Migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regions of the world are pouring into Europe. The EU is struggling to accommodate them. A stunning 1.82 million irregular migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, an amount six times greater than the 282,962 who entered in 2014 (1). Civil war in Syria has placed pressure on Europe from the East. To stem the incoming flow of migrants, the EU established a deal with Turkey where Ankara agreed to take back detained irregular migrants in Greece in return for cash and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens throughout Europe (2). In the two weeks following the attempted coup against President Erdogan on July 15, however, Europe has been dealt 1,170 additional asylum seekers from Turkey, increasing the total amount of asylum seekers on the northeast Aegean islands to 10,000 (2). The political instability following the coup places further pressure on European courts that hope to return migrants to Turkish territory.
The migration crisis does not stem from the East alone. Europe has always dealt with irregular migration from northern Africa, and with the establishment of free borders within member states of the Schengen area, countries have been forced to pool resources and data to better address these issues. In a 2004 effort to coordinate and manage its unified borders, the European Union established the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, an organization better known as Frontex (3). Frontex has seen a gradual increase in their budget of 6.3 million euros in 2005 to 254 million euros in 2016, a clear signal of the EU’s intent to stem the flow of irregular migration (4).
Frontex has classified seven popular routes through which undocumented migrants attempt to enter the European Union: (a) The Central Mediterranean route, from Tunisia and Libya to Italy and Malta; (b) The Western Mediterranean route, from Morocco and Algeria to Spain; (c) the Western African route, from the West African coast to the Spanish Canary Islands; (d) the Eastern borders route; (e) the Western Balkans route, from non-EU countries through the Balkans into the EU; (f) the Albania-Greece circular route; (g) and the Eastern Mediterranean route, from Turkey to Greece by land and sea (5).
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the vast borders of the European Union “make it virtually impossible to prevent people from crossing the Sahara, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean.” (6). While certain points of entry are more vulnerable than others, migrants coming from destitute surrounding regions are often willing to “travel thousands of kilometers to access a clearer throughway if the route near their home becomes blocked” (7). Past successful efforts to curb irregular immigration have merely redirected the flow of migrants. These anti-entry measures have led to the creation of new and more perilous routes to Europe for refugees and have increased migrants’ dependence on smugglers for aid (7).
Such was the case in the mid-2000s, when successful anti-entry policies diverted flow of migrants from West Africa to the Central Mediterranean route. In 2006, the West African route off the West African coast to the Canary Islands peaked as “the busiest irregular entry point for the whole of Europe with 32,000 migrants” (8). Following multiple surveillance efforts from Spanish authorities, including bilateral repatriation agreements with Senegal and Mauritania, the numbers dropped to 12,500 migrants in 2007 (8). While Spanish attempts to curb migration were successful in the West African route, the effects were felt elsewhere. The ability of smugglers to quickly re-establish routes and connect with new clients trumped the slow bureaucratic response of European authorities to curtail irregular migration. Through the use of mobile phones and the Internet, smugglers and migrants were able to quickly adapt and configure new routes into Europe (1).
Following the implementation of Spanish border control policies, the Central Mediterranean route experienced a large increase in irregular migration patterns. According to Frontex data, 39,800 irregular migrants attempted to cross into Europe in 2008. With slight lulls in previous years due to regional instability, the number of irregular immigrants attempting to enter Europe through the Italian island of Lampedusa has steadily increased, peaking at 170,760 migrants in 2014, an increase of 970% from 2012 numbers (9). Along with the Eastern Mediterranean route, which has seen 162,563 migrants attempt to enter the European Union in the first half of 2016 alone, the Central Mediterranean route has experienced the most immigration traffic in recent years. With increased Italian surveillance efforts and the newly implemented Turkey-EU repatriation deal, irregular migration is expected to decrease in the Central Mediterranean, as well as the nautical border separating Turkey and Greece (1).
If history is to repeat itself, the increased difficulty of migrating through previous popular routes will force migrants desperate to escape their countries of origin to find new routes or to reactivate old ones. While its numbers still pale in comparison to those of other routes, the West African Route had 874 migrants in 2015 attempt to gain entry to the Canary Islands, a stark contrast to the mere 275 who attempted entry in 2014 (8). With violence raging in parts of Sudan and most of Libya, and increased European attention to curb migration efforts from the Central Mediterranean, sub-Saharan and North African immigrants will be forced to the Western African and Western Mediterranean routes to find their path to Europe. Previous measures taken by the Spanish government to close off the Western Mediterranean route through the Straits of Gibraltar will re-shift immigration traffic further west to the Canary Islands, as was the case in 2006 (7).
