Europe is experiencing one of the most significant influxes of migrants and refugees in its recent history. Pushed by civil war and terror, and attracted by promise of better life, large numbers of people have fled the Middle East and Africa, risking their lives along the way.
More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, compared with just 280,000 the year before. The scale of the crisis continues with more than 135,000 people arriving in the first two months of this year.
The conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are driving people in a dangerous journey to reach Europe, mainly by sea. Three hundred were drowned in the Aegean Sea this year. Poverty and human rights abuses and poor security conditions are prompting people to leave their countries in Africa and other Asian nations.
The Greek islands near Turkey are the main focus of European attention, as thousands of migrants continue to arrive ashore every day. Tensions have been escalating between this country and its European partners, who accuse Athens of deliberately waving through migrants who ought to be registered as soon as they enter the European Union.
Greece insists that it cannot become Europe’s holding center for migrants, it demands fair burden sharing. Italy face the same criticism, in a lower scale. The European Commission is revising the regulation, but on the ground the refugees conditions are generating violence especially on the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedoni.,Fourteen thousand are held there from continuing their route into Europe in miserable human conditions.
The office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) criticized the Europeans for a self inflicted crisis. The border restrictions adopted by the Balkanic countries are against the Convention on Refugees of 1951 and its protocol of 1967, because they don’t allow the evaluation of the individual condition for every refugee. The Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called on all governments to keep their borders open and to act in a spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility by expanding the legal ways for seekers to reach their asylum.
The crisis is escalating with time and with improved weather conditions.
On Monday 7, European Union leaders held a key summit with Turkey in Brussels on ways of dealing with Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two. The EU is pressing Turkey, through which many migrants transit to take some back in return for €3.3 billion in aid. Turkey is asking for that sum to be doubled and its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of failing to deliver on its previous promised aid, a complaint shared by all governments of countries hosting refugees.
At the end of the day a consensus was reached on broad principles to face the crisis.
The Europeans will help Turkey receiving refugees from any nationality. Turkey will accept illegal refugees sent back in its territory in condition that the European will settle in Europe the same number of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey. The idea is to achieve a massive deterrent for illegal trafficking of the people, but how the authorities will face the continuous flow on their shores is to be seen.The legality of the deal is questioned by United Nations and human rights agencies .
The Turks will have easier access to Europe according to the deal and the process for Turkey to join the European Union would be accelerated.
Another summit on the same issue will take place on the 17 and 18 of Marrch to finaliza the details of the understanding.
For five long years the Syrian conflict was a game of nations, where regional and international powers disputed on Syrian ground and blood over their own interests.
Now the misery of Syrian refugees is becoming a factor in destabilizing Europe and threatening its unity and institutions. The Syrian effect is expanding.
Mahmoud is a former Lebanon Ambassador to Mexico.