“We need more Europe in our asylum policy. We need more Union in our refugee policy”: The Migrant Crisis in Europe
The above quote is from Jean-Claude Juncker’s 2015 State of the Union address to the European Commission on September 9th, calling for “Honesty, Unity, and Solidarity” in Europe’s approach to the migrant policy and other current issues. His speech is but one statement of policy in a long line since the beginning of the year, where the migrant crisis has been a hallmark of news headlines and central to a demand for change and a stronger Europe.
I started following the migrant crisis after seeing a vivid picture of hundreds of migrants protesting outside of a railway station in Budapest. That was on September 1st, and though each new day brings new headlines, I have discovered that to understand the crisis one needs to reach farther back than September. Headlines about migrant boats sinking at sea have been prominent since April 12, when 400 people drowned after their boat capsized off the Libyan coast. A week later, at least 800 people died in another capsizing. This caused EU leaders to agree to triple the funding of Frontex – the EU’s external border force – to the equivalent of $134 million. This includes 102 guest officers from 20 countries, 31 ships, 3 helicopters, and 4 fixed wing aircraft . Though this was seen a step in the right direction, and an example of the positive impact of European solidarity, it has been viewed also as not enough, especially when in August the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean (300,000) overtook those recorded in 2014 (219,000). On September 1st Hungary responded to their own migrant influx by blocking migrants from traveling, saying it was both following the EU’s Dublin regulation that states that migrants must register in the first EU country in which it makes contact, and objecting to those migrants in Hungary who had failed to register in Greece. On September 5th, in order to ease the number of migrants in Hungary, Austria and Germany agreed to open their borders and institute more liberal asylum laws. Today an emergency meeting is being held by EU interior ministers in Brussels, this meeting will hopefully be a step in the right direction for such policies as creating a common EU list of safe countries of origin, free movement within Europe, possible repealing of the Dublin regulation, more EU money for Italy, Greece, and Hungary, and plans to distribute 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary among member states via binding quotas.
As each new headline emerges, my interest has stayed with the stories behind these migrants; where are they coming from, and what do they want? As Juncker states, “the vast majority of them are fleeing from war in Syria, the terror of the Islamic State in Libya or dictatorship in Eritrea.” The largest migrant groups in Europe come from (in order) Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Kosovo, and Nigeria. Europe is seen not just as a place free from the perils of home, but a chance for a better life. Germany specifically has become a landing place for migrants as it has suspended the Dublin regulation and stated that it will not send back Syrians to the EU countries in which they arrived. About 450,000 asylum seekers have entered Germany this year, the most in Europe. Though Germany is now admitting that its capacity has reached its limit, it has both pushed forward policy with its development the “Koenigsteiner Key” as a way to distribute asylum seekers across its 16 federal states, and has offered a bright patch in this crisis, with pictures not of capsizing ships and crowded train station but of citizens in Munich holding welcome banners and bringing clothes for new arrivals at the train station. Juncker states that “This is the Europe I want to live in”, and it showcases an acceptance of both the crisis and the plight of the migrants that makes a viable solution possible.
The path ahead is unclear, and the crisis will not be solved any time soon. Even in Germany, such potential organizing policies as Koenigsteiner Key need to be allocated funds and adapted by Germany’s state leaders. Many EU state leaders don’t agree on next steps, and there is resentment held by the states currently taking the brunt of the migrants. It will be interesting to see what policies come out of today’s meetings, and what they mean for a unified EU response to coming months of the crisis.