit zones” and blocked asylum applications, followed by a decision to implement border restrictions amidst fears of a second coronavirus wave in September. Poland’s conservative nationalist right-wing Law and Justice Party is also likely to oppose accommodating migrants.

In addition, these policy changes are to occur in a troubling political environment – Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiations with the UK appear to be unsuccessful, while political unrest in Belarus continues. Despite hopes that Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union would reform the block’s current migrant policy, a division is likely to persist.

Categories: Europe, Security

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