“Throughout the dangerous six-day drive across the Sahara, the group only stopped for shelter and food. But on one occasion when they stopped for sleep at a desert village, some of the drivers picked out female migrants among the group, took them away and only returned the next morning.” (The Harrowing, Step-by-Step Story of a Migrant’s Journey to Europe). The purpose of this report is to highlight the causes of the European Migrant Crisis, the treatment of refugees, the process of applying for asylum, how the European Union is handling the crisis, and public opinion about the crisis. The research conducted consisted of 17 online articles, 2 online films, and one survey. The European Migrant Crisis is the mass migration of refugees flooding into Europe from the Middle East and Africa due to conflict and little economic opportunity. Refugees first started fleeing Syria when the Syrian Civil War started, while at the same time refugees came from Africa because of corruption, no economic mobility, and little education and infrastructure. Migrants from Syria traveled to Turkey, then took a boat across the Mediterranean to Greece, and trekked through the Balkans to reach Germany. Refugees originating from Africa crossed the Sahara Desert, then sailed across the Mediterranean to either Italy or Greece. The European Union was not ready for this mass migration and tension rose between the countries in the south that took in the most refugees and the countries in the north. People will keep fleeing the conflicts and stagnation in the Middle East and Africa, so the European Union needs to reform its immigration laws and start helping the countries that refugees and migrants cross through to make them want to stay in those countries.
The civil war in Syria causes the most refugees to flee to Europe, however, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and economic hardships in Africa and Kosovo also cause people to migrate (Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts).
The Syrian Civil War started in 2011, when the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, order the army to fire upon peaceful Arab Spring Protests. Over time, soldiers defected from the Syrian army and citizens take up arms, creating the Free Syrian Army. About a year later, the Kurds (who wanted autonomy in Northern Syria), seceded from President Assad. During this time Iran, who was President Assad’s closest ally, started sending troops and supplies to Syria. In response, Turkey and the Persian Gulf States started sending aid to the rebels to counter Iran. In 2013 the Persian Gulf States ramped up their support for the rebels, and Jordan started sending supplies to the rebels. Russia sent President Assad aircraft to bomb the rebels in September 2015 (Syria’s War: Who Is Fighting and Why). Recently Turkey launched airstrikes and a land invasion of Syria to create a buffer zone from the Kurds and to resettle Syrian refugees living in Turkey (Why Turkey Is Invading Syria). President Assad has committed numerous atrocities against his own people, the most well known being his use of chemical weapons. He first used chemical weapons in August 2013, attracting worldwide condemnation. Throughout the war, he has bombed rebel cities and towns, killing many citizens and destroying crucial infrastructure. President Assad has tortured thousands, including children (8 Reminders of How Horrible Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Has Been to His People). Since the beginning of the war, an estimated 400,000 civilians have died, 5.7 million Syrians have fled the country, and an additional 6.1 million Syrians are displaced inside Syria (Syrian Civil War Fast Facts).
Similar conflicts are happening in Iran and Afghanistan, where the ruling regimes rule with an iron fist. In Afghanistan, the government and the Taliban have been fighting for control of the country, causing civilians to flee. The Taliban’s extremist views also cause other to flee Afghanistan.
In Africa, people are migrating to Europe for better economic opportunities to provide for their families. Their home countries lack schools, healthcare, and well-paying jobs for their families. Most of these countries don’t have stable governments, and corruption was rampant. A refugee named Serge told United Nations researchers “The idea to try and reduce the weight of migration is to look at the causes. It is… the governing policies that entrench people in poverty, that don’t develop anything. Schools that don’t exist, failing health and corruption, repression. That pushes people to emigrate.” (More than 90 per Cent of Africa Migrants Would Make Perilous Europe Journey Again, despite the Risks).
To save their children and themselves from the militant groups, terrorists, and President Assad’s brutal war tactics, Salma and her husband Tarek, their two young children, their niece Jana, Salma’s mother, friends, and neighbors planned to escape Syria and head to Germany. As they passed through government and ISIS-controlled territory, they wiped their phones and changed their appearances. In government territory they put on makeup to look free, but while in ISIS-occupied territory, they covered in niqabs (black and completely covers the head and neck with just small holes for eyes). The bus Salma rode in switched between extremist and militant-controlled areas until they got close to the Syrian-Turkish border. To get to the border from her hometown, it cost Salma $2000. From there they traveled on foot into Turkey where they stopped at a refugee camp and got trapped. Salma and her family had to pay to leave the camp. For $2000 per person (except the children, as it was $2000 for both of them) they made their way across Turkey and were crammed onto a small boat to cross the Mediterranean in. The boat dropped them off on the Greek Island of Samos, from there Salma and her family walked across Greece and waited to cross the border into North Macedonia. After this, they took a train from Macedonia to the Serbian border, and after crossing were moved into a refugee camp in the southern tip of Serbia. While walking through Serbia the group was warned by a friend that they would receive jail time if they were caught, and that police were violent against migrants. This dampened their spirits greatly as they were waiting for the travel documents. Salma and her family took a bus to Belgrade, then another to the border between Serbia and Hungary. At the border, there was another processing camp, during the time they were there news reached them that Hungary was allowing refugees through the border. Salma didn’t waste the opportunity, and they quickly crossed into Hungary. After crossing, word spread that the Hungarian police were ahead of them, so they hid in the surrounding trees. On the way, they meet a trafficker who took them to Budapest for $200. Once in Budapest From Budapest, Salma’s family took a train to Vienna, Austria. They then boarded another train and finally made it to Germany. When they arrived, Salma said “Everything that happened to us will put behind us. This is a new life for my children and for me,” (Salma’s Story: One Refugee Family’s Journey From Syria to Germany). The journey was over 1500 miles, crossed through five different countries, and the whole trip cost approximately $14200 (Salma’s Story: One Refugee Family’s Journey From Syria to Germany).
