Unless you have been living under a rock for a very long time, then you know that Europe is undergoing a refugee crisis of historic proportions. Since the beginning of 2015, thousands of migrants have been trying to flock to the European Union mostly through the Mediterranean Sea, or via Southeastern Europe. The majority of these asylum seekers and refugees originate from Africa, South and West Asia. The UNHCR says that the top 3 nationalities for refugees who streamed in through the Mediterranean Sea are Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis.
Tragedy at Sea
In 2013, a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers from Libya headed to Italy sank, killing 368 people. As a result, Italy launched a massive search and rescue operation codenamed Mare Nostrum. But the situation wasn’t even close to getting better. Within the first four months of 2015, the numbers of migrants perishing at sea was at record high. For instance, in the first 3 months of 2015, at least 479 refugees drowned. The situation became even direr in April the same year when 1308 refugees either drowned or disappeared, sparking a worldwide outcry. European leaders then held emergency meetings in the same month and decided to triple funding for their Mediterranean rescue operations.
Below is the nature of Europe’s refugee problem, based on a report published recently by the EU.
- The majority of people flocking into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea are fleeing from conflict, war, and persecution to their countries of origin. There are also increasing numbers of displaced individuals fleeing from deteriorating conditions in various refugee-hosting nations. European Union states have a responsibility to protect these refugees, as well as rescue those who face danger at sea.
- There have been an increasing number of deaths at sea, as refugees try to cross the Mediterranean Sea by all means possible. Currently, European search and rescue operations have intensified, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of migrants stuck at sea.
- More migrants and refugees are taking the Eastern Mediterranean route, from Turkey to Greece. Over 85 percent of refugee arrivals in Greece are people fleeing from war in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. Once in Greece, these migrants travel across the Balkans to northern and western Europe. Based on available statistics, Italy is the number one destination for refugees from Eritrea, Somalia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.
- Due to increased arrivals, reception capacity and other conditions in European host countries have deteriorated. While Italy has improved reception capacity, there are clear systemic gaps in Greece. This negatively impacts refugees, especially those with special needs. It also elevates their risks of being exploited. The European Union has reiterated that this is an emergency situation that requires steadfast intervention and support.
EU in the context of the Globe
Based on the UNHCR, there were over 59.6 million refugees worldwide by the end of 2014. The number increased to over 64 million at the end of 2015, and the situation doesn’t even look like it’s getting better. Compared to the rest of the world, European Union countries have hosted a significantly small number of refugees. From a global standpoint, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan still host the highest numbers of refugees. In Lebanon, the refugee burden is so intense that 1 out of every 4 people is an asylum seeker.