By Kelsay Calvaruso
So far in 2015, more than 1,700 people are believed to have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe. Last year, there were 96 deaths through the end of April. At the current rate for 2015, the International Organization for Migration estimates a possible 30,000 deaths by the end of the year. The drastic increase in the number of migrants attempting the journey to Europe, as well as the increase in the number of deaths of those migrants, highlights the need for Europe to take a more active role in the Mediterranean.
Earlier this week, the European Union endeavored to address this need by developing a ten-point action plan. This plan was put forward by the European Commission and backed by the EU Foreign and Interior Ministers. It includes the following actions:
- EU reinforcement of patrolling operations in the Mediterranean by providing more money and equipment and extending the scope of patrols;
- The systematic attempt to capture and destroy the vessels of people smugglers in a combined civilian and military operation;
- The cooperation of all agencies to gather information on the smugglers;
- The EU asylum support office’s deployment of teams to Italy and Greece for joint processing of applications;
- The fingerprinting of all migrants;
- The EU’s considering of options for an “emergency relocation mechanism” for migrants;
- The launching of a voluntary pilot project on resettling refugees across the EU;
- The establishment of a return program for the rapid return of “irregular” migrants;
- The engagement of the EU with countries surrounding Libya through the Commission and the EU’s diplomatic service; and
- The deployment of immigration liaison officers abroad to gather intelligence on migratory flows and strengthen the role of EU delegations.
While this plan may seem comprehensive on the surface, there are several underlying issues that must be addressed.
The plan distinguishes between migrants and refugees. For example, the proposed resettlement program applies to refugees. This distinction is important because international law treats migrants and refugees differently. Migrants choose to move in order to improve the future of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move in order to save their lives or preserve their freedom. However, these groups are often mixed, both in the crossing to Europe, and in the minds of most of the international community.
Once these people reach Europe, many seek asylum. However, asylum applications can take up to five years to process, even in countries not overwhelmed by the incoming flood of migrants, like the UK. Thus, the deployment of teams to Italy and Greece may aid in this process, but it is unlikely they will significantly improve upon this timeline. Therefore, the likelihood of a rapid return program easing the strains of the sheer volume of migrants in the Southern European countries is low, especially in the short term.
As previously mentioned, the confusion of migrants and refugees has permeated the international community. This has led to much mistrust of migrants and refugees. The racism and xenophobia that accompanies this mistrust will prove problematic for governments and decrease the likelihood of those governments to take voluntary action to resettle refugees in their countries. Indeed, many politicians across the EU are campaigning on an anti-immigrant platform. Furthermore, EU countries could have taken voluntary action at any point in recent years to relieve some of the pressure Southern European countries have because of migration, but they have neglected to take any significant action. This has left Southern European countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece bearing the brunt of the migration influx. These countries are already struggling economically and with a lack of adequate infrastructure to handle all the migrants. With the ongoing Eurozone crisis, these countries, as well as the rest of the EU, are in a precarious position. A call for voluntary action simply falls short of the demands of the situation.
One issue can be seen throughout the ten-point plan. Namely, the plan fails to address the issues causing the migrants to leave and attempt to come to Europe, instead focusing on how to head them off. In the past, the EU has reduced patrols in the Mediterranean with the idea that if there were less patrols there to rescue them, people would stop trying to cross the sea. As we can see from the previously mentioned figures, this has not hindered the migration attempts at all. This implies that their reasons for leaving are worth the risk of death in the crossing for the chance of a safer life in Europe. Therefore, the only way to effectively reduce the number of crossings, is an improvement in the stability in the countries the migrants are coming from. The only concession to this idea made in the plan is that the EU will engage with the countries surrounding Libya. This point is vague and fails to demonstrate what role the EU is prepared to take to work with these countries and improve regional stability.
In conclusion, the EU’s ten-point plan to address the Mediterranean migration crisis falls short of an effective strategy to improve the situation. Few actions are definitively stated, leaving much ambiguity on what the EU expects of its members and what it is willing to do as a collective. This plan can prove to be a useful stepping-stone towards a solution if further action is taken. By itself, it is unlikely to do much to resolve the crisis.
Kelsay is a master’s candidate at the Patterson School studying International Security and Commerce. She has a special interest in the intelligence community, geopolitics, and terrorism studies. Feel free to contact her with any questions, comments, or opportunities at firstname.lastname@example.org