A cold fractured Europe turns its back on migrants

Europe continues to ignore its migrant situation.

Following an increase in migration flows in July of this year, southern European states have found themselves in a tenuous position. Whilst attempting to manage a global pandemic and revitalize their flagging economies, migrant acceptance centres have had their resources stretched and their camps have become overpopulated. Moreover, those seeking to come to Europe have found their prospects increasingly hopeless as border states assume a rejectionist stance and Brussels refuses to lay a firm hand in the matter.

Last month, Europe witnessed an uptick in migration numbers. This increase, which pales in comparison to the flow of refugees the continent saw half a decade ago, has pulled the curtain back and revealed the cracks within a union which lacks the political will and resources to meet this problem head-on. Instead, the EU acted in a two-faced way, choosing to look abroad for quick fixes to the migrant crisis or look the other way when Member States blatantly break the laws set in place by the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

Looking Away

The current increase in migrants and asylum seekers reaching European shores has put border states under immense pressure. In this past year, over 21,000 migrants reached Italian shores leading to overcrowded and poorly kept camps. This was only worsened following the arrival of coronavirus in Europe which drastically reduced the tourist-based income for many southern Italian towns. Consequently, mayors of these towns have called to ban the flow of migrants and a reallocation of those who have already arrived. So far, Brussels is yet to step in and offer a solution. However, even if one were to be available, it seems that the will to fulfil is lacking as wealthier, better-off European states are yet to assist in the promised reallocation of 66,000 refugees, who have arrived in Greece. Athens, in turn, has taken matters into its own hands and, as a New York Times report shows, has begun systematically taking refugees from their camps on Greek island, boarding them onto ships, and abandoning them in the Aegean, just outside Greek territorial waters. The EU has chosen not to act or investigate these claims, replying to the author of this investigation with a blanket statement in an email. It appears that European states have grown tired of caring for the fate of migrants and would much rather ignore the issue hoping that it goes away. It seems as if we have descended into a crisis of compassion, as European states justify the abandonment of migrants today by remembering the great strides they had taken in helping migrants five years ago.

Looking Abroad

When the EU does not look away, it looks abroad. Since 2017, the EU has worked with the Libyan coastguard with the aim of returning migrants found at sea back to Libyan shores and dissuading asylum seekers embarking on the perilous sea journey. Rome and Brussels seem content with this plan, blissfully turning their back to the indefinite detention, abuse, torture and exploitation asylum seekers face when returned to the Libyan coastline. Meanwhile, Turkey, Greece’s favoured proxy, has begun to use the migrants on its border with Europe as a political tool. A lever to pull in order to apply pressure on Greece and Brussels, one which Erdogan has chosen to use more recently during the ongoing disputes in Syria.

The outsourcing of border control to the Libyan coast guard is just that, control. Italy and the EU tacitly agree or choose to ignore, their hand in abuses and exploitation that migrants and asylum seekers suffer when returned to camps on the Libyan coastline. Camps which are owned by armed groups that run them for profit in order to financially support their armed activities. Not only then are EU Member States complicit in abetting the numerous human rights violations present in these camps, but they are assisting towards the continued instability in Libya. The EU seems apathetic to their hand in the matter, blind to the fact that the country’s instability only worsens the migrant crises.

In order to distance themselves from these activities, Rome and the EU have not formalized their assistance to the Libyan coastguard through agreements. This has created an accountability gap, whereby Italy has contactless control over the situation in Libya, removing itself from the consequences of these actions and shielding itself from their legal repercussions. The lack of formalized agreements, the continued involvement of Member States and funding to the Libyan coast guard all undermine the legitimacy of both the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament.

Looking for a solution

The political ramifications of a continued, regional inaction are huge. If Brussels continues to ignore the blatant hand it plays in abuses of human rights of migrants in Libya or Greece’s illegal abduction and abandonment of migrants from camps within its own border, it will lose legitimacy in the eyes of populations of states both at home and abroad. Moreover, by reacting to the migrant issue strictly as one of population flows and social and cultural differences, the EU is blinded to the foreign politics of the refugee crisis. By welcoming and distributing refugees across Member States, not only does Brussels disarm Erdogan by taking away his desired leverage but it aids in stabilizing the situation in Libya. Moreover, if Member States stay true to their promises of the reallocation of migrants within the union it will reassure border states and ease the burden currently pressing down on their shoulders. Brussels needs to condition funding for border management on the improvement of the conditions of migrants on the Libyan coastline and it needs to fulfil its promises to Greece. By tying the treatment of migrants as a conditional requirement for further European aid and assistance not only in border management, will push Member States to take the issue seriously. Furthermore, Brussels and Member States have to demonstrate to the word that their values do not stop at rhetoric alone but can be demonstrated through the actions they take. A solution must come from within and it has to acknowledge the existence of a shared burden and enshrine this in policy. Thus far, however, Europe has chosen to be silent and look away for a solution or turn its head and shrug its shoulders.