With a faulty economy and climbing unemployment rates in Nigeria, Andrew (real name withheld) decided it was time to join his parents in Germany. His parents would disapprove of him migrating to Germany, so he traveled in secret. He paid an “agent” (shady middlemen that pay smugglers to traffic people) $1750 to get him from Nigeria to Europe. Andrew was stuffed into a bus with 21 other immigrants wishing for a better life. They drove from southern Nigeria to the capital, then from there, they kept driving north towards Abuja. The bus stopped a few times at different government checkpoints, and they were able to pass through. In Abuja, they switched from the bus to cars, and later to motorcycles. The guards took a bribe from each migrant, and they let them pass into Niger. Throughout the journey, smugglers do roll calls to make sure everyone who was with them has paid. The first roll call was done in southern Niger, and everybody was accounted for. Andrew’s group then made their way to Agadez and stayed in a safe house with appalling conditions. Meals were infrequent, and the migrant slept on the ground outside while they were there. Migrants were packed onto the back of trucks with extra fuel to not be able to stop. At the border between Niger and Libya, the guards again demanded a $7 from each migrant, if they didn’t pay, the migrants would get beaten then allowed to pass through. While driving, bones and skeletons could be seen in the sand, and if someone fell off, they would be left behind. Once Andrew’s group made it into Libya, being on the roll call became a matter of life or death. In Libya, if the “agent” doesn’t pay for passage to Europe, migrants are tortured and either has their family pay a random or get sold into slavery. In Andrew’s case, his “agent” paid for him to reach Libya, but not Europe. For Andrew, “The first lashes of a thick rubber water hose landed on his sore feet and back after his limbs were chained. To frighten him even more—and offer a taste of what was to come—the smugglers began flogging other duped migrants who had been detained for much longer. The message was simple: pay up or this will be your fate.” (The Harrowing, Step-by-Step Story of a Migrant’s Journey to Europe). Andrew’s brother and girlfriend were unable to get the $2500 ransom, so Andrew was forced to contact his parents. They paid off his $2500 ransom and Andrew was allowed to cross the Mediterranean. Andrew and other migrants were loaded into an empty oil tanker and taken to a camp on the Libyan coast. The camp had around five-hundred other migrants patiently waiting for the right time to cross the Mediterranean. The best time to cross the Mediterranean in July and August, but Andrew arrived in March. Andrew ended up waiting on the Libyan coast for six months. Once the time was right, one hundred migrants crowded into three small boats, their survival depending on a migrant that given a compass, a satellite phone, and taught how to use the motor for the boat. This migrant was told to dial an emergency number to contact the Italian coast guard once they weren’t in Libyan waters. Andrew and the other migrants were escorted by armed Libyan militants to avoid being harassed by the Libyan coast guard. The migrants were picked up by the Italian coast guard and brought to centers created to process incoming migrants and refugees. While there, Andrew and other migrants are interviewed, fingerprinted, and photographed so Italy’s government can decide they are eligible for asylum status and international protection. Andrew decided to make his way from Sicily to Carpi, in northern Italy to meet us with his uncle, even though it puts his asylum status at risk. For two years Andrew has been working in his Uncle’s shop waiting for the proper paperwork (The Harrowing, Step-by-Step Story of a Migrant’s Journey to Europe).
The conditions for migrants and refugees vary depending on the route and if the migrant is male or female. Many people take advantage of migrants, whether it be the “agents” who strand migrants to pocket the money they spent to be smuggled into Europe. In Turkey, migrants who get jobs are paid very little and sometimes their pay is not given to them with no way of getting it as migrants lack the funds to fight for their pay. All migrants live in deplorable conditions with very little food, water, and other basic living necessities. Once Eyad Awwadawnan and his family reached Greece they were brought to a camp for refugees, “We thought they would put us in a container or tent, but the camp official pointed to an empty patch of ground and said, “Find a place and make that your house.” I asked an official if it was possible to give us a small tent to protect my 9-month-old sister from summer insects. The answer was shocking: “I am sorry. This is not my decision to make. Good luck.” As if to say, “Who you are to ask for a tent?” (I Have Become Lost Like My Homeland). Beatings and rape are commonplace in migrant camps in northern Africa. The Libyan coast guard actively attacks and sinks rafts with migrants on them. Throughout the trek from Africa to Europe female migrants are victims of rape and sex trafficking. “For some, forced prostitution begins long before arriving in Europe as traffickers promise to fund their trip only to Libya after which the women would have to source for money to refund the traffickers and also pay for the remainder of the trip to Europe. Once in Libya, they are turned over to local madams in brothels and begin working as prostitutes to pay off often large “debts.” But paying the traffickers that got them to Libya is only half the task. The women may also have to pay off the local madam who provides room and board. To make matters worse, traffickers and local madams are known to separately charge double the $1,000 fee migrants typically pay to get from Nigeria to Libya.” (The Harrowing, Step-by-Step Story of a Migrant’s Journey to Europe).
