In July, the number of migrants detected at EU’s borders more than tripled to 107,500 compared to the same month last year, surpassing the 100,000 mark in a single month for the first time since the European border agency Frontex began keeping records in 2008.
The figure was the third consecutive monthly record, jumping well past the previous high of more than 70,000 reached in June. Both the Eastern Mediterranean route and the Western Balkans were also well above the previous month’s highs.
This brings the number of detections in the January-July period to nearly 340,000, compared to 123,500 recorded in the same period last year and 280,000 in all of 2014. This has created an unprecedented pressure on border control authorities in Greece, Italy and Hungary in particular, as well as chaos at the UK/French border as detailed in the upcoming issue of Homeland Security Today.
Syrians and Afghans accounted for a lion’s share of the record number of migrants entering the EU illegally. Most of them, fleeing instability in their home countries, initially entered Greece from Turkey.
“This is an emergency situation for Europe that requires all EU member states to step in to support the nationalauthorities who are taking on a massive number of migrants at its borders,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.
“Frontex has called on member states to provide additional equipment and people to support our operations in Greece and in Hungary and the European Commission has approved national programs to provide significant financial assistance to the member states to address these challenges,” Leggeri added.
In July, the majority of detections were reported in the Aegean Sea (nearly 50,000), mainly on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Kos which simply cannot cope with such an increase in population.
Italy detected more than 20,000 migrants last month, bringing the total number to 90,000 so far this year. Nine out of every 10 migrants taking the perilous journey from Libya to Italy come from Africa, mainly Eritrea and Nigeria.
In the Western Balkans, the Hungarian authorities reported more than 34,800 detections.
France’s President François Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed quotas for accepting migrants at a meeting on August 24. At the meeting, the two leaders called for a common European asylum policy. It was also decided that reception centers are to be set up swiftly for refugees in Italy and Greece.
Although many EU states already have common asylum laws, they are not currently being enforced, as Merkel pointed out, adding Germany and France expect all EU states to "realize in full" the existing asylum provisions. These cover the registration of refugees and minimum accommodation and health care standards. She requested the European Commission to do what it can to ensure that all EU states comply with the agreed asylum policy terms.
In future there should be a common EU-wide list of safe countries of origin. "We agree that we can standardize the legal consequences arising from this," Merkel said.
Common standards must also be developed for repatriating those whose applications for asylum are unsuccessful, she said. And the same applies to the registration centers. The people granted residence rights in the EU must, Merkel said, be distributed fairly within the Union. "This fair distribution of the burden is not currently assured," Merkel stressed.
An EU-Africa summit will be held later this year in Malta. Repatriation agreements with African states will be one point on the agenda. The heads of state and government will also discuss the situation in refugee camps in countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Echoing Merkel, a United Nations statement on August 25 called for “an equitable redistribution of refugees and asylum-seekers across the European Union."
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, called for the European Union to establish a human rights-based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy which makes mobility its central asset, assuring that it is the only way in which the EU can reclaim its border, effectively combat smuggling and empower migrants.
“Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay,” Crépeau stressed. “Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention, withholding access to basics such as shelter, food or water and using threatening language or hateful speech will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe,” he said.
“Territorial sovereignty is about controlling the border, knowing who comes in and who leaves. It has never been about sealing the border to migration,” Crépeau continued. “Democratic borders are porous by nature. Providing migrants and asylum-seekers with legal and safe mobility solutions will ensure such a control.”
The Special Rapporteur urged Europeans to start focusing on regaining control of their external border from the smugglers by increasing mobility solutions available to most migrants, investing in integration measures and developing a strong public discourse on diversity and mobility as cornerstones for contemporary European societies.
“If Europeans want their governments to regain control of their borders, then they must urge them to bank on mobility and offer migrants and asylum-seekers official channels to enter and stay in Europe,” he said.
“Opening up the regular labor markets through smart visas allowing people to come to look for work and incentivize them to return if they don’t find the job in question would allow for a much better regulated and controlled official labor market,” Crépeau noted.
