Cross Border Migration

The number of refugees, and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, has passed 400,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014. More than 4000 have died while making the crossing in 2015, compared with 3500 who died or went missing in the Mediterranean in 2014. People are dying in overcrowded boats sinking or in the backs of abandoned freezed trucks. Smuggling networks exploit Libya’s lawlessness and chaos, to bring Syrians into Libya, via Egypt, while Africans arrive through Niger, Sudan and Chad. Refugees and migrants have swept north Europe, through the Balkans, with thousands of Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis crossing from Serbia, into EU-member Hungary. Almost all hope to reach the more affluent countries in northern and western Europe, such as Germany and Sweden.

Hungary, which is part of Europe’s Schengen passport free travel zone has built a high fence along its border with Serbia. Though the 28-nation European Union has common rules for how to receive asylum seekers, the benefits provided once they arrive vary widely from one country to the next. Denmark has cut welfare benefits for refugees. Greece, the European entry point for more than 300,000 migrants in 2015, has been so overwhelmed that it cannot even provide basic services like housing and food. Asylum seekers in Italy and France are kept in large scale refugee centres. Sweden places them in apartments, hostels or camp ground cabins across the country. Spain provides asylum seekers shelter at refugee centres, but spending cuts and an increase in migrants means some of them are sleeping in the streets. In France, asylum seekers can work if they have not received a decision after nine months. In Germany they can work after three months, and in Sweden from day one, but only if they are deemed likely to receive asylum. Exempted from the EU asylum rules, Britain does not normally allow asylum seekers to work at all. Facing with the stream of migrants pouring into Europe, from across Asia and North Africa, the developed western world is coping with changes in demography, new border controls, ability to endure and strained economic infrastructures. The European Union has a plan for compulsory quota of refugees. But block of countries led by Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic and Slovakia have led opposition to quotas.

Meanwhile, the European Union has clinched an agreement with Turkey giving Ankara Euro 3 billion (2 billion Pound) and a pledge to renew its membership bid in exchange for help holding back refugees trying to make their way to Europe. Right now Turkey is home to some 2.2 million refugees from the Syrian civil war. In other words with European countries closing their doors refugees will have to rot in hazardous make-shift camps in Turkey and elsewhere.

As there is no early solution to the crisis in sight, more and more refugees will die—it is a human catastrophe that the United Nations refuses to discuss. A UN intervention is urgently needed but it is unlikely for the world body to intervene anytime soon because Syria is now a source of rivalry between two blocs—America-led western bloc and the Russia-led bloc of Iran and Assad regime. If this rivalry intensifies, refugees will simply multiply in the coming days. For the refugees it’s really a cruel world!

Vol. 48, No. 23, Dec 13 - 19, 2015