World View: Despite Growing Migration Crises, European Union Bitterly Divided over Policy

Men sit outside tents on October 6, 2017 in Lille, northern France at a migrants and refugees makeshift camp in the former station of St Sauveur. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

This morning’s key headlines from

  • European Union continues to face crises regarding migration
  • Bitter divisions emerge at EU summit over migration issues

European Union continues to face crises regarding migration

Child migrant in Greek refugee camp (AFP)
Child migrant in Greek refugee camp (AFP)

After receiving millions of migrants in 2015 from the Mideast and northern Africa, the European Union implemented some stopgap measures to control the situation.

  • To control the flow of migrants from Turkey to Greece, across the Aegean Sea, the EU reached a refugee deal with Turkey in 2016. Under the agreement, Turkey would patrol its Aegean Sea beaches and prevent migrants from leaving shore.
  • To control the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy, crossing the Mediterranean Sea, Italy and the EU reached a deal with Libya’s government and numerous local warlords to hold refugees in detention centers within Libya, rather than allow them to leave shore.

Each of these methods has been extremely successful in significantly reducing the flow of migrants from Turkey and Libya, respectively. However, in a sense, they have not solved the problem at all, but instead stretched it out.

Furthermore, with winter approaching, the season of heaviest migration is ending for now, but there will be a new surge of migration within just a few months.

Current and approaching problems include the following:

  • The EU-Turkey refugee deal has not been 100 percent effective. Greece’s Lesbos Island alone has seen a massive influx in the last few months, as many as 100 new arrivals every day. A large proportion are women and children who require a high level of care. This has stretched resources to breaking point. The Moria refugee camp on Lesbos has a capacity of 2,000 people but is currently holding 6,000 people in extremely squalid, disgusting conditions.
  • The EU-Libya deal has produced an enormous backlash. Refugees are being held in vastly overcrowded detention centers, in extremely squalid circumstances. The detention centers are so overcrowded that there has been a revival of a thriving slave trade that had been thought to have ended in the 1800s. Men, women, and children are being sold at slave auctions for $400-800 apiece, for labor and sex. The EU is being blamed for this revival of the slave trade.
  • The “migrant-smuggling trade” has become big business within the EU, greater than the arms smuggling trade, drug smuggling trade, and even the human trafficking trade, Europol is actively investigating some 5,000 organized crime groups operating internationally. The problem is particularly severe in the Balkan countries, especially Romania.

Al-Jazeera and PRI and Amnesty International and EurActiv (20-Oct) and Reuters

Bitter divisions emerge at EU summit over migration issues

With the vast majority of migrants to Europe reaching Greece or Italy first, these two countries have been overwhelmed. Both countries have begged for help from the European Commission (EC), but there’s been little help beyond rhetoric.

In 2015, the EU adopted a migrant quota system last year that was supposed to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU countries. The plan fell apart because few countries were willing to accept their quotas, and Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania refused to resettle any refugees at all. In the end, only about 30,000 refugees were ever resettled under this plan.

At an EU summit on Thursday that was supposed to be a show of EU solidarity and unity, especially with the Brexit talks going on. But bitter political divisions erupted after EU President Donald Tusk described the refugee quota program as “divisive and ineffective,” and called for it to be replaced.

According to a letter issued by Tusk, the migrant program will once again reach crisis levels by June of next year:

After the unprecedented migratory pressure on its external border in 2015, the European Union and its Member States are gradually restoring control. However, the migration challenge is here to stay for decades, especially due to the demographic trends in Africa. Despite our efforts, the smugglers are working energetically to exploit further vulnerabilities at our borders. A crisis situation can reoccur and so in order to prepare ourselves, we need to categorically strengthen our migration policy. To achieve this, we should first look at what has and has not worked in the past two years. On this basis, we should establish an effective and sustainable migration policy based on secure external borders and the prevention of mass arrivals. It also requires finding a consensus by June 2018 on the internal dimension of our migration policy, based on the concepts of responsibility and solidarity.

Tusk says the existing quota system has to be scrapped and replaced by a new system before June 2018. He concludes by saying:

On the basis of the discussion, Leaders will return to these issues with a view to seeking a consensus in June 2018. If there is no solution by then, including on the issue of mandatory quotas, the President of the European Council will present a way forward.

The quota system has essentially been a fiction, but a fiction that allowed the EU member countries to pretend to their domestic audience that the problems had been solved. Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have led criticism of Tusk’s proposal. Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras said that Tusk’s comments were “aimless, ill-timed and pointless.” Italy’s prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, said, “We will continue to insist that a commitment on the relocation of refugees is needed.”

Three countries, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, came out in favor of Tusk’s proposal because they have no intention of implementing a quota system anyway. In explaining why Poland would not accept any refugees, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, “It is worth investing considerable amounts of money in helping refugees in (regions) they are fleeing from. The help on the ground there is much more effective.”

The Czech Republic’s prime minister Andrej Babis, said that “It won’t happen,” and any attempt to impose “nonsensical” quotas in a majority vote would only widen the divisions in the EU.

In response to Hungary’s refusal to accept refugees, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has described Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán as “shameless” for refusing to accept any refugees and attempting to buy off his obligations with money. Guardian (London) and Reuters and Dutch News

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, European Union, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Libya, Aegean Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Lesbos, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Donald Tusk, Alexis Tsipras, Paolo Gentiloni, Mateusz Morawiecki, Andrej Babis, Mark Rutte
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