Plan To Help Migrants Arriving By Boat Shunned By Several EU Countries

In Tuesday’s meeting between EU ministers, only Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal offered to take part in a plan created by Germany, France, Italy and Malta that would screen incoming migrants from boats and relocate asylum seekers or return people who do not meet asylum requirements within a month-long period. That is only seven countries out of the 28 member nations.

The disappointed Luxembourg’s Minister responsible for migration responded to the outcome by saying, “We were seven yesterday, seven this morning and seven this evening. So things haven’t changed much. Why us, and why no one else?”

The meeting comes only a day after the Oct 7 deaths of 13 people—all women—on a capsized boat off the coast of Italy. The boat had originated from Tunisia and had been carrying around 50 people, reported the United Nations migration agency. The Italian Coast Guard was able to pick up 22 survivors, but it is predicted that many others had died but have gone undiscovered. The capsized boat was the latest event in a long series of tragedies falling on those trying to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe’s shores.

Since the start of the 2015 refugee crisis, more than a million migrants have arrived in the EU from places of turmoil and unrest, such as Syria and Iraq. Since its beginning, EU members have bickered both internally and with each other over formatting an appropriate response to the crisis. Some states, namely Germany, have gone out of their way to accept large numbers of refugees while others, like Austria and Hungary, have been adamantly opposed to shared quotas. While the number of new arrivals has dropped significantly and is the lowest it has been in several years, the EU countries still struggle to come to an agreement on how to manage the number of refugees.

The continued failure still has reasons to be rectified despite lowering refugee numbers. According to Charlie Yaxley, a United Nations refugee agency spokesperson, 1,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone.

A strong agreement between the EU countries is required to lessen future disasters. The human rights group Amnesty International takes a strong stance on this. Matteo de Bellis, an Amnesty migration researcher had said, “A strong agreement will help save lives and demonstrate that EU countries are committed to working together to uphold basic values and international obligations.” As populist movements become more popular throughout EU nations, the sentiment of European unity and values becomes less treasured. It seems less likely that EU states will respond off a joint responsibly mindset.

Finnish Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo, who holds the current EU presidency status until December, is doubtful that a permanent agreement will take place until there is a new executive team on the European Commission in November. The prospects of a solution, then, seems pessimistic.

However, that does not mean there are no solutions. It is important to acknowledge why people flea in the first place. People flea countries because of various reasons like conflict, economic instability, and political infraction. Addressing these problems inside the places of origin might prevent people from needing to seek asylum in the first place. In doing so, one needs to be conscious of the possible implications of meddling in another country as it brings about questions of sovereignty. However, through transparent communication and accountability between governments and possible financial assistance to nongovernmental programs on the ground, the quality of live for people in these countries might improve. Making the perilous trip across the Mediterranean may no longer be necessary.

The response in the EU is still critical. Countries that have shunned the migrant boat plan should reevaluate in order to prevent deaths of refugees in transit. One can again consider the Luxembourg Minister’s question: “Why us, and why no one else?” Do the EU countries who have not agreed want to define themselves as unsympathetic isolationist? Hopefully, they will warm to the plan and stop their cold-shouldering.

Megan Caldwell