Is hope on the horizon for refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean?
When as many as 1,200 refugees and migrants drowned in two shipwrecks during just one week in April, hundreds of thousands of people stood up to protest. And finally, Europe’s politicians faced the fact that the Mediterranean Sea is turning into a cemetery. Will the EU’s new plans for tackling the crisis mean good news for refugees and migrants? Here’s a quick guide.
(Photo: Activists stage a funeral march outside the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, to protest against refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, 23 April 2015.)
1. How will EU leaders stop more people drowning in the Mediterranean?
By stepping up search and rescue missions. More ships will patrol the central Mediterranean, closer to where migrants often run into trouble, instead of just 30 miles from the EU’s own shores. Some governments have also sent extra military ships. Funding for EU border control has been tripled, and member countries are being asked offer more refugees safe and legal ways to get to Europe (see below), instead of risking their lives at sea.
2. Won’t better search rescue operations make more people come over?
There is no evidence to support this claim. The number of refugees and migrants travelling by sea actually increased after Italy stopped its Mare Nostrum rescue mission in October 2014. Most people are simply focused on escaping extremely harsh circumstances – even if the journey to Europe might kill them. For many, the sea is the only route to safety left.
3. Will destroying boats used to smuggle people help?
It's not clear how governments can destroy the boats smugglers use without putting refugees and migrants in danger. It risks trapping tens of thousands of migrants and refugees in a violent conflict zone. It could also distract EU ships and planes from saving people’s lives at sea. And all of this could push people to try entering Fortress Europe in even more dangerous ways.
4. Will Europe open up to more refugees?
EU states have agreed to resettle 20,000 refugees over two years, spread out according to their GDP, population, etc. Resettlement is a lifeline offered to particularly vulnerable refugees outside Europe (not migrants or asylum-seekers). They include women and children at risk of abuse, people with cancer, torture survivors, etc.
"We will keep on pushing EU leaders to stop people suffering and dying at their borders - on land as well as by sea."
5. What difference will those extra 20,000 places make?
It is a step in the right direction, but it is also just a drop in the ocean. We are urging richer countries to resettle 380,000 of Syria’s refugees by the end of 2016. A fair share of that for EU countries might be opening up to around 100,000 people. But so far, they have offered just 40,137 places – 30,000 of which are in Germany. By contrast, just five countries near Syria are now hosting over 3.9 million refugees.
6. What will happen to asylum-seekers?
Italy and Greece are under pressure from increasing numbers of people crossing the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. EU states have now agreed to help out by processing 40,000 asylum claims made by people who have already arrived in those two countries. This could be a good idea - but EU countries will still have to voluntarily pledge how many asylum-seekers they will take, and it is unclear if their pledges will add up to 40,000.
7. So will all of this help refugees and migrants?
It could mean a small, important step forward – if all member states back the plans fully. But Europe still remains an almost impenetrable fortress. As long as that continues, we will keep on pushing its leaders to stop people suffering and dying at their borders - on land as well as by sea.
Europe and refugees: 7 numbers
New EU resettlement places offered to vulnerable refugees.
Population of Europe, among whom resettled refugees would be spread out.
1 in every 5
People in Lebanon who is now a refugee from Syria.
EU spending on protecting its borders (2014-2020).
€14 thousand billion
EU countries’ annual combined GDP.
Daily amount many Syrian refugees are now forced to survive on.
1 in 3
People crossing the Mediterranean who had Syrian nationality (January-end April 2015).