Europe’s refugee crisis

Updated - November 17, 2021 11:07 am IST

Published - September 02, 2015 01:31 am IST

“I pity the poor immigrant, who wishes he’d stayed at home,” sang the American folk-singer Bob Dylan. That verse today finds extra resonance in the scarring images of forced human displacement across treacherous sea and land routes into the promised land of Europe. Thousands leave every day from the war-ravaged and economically broken countries of northern Africa, Syria and West Asia. The harrowing images of mass death captured by the media — the most recent, the 800 people feared drowned when the boat they travelled in >capsized in the Libyan waters south of the Italian island of Lampedusa in April, or the > 71 fleeing Syrians found dead in a truck in Austria last week — point to the magnitude of the human catastrophe that is unfolding across this part of the world. The statistics on recent migration are staggering. According to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced in 2014, a figure that rose sharply in 2015. A record number of 1,07,500 migrants reached the borders of the European Union last month. The Migrants Files, a collaborative project of journalists, claims the number of refugees who died or went missing while making the crossing is 3,016 this year alone. Between 2000 and today the number is 30,817.

A practical response to the refugee crisis has not, regrettably, been forthcoming from the governments of those countries most affected by the recent influx, namely those of the European Union and Britain. They have tried to turn the focus on criminal trafficking rings that conduct risky refugee escape operations, even as they tighten their own borders. By contrast, there is the laudable spirit shown by organisations, groups that have conducted perilous rescue operations on the high seas, and provided refugees shelter and timely support despite their constrained capabilities and remit. The political and economic destabilisation of countries from where the refugee flow is the greatest — those in West Asia, Libya and Syria — are due in large part to western military intervention carried out on the strength of promises to bring democracy to peoples portrayed as the victims of totalitarian rule. Not only has that promise been belied, the doors have been closed on people who now desperately seek to escape the anarchy and civil breakdown of those countries, which were once relatively stable. A scheme of mandatory quotas to take in refugees, proposed by the European Commission, has met with stiff opposition from several member-states. Germany has given asylum to over 200,000 refugees last year, and Britain to just 32,000. The EU and Britain must adopt a more humane and responsible asylum and immigration policy on the refugee crisis — or be consumed by it.

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