What is the issue ?
- A surge of desperate migrants from the Middle East and Africa has put unprecedented pressure on EU countries, especially Italy, Greece and Hungary.
- More than 350,000 migrants were detected at the EU's borders in January-August 2015, compared with 280,000 detections for the whole of 2014.
- The conflicts raging in Syria and Afghanistan, and abuses in Eritrea, are major drivers of the migration.
- More than 2,600 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, trying to reach Greece or Italy.
- Many attempt the perilous Western Balkans route, hoping to reach Germany and other northern EU countries. They run the gauntlet of brutal people traffickers and robbers.
How many people are on the move?
- The 350,000 total detected so far this year at the EU's borders includes more than 230,000 who arrived in Greece and nearly 115,000 in Italy. About 2,100 arrived in Spain.
- Most of those heading for Greece take the relatively short voyage from Turkey to the islands of Kos, Chios, Lesvos and Samos - often in flimsy rubber dinghies or small wooden boats.
Where do they come from?
- The largest migrant group by nationality in 2015 is Syrians, as people flee the country's brutal civil war.
- Afghans and Eritreans come next. They are often also fleeing poverty and human rights abuses.
- People from Nigeria and Kosovo also make up large groups. Poor, marginalised Roma account for many of the migrants from Kosovo.
Where are they going next?
- Germany, which receives by far the most asylum applications in the EU, is expecting 800,000 refugees to arrive this year.
What is the Dublin Regulation ?
- The EU's Dublin Regulation places responsibility for examining an asylum seeker's claim with the first EU country that the migrant reached.
- But Greece complained that it was inundated with applications, as so many migrants arrived in Greece first. Germany then suspended the Dublin rule and decided to consider asylum cases from the majority of Syrian applicants.
- Finland is also among the countries that have stopped sending people back to Greece.
- Other countries are also struggling with the influx of arrivals.
- Austria says it is expecting 80,000 asylum applications this year.
- Meanwhile several thousand migrants are camped around Calais in northern France. Many have been risking their lives jumping aboard UK-bound lorries and trains near the Channel Tunnel.
Are EU countries doing their fair share?
- For years the EU has been struggling to harmonise asylum policy. That is difficult with 28 member states, each with their own police force and judiciary.
- Championing the rights of poor migrants is difficult as the economic climate is still gloomy, many Europeans are unemployed and wary of foreign workers, and EU countries are divided over how to share the refugee burden.
How do migrants get asylum status in the EU?
- They have to satisfy the authorities that they are fleeing persecution and would face harm or even death if sent back to their country of origin.
- Under EU rules, an asylum seeker has the right to food, first aid and shelter in a reception centre. They should get an individual assessment of their needs. They may be granted asylum by the authorities at "first instance". If unsuccessful, they can appeal against the decision in court, and may win.
- Asylum seekers are supposed to be granted the right to work within nine months of arrival.
- In 2014, the EU statistics agency Eurostat reports, 45% of first instance asylum decisions were positive - that is, authorities granted refugee or subsidiary protection status, or permission to stay for humanitarian reasons.
- Nearly 104,000 got refugee status in the EU last year, nearly 60,000 subsidiary protection status and just over 20,000 authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. (Austria was not included in the data.)
- The highest number of positive asylum decisions in 2014 was in Germany (48,000), followed by Sweden (33,000), then France and Italy (both 21,000) and the UK (14,000).
What next ?
- In the midst of this chaos, many countries are considering re-imposing border controls, reversing the open borders policy under the Schengen system for travel among 22 European Union countries.
- Plus, the ongoing influx of refugees is bound to provide a fillip to anti-immigration right-wing political groups in different parts of Europe.
- After all, assimilating such large numbers of people from diverse ethno-religious backgrounds, all at one go, is extremely difficult.
- Besides, there’s also the security risk of Islamic State terrorists/ sympathisers smuggling themselves into Europe among the refugees to carry out terrorist attacks.
Need for a comman asylum policy of Europe !
- All of this has given rise to calls for a common asylum policy for Europe to better manage and distribute the burden of incoming refugees.
- How Europe does this remains to be seen. Surely, it has to address the root of the problem – the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq as well as the genuine aspirations of the people in the Middle East and Africa.
- In fact, the two aren’t entirely unrelated. Fighting poverty in Africa, for example, would not only stem the outflow of economic migrants but also ensure that extremist groups like the Islamic State and its affiliates are unable to make inroads into vulnerable countries.
Exception/Positive Story ?
- The North African nation of Morocco was able to grasp this reality quite early.
- As a result, it has initiated a series of economic cooperation programmes to boost development in the African countries of the Sahara and Sahel. Plus, Morocco has been actively pushing for international cooperation in fighting trans-national terrorism with special focus on the issue of foreign fighters.
- Against this backdrop, there’s a strong case for European nations to boost their cooperation with Morocco and jointly work on development programmes that seek to mitigate the economic, political and developmental distortions that are fuelling both conflicts and the mass migration to Europe.