25 Jun 2015

Migrant crisis sets nation against nation within EU

With hundreds of migrants being rescued daily from overloaded boats in the Mediterranean, the EU is struggling to agree on an adequate response to the new arrivals.

Almost 500 migrants, many believed to be from Syria, were brought ashore in Italy by a Swedish coast guard vessel on Thursday. Earlier in the week a Belgian navy ship rescued 400 migrants from various boats whilst patrolling off the coast of Libya, while Italian ships rescued 3,700 migrants on Monday and Tuesday alone.

The number of fatalities has reduced dramatically thanks to the increase in rescue missions. In April, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 1,265 people died in the Mediterranean. By May that number dropped to 95.

Policy confusion

But these humanitarian efforts have not been matched by a concerted European policy on how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals being brought ashore or arriving via land routes every day.

Read more: From Eritrea across Europe by rail

The UK has been prominent in calling for the destruction of the boats that people traffickers use to send migrants across the Mediterranean. But how effective would this be?

In an analysis published on 9 June, intelligence analysts Stratfor concluded: “Denying traffickers further use of captured vessels would not actually reduce the volume of people being illegally transported because trafficking organisations largely consider their vessels to be expendable .. they have already made their profit before the ships even disembark.”

Sharing the burden

Southern European countries dealing with the bulk of the arrivals, in particular Italy, Greece and Malta, have demanded more help from northern European neighbours – often the migrants’ intended destination.

I thought the Berlin Wall had fallen, but now new walls are being constructed Ivica Dacic, Serbian foreign minister

But an earlier EU proposal for a quota system to settle migrants more evenly across countries was rejected by the UK, Spain, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and France.

Arriving in Brussels Prime Minister David Cameron said on Thursday “we need a comprehensive and co-ordinated response, and Britain will play its role.”

New Berlin Wall?

Hungary, which says it has had some 61,000 migrants entering the country overland, is now planning to build a fence along its border with Serbia to stem the flow. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also suspended an agreement allowing migrants who enter Europe via Hungary to be sent back there from other EU countries, particularly Austria.

A Hungarian government spokesman said it was “the most overburdened among EU member states affected by illegal migration.”

Speaking on Thursday, the Serbian Foreign Mininster Ivica Dacic said “Europe must decide whether the time of building walls belongs to the past. I thought the Berlin Wall had fallen, but now new walls are being constructed.”