Currently, only 9% of irregular migrants attempting to enter Europe come from West Africa (7). A vast majority of migrants from West Africa are sub-Saharan Africans who were able to take advantage of the visa-free movement among member states of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, in arriving to northwestern African states. These trends of irregular migration from the south point to the need for further cooperation between the European Union and African states. From their perspective, ECOWAS states have pledged to uphold the 2006 EU-Africa Tripoli Declaration on Migration and Development, an agreement focused on curbing irregular migration.
Despite varying immigration policies among its member states, the European Union has supplemented patrols of their borders with a three pronged strategy of non-entry policies to curb irregular immigration, consisting of tightened visa restrictions for citizens from third world countries, repatriation agreements, and risk awareness campaigns in points of embarkation (10). These anti-entry policies fall in line with the opinions of the majority of European citizens, who view even legal immigration and increased diversity in their countries negatively (11). This desire to close off entry paths for most immigrants has placed a burden on European authorities to further secure borders. In an effort to fulfill this expectation of security, the European Union hopes to transform Frontex into the European Border and Coast Guard Agency within the next year, a transition that would expand the responsibilities of Frontex and allow for more efficient search and rescue operations (12).
There is no doubt that the influx of irregular immigrants has placed both an economic and social strain on Europe, and with the increased amount of terror attacks on the European continent, it is only natural that citizens are concerned for their safety and that of their loved ones. The nation-states of Europe, however, would be well reminded that the geopolitical and socioeconomic factors behind the current immigration crisis ensure that the influx of peoples is not likely to relent any time soon. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the lack of “legal channels for immigration…to match the real demand for labor,” the presence of nearby “large informal economies,” and the raging conflicts in Syria, Libya, and other close regions ensure the continuation of irregular migration in the near future (6).
At best, past and current efforts to curtail irregular migration have redirected the flow of migrants to new routes, inefficiently spending funds and forming more perilous routes that expose migrants to various human rights violations, including murder and rape. Many migrants attempt to enter the European Union in an effort to escape areas ravaged by violence, and returning them to their country of origin at times can be a death sentence. Europeans would be justified in remembering their commitment to the rights of all human beings, not merely their own citizens, to life, liberty, and security in their European Convention on Human Rights. Repatriation agreements and sustainable investments in countries of origin, along with more integrated cooperation within the EU, are a step in the right direction, but they must be supplemented with other efforts. A commitment to increased collective research on immigration patterns, along with lawful adjustments that allow immigrants to legally join European societies and fulfill the demand for cheap labor, will be more beneficial in the long run for all parties than short term reallocation of migrant flows.
(1) Freitas, Any. “The Routes Less Travelled: Irregular Migration to the EU.” RUSI. N.p., 05 May 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(2) Oliphant, Vickiie. “Greece Sees 76 Percent Rise in Migrants after Turkey’s Dispute with Europe Following Coup.” Daily Express World RSS. N.p., 11 Aug. 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(3) “Frontex | Mission and Tasks.” Frontex | Mission and Tasks. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.
(4) “Vorwort.” Frontex Budget 2016 (n.d.): n. pag. Frontex. 24 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(5) Morehouse, Christal, and Michael Blomfield. “Irregular Migration in Europe.” (2010): n. pag. Transatlantic Council on Migration, Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(6) De Haas, Hei. “Irregular Migration from West Africa to the Maghreb and the European Union: An Overview of Recent Trends.” Migrant Smuggling (n.d.): n. pag. International Organization for Migration, 2008. Web. 12 Aug. 2016
(7) “Transnational Organized Crime in West Africa: A Threat Assessment.” (n.d.): 25-31. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(8) “Frontex | Western African Route.” Frontex | Western African Route. Frontex, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2016.
(9) “Frontex | Central Mediterranean Route.” Frontex | Central Mediterranean Route. Frontex, n.d. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(10) Kleist, Nauja. Europe Fighting Irregular Migration – Consequences for West African Mobility (n.d.): n. pag. Danish Institute for International Studies, Oct. 2011. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(11) Drake, Bruce, and Jacob Poushter. “In Views of Diversity, Many Europeans Are Less Positive than Americans.” Pew Research Center RSS. Pew Research Center, 12 July 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
(12) “Frontex Welcomes European Parliament Vote on European Border and Coast Guard.” Frontex | News. Frontex, 6 July 2016. Web. 12 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Radekprocyk | Dreamstime.com - Refugees Leaving Hungary Photo