Five EU states have agreed upon a temporary deal to redistribute migrants rescued at sea evenly among their countries. France, Italy, Germany, Malta and Finland will meet with the rest of the EU members on October 8th in urgency to establish this deal across Europe in efforts to alleviate the pressure on the southern countries. In recent years these southern countries—mainly Greece, Spain, Italy and Malta—have been in extremely high demand as a place of refuge for migrants at sea. The Washington Post reports that in 2019 alone, Spain has taken in 16,500 refugees by sea and Greece 33,000. These high numbers indicate that there is naturally going to be a lack of space and eventually resources; one example of this is a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos beginning to turn away refugees because they had reached 12,000 people—four times their capacity. The legislation of recent years in Italy and Malta has created a different dilemma than that of Greece and Spain in response to the high demand for asylum. Italy’s past interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has created a far-right, anti-immigration culture that has prohibited any sort of aid or entrance for migrants rescued at sea hoping to arrive in Italy. According to Reuters, Salvini placed large fines on humanitarian aid boats attempting to dock in Italy in order to – to use his own hashtag – “#stoptheinvasion.” The anti-immigration attitudes present in Italy are echoed throughout Europe, including in Hungary and Poland, and have triggered a global response. Criticism of the European states has been widespread, leading Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to release a statement saying that “the issue of immigration must no longer fuel anti-European propaganda”, as reported by Reuters. With Salvini having recently stepped down, there has been a new push to unify the EU states, especially under this new deal.
The problem of immigration, specifically migrants arriving by sea, has been a core issue in European politics for an extended period of time, but most pressingly in the last five years. The fact that it is such a multifaceted crisis, with each facet having its own seemingly unsolvable problem, makes it impossible to resolve with one “quick fix.” Considering the three blanket stages of a migrant’s journey—the conditions in the country they are leaving, their voyage at sea, and the politics of their arrival—clearly demonstrates the need for change at each of these checkpoints. Many migrants reaching Italy are making the treacherous journey across from Libya, a country currently in need of a structured governing body. Both UN officials and survivors relay the same message: staying in Libya, especially as a migrant, is incredibly dangerous. The Washington Post reports that while migrants wait to board unsafe boats, many are kept in detention facilities for months or even years where they are at great risk of being beaten, raped, mutilated or forced into slave labour. Most of these boats are operated by human traffickers; in fact, The Guardian reported in 2016 that more than 70% of migrants have been victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking, and exploitation along their way to Europe. In addition, it reported that 6% of respondents said that at some point they were forced to give blood or organs as a payment for their journey. The journey across the Mediterranean from Libya to the coast of Italy is no less perilous than the situations which force them from their homes. This route is notably the most dangerous route in all of the Mediterranean; tragedies, such as one reported by BBC News of a boat carrying 800 migrants capsizing, are not uncommon. These fatalities surged to a peak in 2018 as officials reported one death per 49 arrivals: the highest ratio that has been recorded since the crisis began. Those who do survive are not usually greeted with a warm welcome. As already mentioned, places like Italy and Malta closed off their ports, and countries willing to accept them, such as Spain and Greece, could not offer a good quality of life. In understanding the importance of this new deal and why it is imperative that as many EU members sign it as possible, we must trace the journey of these migrants, as we have done here, to see why reaching stable ground is so necessary. The Washington Post shared 27 year old Awudu Baluduzzi’s response upon arrival from Ghana: “I’m so full of joy! I don’t know what to say now. I’m so happy!…No more back to Libya!”; each EU member signing this deal could allow thousands more to rediscover joy like Awudu.
With the current rate of immigration, the five members of this new deal will not be able to provide the best support; the numbers are so high that even with each country taking 20% of the migrants, facilities might still be overcrowded, resources lacking, and both migrants and surrounding communities left with a poor quality of life. This is why it is crucial that as many EU states as possible participate in this agreement. With each state that agrees, the percentage that was before at 20 drops lower and lower—meaning that each country can take fewer people, and so provide better for them.
Reuters calls this immigration crisis the most “contentious” issue Europe has faced in recent years and this seems to hold true. The southern countries have reported feeling unsupported as they are left to deal with the thousands of people who have come knocking on their doorstep looking for a place to be safe and start a new life. It is purely by geological chance that these countries are the most accessible for the current migrants and so to pretend that countries like Greece and Italy somehow have more of an obligation to provide long-term aid and refuge than the rest of the able countries in the world is nonsensical. Thus, there is a global call to help our brothers and sisters fleeing unsafe territory and to each take a part in their relocation. The meeting with all 28 members of the EU on October 8th is a great and necessary start to working as a continental team to begin to resolve this crisis. In the case of providing support and aid, a unified force is the only one that will have any effect; division can only be detrimental.
In conclusion, the issue of immigration is a multifaceted, systemic problem. It is a problem created by inhumane behaviours and a problem that is met with unkind and selfish responses. The issue’s persistence is due to a plethora of different problems at each turn that need to be combated simultaneously in order for the whole crisis to be resolved. In the case of migrants at sea, we saw that there were at least three parties perpetuating the issue. Considering solely the issue of how migrants are received in Europe, there is much to be hopeful for in the meeting coming in the next few weeks. The next steps will be to continue to explore ways to put an end to the rest of the issue, such as finding effective methods to combat human trafficking and dissolve civil unrest.