The Immigration Crisis in Europe
The journey across the Mediterranean Sea can be brutal. Migrants make this journey on a rigid inflatable boats or on makeshift boats with a few gallons of fuel and with no one to guide them across the sea. Families from Africa, the horn of Africa, and Syria have been risking their lives to flee from the conflict zones. They hope they will be picked up by a merchant ship, a fishing boat, or by patrolling coast guards. According to the International Organization of Migrants, more than 2600 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.
Libya it has become an epicenter of the immigration crisis. The refugees enter Europe mainly through Italy and Malta. Of the migrants, 90% are Libyan, while 5% are Syrian. This is one of the worst crises mankind has faced since World War II, and the continuous waves of refugees have brought the European Union to its knees. In Italy, the numbers of refugees rescued from the sea rose to 170,000 in 2015. In Greece, the crisis has been worse which has resulted in an additional economic crisis. Migrants routed through Italy, (especially Syrians) are trying to reach Greece.
About 153,000 migrants have been reaching the boundaries of Europe, a 149% increase as compared to the same time in 2014, which was then 61,500. It is dangerous for migrants, where thousands die due to hunger and malnutrition, or trafficking and the migration has become the EU’s biggest challenge.
For the UN, it is mankind’s biggest challenge since the Second World War. Under the laws of the European Union, asylum seekers are ordered to stay in their country of entry to wait for processing, but as the numbers grew, the system weakened. European countries have been identifying temporary solutions, (by confining the refugees to makeshift tents). But with numbers growing, countries are losing space and cannot accommodate anymore migrants. The EU policy for refugees is failing and the need for an alternative effective policy is sought in the international arena.
A look at UNHCR
The solution to this crisis is found in the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which is a source of modern day refugee protection. One focus point is “refugees should not be expelled returned ‘to the frontiers of territories where [their] life or freedom would be threatened (Art. 33).” The convention further explains the “role of a state and defines who is a refugee and who is not” (UNHCR). UNHCR was also the first agency tasked to help millions of uprooted peoples (in Europe) after the Second World War.
The General Assembly officially gave UNHCR a formal mandate to prevent statelessness and was tasked to protect the rights of refugees. On April 24th, 2015 UNHCR welcomed the mobilization of resources by the EU which many supported as a “tough” response to the problem and The European Union tripled their funding for joint sea rescue operations. UNHCR shared proposals dedicated to the issue, like the “establishment of a possible scheme to compensate shipping companies involved in rescuing people at sea, increasing credible legal alternatives to dangerous voyages and a pilot relocation program for Syrians refugees arriving in Italy and Greece.”
However, it is important for policy makers to take the necessary actions as lives depend on them. It is more than just an EU problem, it is becoming a problem of reception, distribution, division of funding and the increasing of resources as the number of migrants grow.