For refugees seeking asylum, the first step is to make their way to immigration center where they will be fingerprinted and uploaded to the EURODAC (European Dactyloscopy) database. This database takes all the fingerprints of refugees from anywhere in the European Union and stores them together. Once the fingerprints are stored safely, officials decide which country the applicant will apply for asylum in as each country has different numbers of refugees they accept. They decide using multiple factors, such as if there are any family in European Union countries, if they entered the country legally or illegally, and if they have a residence permit or visa. While waiting for their application to be reviewed, EU countries are urged to provide free legal assistance and find the refugee work within nine months. European Union countries are also required to provide health care and education. After this the refugee is given a case worker who will determine if the refugee qualifies for asylum. If the application is denied then the refugee can appeal to a judge or is sent back to their country of origin. This process has not worked very well for the European Union due to numerous refugees entering into a few countries, clogging up the system as EU law prohibits refugees from leaving the EU country that they first set foot on.
The European Union’s handling of the recent mass migration has been nothing but disastrous, and has turned member states against each other. The two agreements that regulate refugees and moving between countries are the Schengen Agreement and the Dublin agreement. The Schengen Agreement creates the free borders between the member states of the European Union (Ireland and the United Kingdom are the only exceptions). While the Dublin agreement forces refugees to apply for asylum in the European Union Country that they arrived in. This led to the unintended consequence of most refugees and migrants being stuck in poorer Southern Europe. The ability to move freely between countries but not being able to because of their refugee status is frustrating for migrants and refugees. To add to this, every European Union member state has to agree to reform agreements (The Migration Crisis and the Future of Europe). At a summit of European leaders in June 2018, the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani said, “The instability, insecurity, terrorism, poverty, famine and climate change besetting large parts of Africa and the Middle East are the root causes of migration, but EU governments have come around to this too late, engaging essentially in damage-limitation exercises at our borders” (The Migration Crisis Threatens to Destroy the EU. We Must Not Let It). Relations have strained between the countries where migrants first arrive (such as Greece, Italy, and Hungary) and wealthier countries in Northern Europe (Germany, Sweden, and France to name a few) (Migrant Crisis: Migration to Europe Explained in Seven Charts). This tension has led talks about migration quotas for each member state breaking down, “As one migration official in Brussels recently commented, “migration has broken the trust lines … coastal countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain do not trust other member states that they will help with arrivals and the main countries of asylum in Europe do not trust the Mediterranean countries that they will register the arrivals”. (All at Sea: Europe’s Crisis of Solidarity on Migration).
To reduce the strain of migrants on Southern Europe and EU relations, the European Union needs to help improve the countries that migrants travel through. The EU has already made a deal with Turkey to fund healthcare and education for refugees in Turkey to stop refugees from migrating into Europe. There are plans to implement a similar deal with North African countries to reduce the amount of migrants dangerously traveling across the Mediterranean (The Migration Crisis Threatens to Destroy the EU. We Must Not Let It). The European Union has also wanted to shift centers to process incoming asylum seekers to countries like Turkey and Libya, that way the responsibility for the migrants is more in the hands of countries like Turkey and Libya rather than southern European countries like Italy (All at Sea: Europe’s Crisis of Solidarity on Migration).
Public opinion generally supports taking in refugees that are fleeing persecution and war, with the median for all European Union members being 77% approving of taking in refugees (Europeans Support Taking in Refugees – but Not EU’s Handling of Issue). However, Hungary is the only country in the Eu that opposes taking in more refugees, at 54%, while only 32% support taking in more refugees (Europeans Support Taking in Refugees – but Not EU’s Handling of Issue). All European Union member countries disapprove of the way that the EU is the refugee crisis. Greece has the highest disapproval with 92%, which makes sense as Greece is one of the countries with the most refugees, the country with the lowest disapproval rating is the Netherlands with 58% (Europeans Support Taking in Refugees – but Not EU’s Handling of Issue).
In conclusion, the European Migrant Crisis, while not talked about as often as other world events, is still an ongoing issue that hasn’t been resolved. The causes of the mass migrations have no end in sight, with more fleeing every day. Refugees and migrants lived in atrocious conditions, with very little to eat and drink. Violence and rape was common, and migrants were often cheated out of their passes through Africa and Europe. Stories from refugees shocked the world at the dangerous journey these migrants took. It exposed the faults in the European Union immigration system and strained the relationships between members of the EU. These countries were unable to compromise and tried to put the burden on the surrounding countries. The refugees and migrants will keep coming, whether European leaders like it or not.