As the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi lying washed up on the Turkish shoreline was flashed around the world, the international community was moved, saddened, outraged…even if for only a short while. The migrant crisis is one of the greatest catastrophes of present times, and the greatest refugee crisis since WW2. This year, 2015, the world has witnessed- and continues to witness- massive numbers of people fleeing their home countries for the promise of Europe. In fact, it is estimated that close to half a million people have made the perilous journey in the first 9months of 2015 alone and many more are expected to. Germany alone has seen about 10,000 migrants cross into its territory on a daily basis, in recent times. This massive exodus has also been fraught with a great many tragedies, as thousands of lives- including that of little Aylan Kurdi- have been lost to the ferocious and merciless seas. But the people keep coming.
A distinction must be made amongst these Europe-bound travelers. Some of them are genuine asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in their home countries like those fleeing the war in Syria, and those fleeing from the savagery of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And then, there are also the economic migrants from a number of countries including Nigeria, who are simply on a quest for economic gain. But we call them all migrants. The journey to reach the shores of Europe does not come cheap, as smugglers are paid upwards of thousands of US dollars to get these migrants into Europe via European entry points such as Greece, Italy and Hungary.
At the start of 2015 no one would have predicted just how massive this European influx would be; but as the migrants keep arriving in great numbers, Europe has started to buckle under the weight of this extremely heavy burden. For most migrants, the dream destination is Germany- this in no small measure, has to do with the initial welcome policy of German Chancellor Merkel- but to arrive at Germany, one must transit through several European countries; some of which are not so gracious e.g. Hungary. In fact to register their displeasure at this “most unwelcome problem”, the Hungarian government resorted to erecting border fences, with the threat of imprisonment for any migrant who dared to scale through. The migrant crisis has only worsened the already present divisions and polarizations within the EU. There were just not enough structures on ground to accommodate so many people, and so, European nations bickered amongst themselves. Obviously, some EU nations like Germany, Austria, and Sweden are wealthier than others; and the less wealthy European nations believe their richer neighbors should bear more of the burden. A lot of animosity has also risen because the most likely entry points are nations like Greece and Hungary who are either in economic decline, or just not as economically vibrant as most other European countries; and this massive incursion into their territories has also led to a disregard for the Dublin Agreement.
Revised in 2013, the Dublin Agreement stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in their country of contact i.e. point of entry, where they will be registered and their applications processed. Movement to another EU country will be met with repatriation, back to the point of entry. Thus, “Mr. A”, an asylum seeker arriving in the Greek island of Kos, is bound to remain in Greece, under EU laws. But the current migrant crisis has revealed that this agreement places disproportionate burden on entry states (which are usually not so buoyant, capable, or willing); thus, the migrants are quickly passed on to other European countries, without being processed at their entry points. In fact in most cases, the migrants themselves refuse to be processed in their countries of contact, as they would then be bound to remain there- something they certainly do not wish to happen. I mean, for someone who has fled war, persecution, or even economic hardship, a financially strapped or even hostile nation certainly does not seem like the ideal resettlement zone! So, what must Europe do?
To find a solution to the migrant problem, EU leaders convened. After much disagreement, they came to a conclusion that a quota system must be put in place to divide these migrants amongst themselves, with the numbers being relative to individual nation GDP. But of course, this was not acceptable to states like Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania who do not see reasons why they must be compelled to accept migrants. The number agreed upon for resettlement did not even amount to half the number of those who have already arrived in Europe, not to talk of those still on their way! So where does Europe go from here?
I believe that any solution will have to be comprised of long and short term plans. In the short term an agreeable quota system will have to be reached, to resettle the migrants that have already arrived. If this can be achieved, it will also help strengthen registration and screening procedures. To speak frankly, genuine asylum seekers i.e. those fleeing conflict and persecution must be given priority over economic migrants- most of whom will just have to be sent back to their home countries! A distinction must be made. I know this will not be easy as most migrants destroy their passports before reaching Europe so their true identities’ will not be ascertained. Some others give their passports to smugglers as part of the bargain for transportation. But EU border officials would just have to devise means of detecting the true identities of migrants- maybe through their distinct accents or features. Border controls must also be strengthened. I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is that extremely porous borders will only attract many more people. Maybe if the procedures for entry were more stringent, it would keep away most of the people solely seeking economic fortune who masquerade as asylum seekers, and make way for only those who truly deserve refugee rights. I mean, individuals fleeing deadly wars have nothing more to lose. They are the ones truly deserving of Europe’s help. And then, the issue of smugglers must also be addressed. These smugglers are a large part of the problem, and their careless and heartless actions are largely the reason for so many recorded and unrecorded deaths! They get paid huge sums of money; and then they ship these weary travellers in rickety boats, packing them like Sardines, without any regard for human dignity! They must be sanctioned! I am glad to hear that the UN has just recently given the green light for military action against these smugglers. This must be strictly enforced.
A comprehensive long term strategy on the other hand, will have to involve strategies for addressing the root cause of the problem. In plain terms, these wars must be stopped! This would involve not just the EU, but the international community putting aside their differences and finding viable solutions to these conflicts, once and for all. It may have to be military solutions, diplomatic solutions, political solutions, or a combination of all, but something must be done! And while this is ongoing, humanitarian corridors must be established for safe protection of the internally displaced.
The migrant problem is serious, but it is not unsolvable. It will all depend on willpower. Europe must act quickly. Already, tensions have started running high between migrants and some host communities. This is largely due to the great ideological divide between both groups. The migrants arrive Europe with their own culture, values and traditions which greatly differ from those of Europe; and this has led to a great many misunderstandings and even crimes, which have largely been kept away from the knowledge of the general populace so as to prevent the outbreak of violence on a large scale. Europe’s migrant population will have to be re-educated to cope with Western ways of life, and this would take time…time which is in short supply. No one knows just how much more tolerant host communities will be, before things turn ugly. I sincerely hope this is not a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode! Time is of the essence. I would conclude by stating that our shared humanity compels us to render help to those who need it. But our willingness to render aid must also be balanced by our acknowledgement of difficult realities. While we cannot turn our backs on those who genuinely need help, we must also be careful not to bite more than we can chew so that we do not find ourselves in positions where we become incapacitated, and no longer able to adequately alleviate human suffering. Japan has stated that it would give 1billion dollars to the migrant cause, even though it cannot take in migrants. Many more nations must bear this financial burden. Each nation must assess its position, taking account of its own capabilities, and do as it reasonably can; but in the same vein, no nation should fold its hands and feign incapability, if it can certainly do more! May the sweet memory of little Aylan Kurdi be our guiding light, as we temper mercy with reasonableness.