However, he cautioned, such measures must be supported with sanctions against employers who exploit irregular migrants in underground labour markets. “This would considerably reduce the pull factor they exercise on irregular migrants and further reduce the market for recruiters, smugglers and exploitative employers," he stated.
Crépeau’s remedy for this illness will be a bitter pill to swallow for many European leaders who are fighting a battle against opposition parties who wish to keep migrants out of their countries, supported by angry citizens who feel “foreigners” are stealing their jobs, housing and welfare. Making migration easy is not a vote-winning policy and will need to be carefully presented with full disclosure to the electorate.
Crépeau spoke of the urgent need for Europe to create, jointly with other countries, a massive resettlement program for refugees like Syrians and Eritreans that could offer protection to 1.5 or 2 million of them over the next five years. He concluded such a program would impact the market for smugglers and allow European countries to decide who comes and make appropriate preparations.
Countries suffering from the influx of migrants from places like Yemen and Syria are the same countries which could have taken action a long time ago to bring back stability in these areas, offering a more secure and humane way of life for citizens so that they did not reach the point of risking all for a new start in Europe. While they are no longer turning a blind eye to the atrocities or disagreeing over the importance of the situation in these countries, many of the responses are a case of too little, too late.
Is it too late now to turn these areas of the world into places where people are proud to live, safe, have shelter, food and jobs? A defeatist may say it is too late to even try. But if something isn’t done, the EU may be faced with an overpopulated Western world and a region of the Middle East and potentially part of Africa that’s controlled by terrorists, especially Islamist jihadists. Not trying to recover these countries to a peaceful way of life is playing into jihadists’ hands, as well as creating an impossible situation in Europe, which will in turn spread to other Western nations like the US and Canada.
The EU’s borderless Schengen agreement could also be in danger over the migrant crisis. The European Commission said Schengen is non-negotiable, but the treaty was signed in 1985, before 9/11, before 7/7, before Charlie Hebdo and long before the foiled attack on a public train between Amsterdam and Paris last week.
Maybe it’s time for a rethink.
A man of Moroccan origin was tackled by three Americans and a Briton on Saturday as he prepared to fire his AK-47 assault rifle on the passengers of the train. He had embarked at the Brussels train station unhindered.
Under the Schengen agreement, it’s possible to travel from one Schengen country to another without showing a passport or any kind of ID, and without going through effective security checks. The UK is not part of Schengen, but many others are, and even those who are not part of the European Union are Schengen members or actively seeking to join. Turkey, which intends to join the EU faces problems with its border control to the south and east.
Germany’s interior minister Thomas de Maizière has said the EU borderless Schengen agreement may be in danger over the migrant crisis.
He explained the freedom of movement in the EU was threatened by countriesfailing to adhere to the principle that responsibility for processing claims lies with the country that played the biggest part in the applicant’s entry to the EU.
"If nobody sticks to the law, then Schengen is in danger, that’s why we urgently need European solutions," he said.
It’s time the Schengen agreement is reviewed. It won’t be scrapped, as too much has been invested in it, but it should be brought in line with the threats and crises the EU has experienced. In the short term, increasing security on cross-border trains is absolutely vital now that this weak link has been exposed. The major hurdle, as well as cost, to such action is that different countries have very different views on how transport security should be conducted – if at all.
The ramifications of the migrant crisis are significant: The burden of overpopulation on countries already overfull; the risk that, while seeking refuge in Europe, some migrants may become disenfranchised and turn against their host country aligning themselves instead with terror groups; and the danger of overwhelming border infrastructure and staff to the point that borders can no longer be considered safe and secure.
Europe is caught between a rock and a hard place – if it remains a union with soft border controls and opens its doors to migrants fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and some African states, it runs the risk of handing those regions over to Islamists to create their Islamic State. If it toughens border controls and abolishes the union in the name of security, terrorism has again won. The best – but not the easiest or most palatable – solution is to make those regions places that people do not want to flee from. It will be a tall order, but no taller than dealing with the consequences of the alternatives.