Migrant crisis still alive but Europe’s stance grows more sinister

The European Union has been attempting to cover up and whitewash the difficulties facing migrants to convince voters that the problem isn’t that bad.
Saturday 06/07/2019
Rescue workers look towards a migrant boat as it sails close to the Open Arms aid vessel, June 30. 	                     (AP)
Back to reality. Rescue workers look towards a migrant boat as it sails close to the Open Arms aid vessel, June 30. (AP)

Despite the lack of attention paid to the eastern Mediterranean migrant crisis, huge numbers of people are risking their lives to reach Europe, with Turkey very much the critical junction.

While the number of migrants reaching Europe this year is expected to fall way below last year’s 141,000 arrivals, figures from Turkey present a very different picture.

After Spain last year seeing more illegal arrivals than any other European country, the pendulum appears to be swinging back east this year, with 18,294 arriving in Greece — mainly from Turkey — versus the 12,522 having landed in Spain.

Incredibly, more than 27,000 illegal migrants were detained by Turkish police in May alone. Last year, more than 250,000 people were stopped trying to enter Greece or Bulgaria through Turkey.

Migrants continue to drown on the Aegean Sea — 12 victims on one day in June — but the tragedy now draws scant attention. It’s not just the seas: the roads of north-western Turkey have also turned deadly.

On June 25, ten migrants died and 40 were injured when a van carrying them through Meric, a town close to the Greek border, crashed into a store.

“Edirne, bordering with Greece, saw a new influx of illegal migrants trying to reach Europe in March and April. Seemingly organised, hundreds of migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Iran and other countries, headed to Edirne in an influx triggered by social media rumours that Europe would admit more migrants,” Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper reported several weeks ago.

Undoubtedly, the number of people detained by Turkish police represents a small fraction of the overall figure because many reach continental Europe undetected.

While national and institutional European leaders may be preoccupied by events on the opposite side of the continent — namely Brexit — it would do well to keep in mind that the migrant crisis is an issue on its south-eastern border.

The year has been a particularly sensitive time for Europe in general and the European Union in particular. The run-up to local and EU elections in May saw a fear emerge that far-right elements could overrun the political establishment right across the European Union just as Donald Trump has done in the United States.

Polls had far-right candidates across a multitude of countries doing well and media outlets afforded anti-immigrant candidates an outsized amount of attention. Ultimately, the right-wing wave failed to fully materialise and the establishment has, more or less, survived.

This brings us to an interesting, even sinister, turn of events on the part of the European Union. In March it declared, to the surprise of many, that the migrant crisis was over.

“The times of crisis, when hundreds of thousands were coming by sea to Italy and Greece are behind us,” European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. Around the same time, it ran a media campaign across the European Union, trying to sell the idea that no more illegal migrants were attempting to enter.

A news release from the European Commission claimed: “The EU has offered protection and support to millions, saved lives, dismantled smuggling networks and brought irregular arrivals to Europe down to the lowest level recorded in 5 years.”

However, a cursory look at the issue gives a very different view. While its claim of protection or refugees and migrants is largely accurate, the threadbare support migrants get in Europe is barely adequate. Furthermore, how it can surmise that it’s saved lives is unfathomable and distasteful, particularly when so many died while attempting to reach Europe — such as recently in Tripoli.

What’s more, smuggling networks thrive across North Africa, on the Iran-Turkey border and throughout Turkey. In Greece, more than 4,000 migrants waste away in camps on the island of Samos.

What about the tens of thousands of desperate people trying to reach the continent every month and the dozens dying every day en route? Or the hundreds detained in sub-human conditions in Libya? Do they not exist in the eyes of the European Union? And why is the European Union adding 10,000 border guards in the coming years to Frontex, its border and coast guard agency, if the crisis is, as it claims, “over”?

It appears the European Union has been attempting to cover up and whitewash the difficulties facing migrants to convince voters that the problem isn’t that bad.

Institutional and national leaders across the European Union have been scared stiff that voters would reject them and elect far-right elements in their place. To counter that, it’s been trying to sell the idea that “everything’s fine,” a mantra authoritarian regimes the world over use to pacify their populations.

It is a shameful ploy that will come back to bite the European Union. EU officials have kicked the can down the road but it won’t be long before voters in Europe realise that, with thousands of desperate people still arriving through Turkey, the migrant crisis is anything but “over.”