EU pressure mounts over increase in illegal migrant death toll
‘Boat season’ brings potential catastrophe as thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants cross the Mediterranean Sea in the hazardous flee towards Europe.
As EU border agency ‘Frontex’ reports an increasing number of migrants arriving in Europe, concerns are growing amongst the UN regarding the safety of those making the hazardous journey.
Recent months have seen a significant increase in migrants fleeing to Europe in order to seek asylum, with the civil war-torn Syria in particular providing “almost a quarter” of all illegal border-crossings along the EU’s external borders. Other streams include those from Egypt, Lybia and Serbia.
Reporting in their 2014 Annual Risk Analysis, Frontex have stated that the future holds “a heightened likelihood of large numbers of illegal border-crossings into the EU,” and that these migrants will no doubt require the assistance of “search and rescue operations” as well as “provision of international protection”.
The pure volume of refugees crossing unsafe waters has forced the United Nations to consider the opening of holding centres in the Middle East and North Africa.
The UNHCR has previously opposed the processing of refugees outside of the EU, but the overwhelming nature of the issue has now forced the consideration of external centres. UNHCR's European director, Vincent Cochetel stated: "We would not be totally against external processing if certain safeguards were in place: the right to appeal, fair process, the right to remain while appeals take place."
Cochetel also stated that the EU’s focus on tougher border control was misplaced - and that safer routes should be the priority.
The proposed establishment of these centres off of EU soil has been met with some concern - primarily that those seeking asylum would not be provided the correct and effective channels of access to asylum within the EU from their own countries.
Judie Sutherland from Human Right’s Watch has explained that, though there is nothing wrong with the proposal in principle, “you can't imagine [the right] conditions being met in Libya today, or indeed Egypt or Morocco."
The accelerating increase in migrants entering the EU has seen a particularly strong reaction from both Greece and Italy, with the former in support of quelling the issue at sea through the deployment of a Mediterranean Sea patrol.
Frontex reports that over 40,000 people have already crossed into Italy so far in 2014. The Italian response has been intense, with interior minister Angelino Alfano pledging to force the migrant issue to the top of the EU agenda come the overtaking of EU presidency in July.
Amongst the organisations calling for immediate and effective action is Amnesty International, who have condemned the EU’s inaction thus far to aid those refugees who are “pushed into the hands of smugglers and traffickers… forced to risk their lives on unseaworthy vessels."
The Italian Red Cross have urged for the establishment of a “humanitarian corridor” to be opened up to migrants fleeing the conflict and poverty of their own countries. The Italian search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum has provided a significant degree of aid - rescuing 30,000 people since last autumn. The cost, however, has been substantial - over €9 million a month.
There have been calls for Fostex to relocate to the migrant-flooded isle of Sicily (8,500 migrants this year alone), in the hopes of more resources being provided to tackle the issue. Greece has also suffered from a lack of financial aid- spending €65 million to protect it’s eastern seafront last year - only €2 million being provided by the EU.
Reaction to this strain has seen considerable activity amongst the right wing in both countries. The Greek neo-fascist party Golden Dawn and the Italian xenophobic Northern League party have both become more notable, with growing support bases.
Threats by the Italian interior minister to deduct from the government's EU contributions, unless some of the search and rescue costs are undertaken by Brussels, have been demonstrative of mounting pressure to tackle such a colossal issue without proficient backing.
Former Italian interior-minister Enzo Bianco has predicted “a real disaster of colossal proportions” unless “strong action” is taken by the EU to curve the numbers of migrants crossing the EU border. With dozens of fatalities each fortnight in the Mediterranean, delaying effective measures will only see the death toll continue to rise.
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