Tragedy of the boat people

June 03, 2016 01:20 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:43 am IST

The > death of about 700 people in three shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea is another reminder of the horrors of the > refugee crisis confronting Europe . Despite the obvious danger of crossing the sea on small, unseaworthy vessels, tens of thousands of refugees from Africa and West Asia make this perilous journey every year, fleeing war and misery. This year, more than 2,000 people have drowned trying to reach Europe, a number that may well surpass last year’s 3,700. Europe’s response to the crisis has been far from effective. Globally there is a spike in the number of refugees over the past few years, mainly due to the wars and civil strife in West Asia and North Africa. Europe cannot insulate itself from such problems in its wider neighbourhood. Refugees have taken two major routes to reach Europe: from Turkey to the Greek islands, and from Libya to Italy. The ‘One In, One Out’ deal reached recently between the European Union and Turkey, under which Europe will resettle one Syrian refugee in the continent for every Syrian returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, has seen the arrival of refugees from Turkey subside. But the closure of this route has prompted those who smuggle refugees to shift their focus to Libya, resulting in a surge of arrivals on the Italian coast.

Europe needs a comprehensive plan to tackle this crisis. First, it should welcome more people. But for Germany and Sweden, European countries have largely been shy of accepting refugees. Second, Europe needs to have a more efficient and proactive search and rescue mission with the required financial muscle. Italy has proposed the creation of euro bonds to finance the response facility, a move Germany opposes. If Europe wants to prevent people from drowning, rescue teams should be provided the resources they ask for. Third, the official European position is that more should be done to stop refugees from leaving for Europe in the first place. This cannot be done unless there are functional, cooperative governments in these countries. The EU could reach an agreement with Turkey because there is a stable authority in Ankara that could implement the plan. But Libya has been in the midst of a violent civil war ever since the regime of Muammar Qadhafi was toppled in a war led by Europeans. This makes it difficult to crack down on the sophisticated smuggling network that has developed over the last few years. Any plan to check the flow needs to be supplemented by efforts to find peace in Libya.

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