By: Jessica Canchola
In light of the recent unprecedented influx of asylum seekers to Western Europe from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), EU officials have rolled out a set proposals they believe will help member nations better cope with the rising number of migrants arriving on their doorsteps. A proposal made on May 13 would implement quotas on the number of refugees each member state receives while a separate one unveiled on May 18 would authorize the use of navies to intercept smuggling ships coming from North Africa via the Mediterranean. Although both plans would likely minimize the waves of migrants countries like Germany, Italy, and Greece have been hit with as a result of political and civil discord in MENA, neither does anything to address the violence, poverty, and terror that compels migrants to make the harrowing journey in the first place.
Plight of Migrants
Poverty, state failure, and the rise of violence at the hands of Islamic extremists has forced thousands of people from places like Nigeria, Mali, Somalia, and Syria to flee their homes in search of refuge in Western Europe. For many, this precarious journey starts in Libya, where human trafficking has proliferated in the wake of the Arab Uprising and civil war. Since the ruin of Libya’s institutions are embroiled in a bitter struggle with ISIS and a myriad of other opposing factions, smuggling goes unmitigated. Consequently, the horrors asylum seekers are trying to escape are often magnified during the migration process. Smugglers overcharge, exploit, and abuse their customers completely uninterrupted. Holding houses and boats are fetid and overcrowded. Migrants seldom receive more than one meal a day during their passage from the nightmare of their home country onto the shores of Italy or Greece. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of dilapidated, marooned ships are rescued each day and sent back to Libya, forcing its occupants to start the process over again. But some aren’t so lucky. 1,800 migrants were killed at sea this year alone.
Even those that manage to make it across the Mediterranean are still haunted by hardship. The exponential increase in asylum seekers in the European Union has led to a corresponding rise in migrant hostility. Anti-immigration protests and staunchly nationalist rallies have become commonplace in places like Germany, and mosques and refugee shelters across Europe have fallen victim to vandalism and arson.
Since international law prevents states from returning migrants fleeing persecution to their home states, the recent EU proposals have managed to do everything but in an effort to rid themselves of the constant reminder of MENA discord that has manifested itself within their own borders through migration.
The EU’s May 13 proposal has the stated goal of capping migration to Europe at 20,000. These refugees would be spread out among member states according to a ‘distribution key’ that will determine the quota for each state based on population size, GDP, unemployment, and the existing number of asylum application. Countries like Germany, Italy, and Greece who have borne the brunt of accommodating migrants from this region hope quotas will ease their load. However, Britain and Denmark have been vocal about their opposition to the proposal, fearing it will encourage rather than quell migration to the European Union they feel they’re not financially responsible for or equipped to handle. Adversaries of the plan have also objected to the implementation of quotas on principle, pointing out that such quotas would detract from a state’s sovereignty in establishing its own policies to address migration.
The second proposal introduced on May 18 by EU defense ministers would militarize the response to the flood of migration by authorizing member state navies to intercept EU bound smuggling ships making the trek across the Mediterranean. Under this plan, navies would also be able to return African migrants to the ports they came from and destroy the ships that carried them in order to impede smugglers from continuing their business. Because of the armed element of this plan, it needs either the approval of the targeted African nations or the UN Security Council in addition to that of the European Union to be implemented.
Assuming that the proposals gain the necessary approval of the European Union and the United Nations, each will go a long way to reduce migration from MENA to the United Nations and effectively distance Europe from the turmoil of that region. But that’s the problem. Amidst debate over responsibility, sovereignty, local opposition, and financial viability, the true root of the inundation of migrants to Europe has been lost. While it’s easy to naively believe that this oversight can be attributed to the incorrect belief that the flood of migration is a problem in and of itself rather than a symptom of something larger as many EU observers have, the truth can’t be ignored. Europe simply doesn’t want to involve itself in the discord and state failure that has befallen MENA in the wake of the Arab Uprising, which has driven thousands to seek refuge within its borders. But unless someone does, no matter what sort of quotas are implemented or however much military might is invested in preventing Mediterranean passage, the hemorrhage of asylum seekers from MENA will likely only grow larger in the months and years to come.