The coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea went blurry with the waves. The trembling water receded. Then perhaps, deciding to leave a memo, the waves dispatched a body, a little one. It was a silent baby in red shirt and blue pants. He lay dead. He had left his native land in haste and had undertaken a difficult journey to find a new home; somewhere in Europe.
The little boy Aylan Kurdi and his Syrian family had previously tried to seek asylum in Canada but were denied this. Not losing hope, they made an ardous attempt to find refuge in Europe. But after photographer Nilufer Demir published Aylan’s photograph, the Swedish Red Cross received donations- more than double of its previous week for asylum seekers.
Today, in 2019, the situation has changed a lot in Europe. The current year has seen the lowest immigrants in the decade. Policies taken by European governments are undeniably the reason behind this.
Instability and insecurity of jobs, poverty, famines and overtly non-democratic and oppressive regimes have forced a large number of residents of Africa and from many Islamic countries of the West Asia to migrate to European countries. Immigrants include asylum seekers and economic immigrants. By 2050, the total population of Africa is expected to double itself to reach 2.5 billion and it is expected that a sizeable amount of Africans will try to find new homes in European shore in near to escape from the prevalent deprivation. The process has started. Europe, being unable to cope up with this huge refugee problem has decided to block illegal crossings through land and sea routes. It is indeed a delayed political reaction to Europe’s immigration crisis.
Figures of immigration
After counting external land borders and sea routes, Frontex, an organisation that works on border management in Europe informed that the western Mediterranean route is Europe’s most active route for the immigrants. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report says, so far in the last year, Spain has provided refugee to 56,200 irregular migrants arriving by sea, Greece has sheltered around 28,700 and Italy has allowed 22,500 immigrants. Land arrivals to Greece have also mounted to 14,000. Available data about illegal crossing to Europe till April 1, 2019 inform that the number of total arrivals to Europe is 15834 – the figure is 11647 via sea and 4187 via land routes. The approximate number of dead and missing arrivals till April 4, 2019 is 311.
The report states that the figure of identified immigrants in 2018 was 92% lower than that of 2015 – when the crisis had reached its peak. The figure also fell compared to 2017, for the central Mediterranean immigration route to southern Italy from northern Africa. But the number of illegal arrivals in Spain, mainly from Morocco increased to double itself to 57,000 in 2018.
A report informs that the total number of deaths at sea in the Central Mediterranean sea jumped in 2018 as compared to the previous year and the rate of deaths per number of people attempting to crossover to Europe also increased sharply. On the crossing from Libya to Europe, for instance, the rate went up from one death for every 38 arrivals in 2017 to one for every 14 arrivals last year. The toll was specifically dense in the Western Mediterranean, on the way to Spain.
Crisis deepened for the immigrants
A quick fall in migrant arrivals does not mean that the immigrants from Middle East and Europe are out of burdens. While European countries are still struggling to absorb the about 1.8 million sea arrivals since 2014, the refugees are also facing assaults and political and financial pressures. The governments of European countries took a hard stance on immigration. But the United Nation’s Refugee Agency reiterated several annotations made by the ‘Danish Refugee Council’, saying the enormous focus on temporary residency should not be used to pressurise refugees, forcing them to lead lives of uncertainties.
Denmark’s parliament recently passed an immigration bill, which tightens regulations on refugees and asylum seekers residing in the country. The bill came into force on March 1, 2019 and emphasises on the ‘temporary’ status of ‘residence permits’ handed to refugees. It says refugees should be sent to their country of origins expediently. The bill also says refugee permits should be “withdrawn or exempted when possible, unless it is in direct conflict with Denmark’s international obligations.” Human rights activists of different countries and refugee groups have extensively criticised the bill as it is against the interest of the refugees.
With an anti-immigration wave flowing across the continent, Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister, Italy went public with claims of deporting a good number of illegal immigrants. Germany, which absorbed more than one million migrants in 2015 under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘open-door’ policy, has also undertaken a re-orientation of their refugee policy.
Immigrants are being unable to cross the borders because of a 2016 EU deal with Turkey. Additionally, border fences have been installed in the Balkans and that has stalled cross-overs to a large extent. A 2017 bilateral arrangement between Italy and Libya has also controlled the migrant situation.
But thousands of people are still trying to touch Europe. The EU Turkey refugee deal states that for each Syrian refugee on the Greek islands returned to Turkey, a Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey will find a new home in Europe. The deal is yet to taste success and is being criticised for being impractical.
Positive developments happening now
The last six months have witnessed some positive developments. After the number of illegal crossings lowered in the recent past, European countries have committed to resettle refugees who came from Libya. Several European states have also urged the UNHCR to bring more people in safety via ‘Emergency Transit Mechanism’ established in West African country Niger. At the end of last year, UNHCR opened the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli (Libyan capital), enabling the release of more people from detention.