Understanding European Refugee Crisis
The article delineates the ongoing refugee crisis across the Mediterranean Sea and the lessons which it holds for India.
In recent months, Europe has been facing the most severe refugee crisis since the World War-II. In early 2015, around 3 lakh people knocked its doors seeking asylum. It is in addition to the 6.25 lakh applications received in 2014.
As per an estimate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the migrant influx is continue to grow as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are still reeling under compounded problems of terrorism, sectarian violence and civilian unrest.
Who are these refugees?
Though the African originated refugee problem is chronic for Europe, recent influx has many new sources.
Majority of refugees are from war-torn Syria. Since the beginning of civil war in 2011, around 2 million left the country to neighbouing Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. They were given shelter and other basic facilities in the UN sponsored camps.
However, in recent times, as the refugee camps have becoming overcrowded and there is no end in sight to the ongoing conflict in Syria, refugees started heading towards safe heavens in Europe in search of greener pastures.
Besides Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia are other major source countries.
Why are they heading towards Europe?
Reasons for migrant influx towards Europe are many. They differ from country to country and can be categorized under two heads-Push factors and Pull Factors.
• Continuous terrorist activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan
• Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in Syria and Iraq
• Gross human rights violations in the form of compulsory national service in Eritrea driving around 5000 people from the country
• Increasing lawlessness due to power vacuum in Somalia forcing the citizens to cross the Mediterranean
• Geographic proximity: For majority of asylum seekers, only the Mediterranean Sea is standing between their trouble-ridden present and wishful future. Hence, the crisis has become synonymous with the phrase Mediterranean Migrant Crisis.
• Faith in the European Administration: The firm belief among the refugees that the rule-bound and humanitarian governments in Europe won’t deny them the legitimate basic right to life which is evident from the fact that migrants are reluctant to seek asylum in the well-off Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc in spite of their cultural affinity.
• Employment opportunities: As the European labour market is more matured; the migrants see immediate employment opportunities for themselves to restart their lives.
The following issues are intertwined with the ongoing migration crisis in the Europe.
Dublin procedure: The Dublin procedure established that the first EU country where a migrant or refugees enters is responsible for processing asylum claim. This put tremendous pressure on countries like Greece and Italy where most asylum seekers arrived first.
As most asylum seekers want to go to Germany, Sweden or France questions are raised as to why register and house them in a country where they do not want to stay any way.
Fault lines within the EU: The crisis opened up structural fault lines within Europe. Majority of smaller countries with low financial resources, like Hungary, are not willing to share the burden.
Also, few of them advocated that the big countries like France and Germany should shoulder the burden as it is the result of their participation in the NATO-led war in the source countries.
Further, there is a growing disagreement among the larger nations on the formula to relocate refugees with the European Union.
Europe’s moral dilemma: As many of the European economies are still under the shadow of the global financial crisis of 2008, how far they can accommodate the interests of migrants without resorting to austerity measures.
In addition, denying rights to legitimate asylum seekers is nothing but violation of the article 18 (Right to Asylum), Article II-78 and Article III-266 of the European Constitution on which the EU exists.
Schengen Agreement: In the past one month, countries like Germany and Hungary suspended the implementation of the agreement-in order to control migrant influx-whose sole purpose is to facilitate movement of people across international borders without undergoing mandatory checks.
Integration of migrants: The most pertinent problem related to migrant rehabilitation is how far their integration will be successful given the growing anti Islam sentiment in the European society.
Steps taken so far
At a summit level meeting on 23 September 2015, the European Union nations agreed to give an additional 1.1 billion euros to the UN agencies involved in rehabilitation of the migrants.
EU stepped up funding to maritime surveillance in order to avoid drowning incidents in the Mediterranean. As per an estimate, in 2014 alone, 3500 people found dead or missing in the sea while en route to nearby European islands.
The European Commission proposed internal relocation of 120000 migrants on the basis of a mandatory distribution key using objective and quantifiable criteria-40 percent of the size of the population, 40 percent of the GDP, 10 percent of the average number of past asylum applications, 10 percent of the unemployment rate.
Further, the formula applies to nationalities of applicants with an EU-wide average recognition rate of 75 percent or higher.
Besides Europe, the USA and Australia stated their willingness to accommodate 10000 and 12000 refugees respectively in next one year.
Lessons for India
Refugee problem is not new to India as it faced sudden migrant outburst from Bangladesh in 1971, Afghanistan following USSR’s intervention in 1979 and Sri Lanka during the civil war between the armed forces and the LTTE.
Still, taking a cue from the ongoing crisis, India should step up its diplomatic engagement to bring out a special convention on climate refugees.
For India, the engagement is of prime importance due to the fact that half of Bangladesh lies in the Low Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ)-within 10 meters above sea level-that is prone to submergence as sea levels are set to rise due to climate change.
Further, Maldives, another neighbor, is also facing the threat of extinction due to the same reason.
The ongoing crisis is a grim remainder of the fact that majority communities across the world still deprived of essentials due to chronic problems like hunger, poverty, terrorism, mal administration, sectarian violence, etc.
Though we came a long way in nurturing peace, security and socio-economic development, millions of people still struggle for basic necessities of life.
It is high time the world leaders should come together and fix the problem of migration once for all to ensure timely achievement of recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals.
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