The European migrant path travelled by those leaving the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa has shifted geographically in recent months. In a new development migrants are now coming into Europe by land across the western Balkans rather than across the sea into Italy. Meanwhile European Union member states struggle to cope as a solution to the problem of relocating 40,000 refugees across the continent still evades them.
The New York Times reports the shifting European migrant path became evident in the first half of 2015. From January to June about 79,000 migrants crossed illegally into Greece from Turkey, according to Frontex, the European Union’s coordinating body for national border guards.
Although some stayed in Greece, up to 67,000 continued north across Macedonia and Serbia arriving illegally in Hungary. There officials said that as of Thursday, more than 81,000 migrants had crossed into their country this year alone, adding: “If it continues at this pace, we are on track to reach the 150,000 mark this year.”
The spike in immigration crossing the external border of the EU from Serbia into Hungary has prompted that country’s unilateral decision to erect a border fence.
In the same time period the route which was historically most popular, the sea crossing from Libya to Italy, had about 67,000 illegal crossings in total. By way of comparison, last year the 170,000 migrants who tried crossing the Mediterranean into Europe outnumbered those using the western Balkans path by nearly four to one. Border officials say more sea crossings occur in warmer months, making it likely the land and sea traffic figures will diverge by winter, establishing the land crossing as the European migrant passage of choice.
Migration officials said they were not sure exactly sure why the second front has grown so spectacularly. Reports of terrible boat crossings and frequent drownings are partly responsible. In addition European nations have begun disrupting professional trafficking operations and Libya has itself become ever more volatile.
Price is likely to have a part to play in it. Migrants who have spoken say they chose the Balkans route because it was less expensive and had been recommended by the traffickers they paid to get them to into Europe. Prices paid to reach the Hungarian border, varying from $1,000 to more than $4,000 per person, depend both on what level of service immigrants buy and how much illegal smugglers think they can get away with.
Other reasons the New York Times reports for increasing popularity of the second front include the fact Syrians face recent changes to visa laws in the Middle East, making it trickier to travel to Libya and on to Italy. There is also resistance from Iran, a country which previously attracted Afghan immigrants but has also changed its visa rules, making it more difficult for them to remain there.
It is also thought the ongoing economic crisis in Greece impedes efforts to control the European migrant flow due to a lack of both political focus needed to address the issue and money needed to secure that nation’s borders.
Meanwhile EU justice and home affairs ministers are meeting today to try to get member states to commit to firm figures on accepting 40,000 asylum-seekers already in the EU as well as 20,000 not yet here. Several key countries are resisting.
Politico reports France, Germany and the Netherlands want all countries to accept the European Commission’s original mandatory resettlement quotas. Those numbers were calculated using a distribution key based on factors including population, GDP, average number of asylum applications and the number of resettled refugees, and unemployment.
However, countries including Latvia, Estonia and Poland are sticking with their own significantly lower figures. For example a Latvian source said it would take in only 250 migrants and not 500. Bulgaria and Hungary want full exemption from the scheme due to the recent spike of migrants into their countries.
Politico says the critics of the resettlement plan see it as “short-sighted and insufficient” because they believe the 60,000 migrants being debated are only the tip of the iceberg.