Although the pandemic has somewhat overshadowed the problem of migrants in recent months nevertheless, with the restoration of transport links and the opening of borders to non-Europeans, Brussels expects new flows of illegals fleeing from the intensifying economic and social crisis in their countries after COVID-19.
Some destinations of such illegal migration flows are of the most significant concern in Europe. In the Central Mediterranean, in recent weeks alone, many Libyan boats have already been recorded sailing to Italy. From West Africa, they are now fleeing not through Gibraltar but the Canary Islands. According to FRONTEX, the European Union’s Border and Coast Guard Agency, some 4,500 illegal migrants have already arrived in the Canary Islands between January and April of this year, double the 2020 figures for the same period, and that, according to EU sources, is not over.
As Le Figaro, morning daily newspaper, states, Europe recalled the New Pact on Immigration and Asylum last September. It is hoped a guarantee of registration to all migrants at the European borders, expulsion of those not entitled to asylum, and the distribution of those remaining among the member states. The periodical recalls that the Pact also talks about strengthening cooperation with the country of origin of illegal immigrants and creating transit zones to curb the flow. As Le Figaro notes, such a system could give guarantees to all EU members: the countries that first encounter migrants (Italy, Spain, Greece, Malta, Cyprus), those where they go (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and others), as well as those who have refused to grant asylum (The Visegrád Group: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic). In the official language, the latter is invited to “sponsor” the return of refugees to their homeland, which would be an alternative to show solidarity.
However, so far, the discussion of this 100-page, highly specialized document is stalled, and no one knows when it will end. Meanwhile, contradictions are deepening among EU member states regarding participation in the fate of illegal refugees.
There is a migrant emergency in Cyprus. Thus, Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus sent a statement to the European Commission about the current migrant emergency in the country. As a result, the island authorities can no longer accept new illegal immigrants. According to Interior Minister Nicos Nouris, the country faces a daily wave of illegal migrants arriving by sea from the southern coast of Syria. Under these circumstances, Cyprus calls on the EC “to intervene immediately and act to prevent the illegal arrival of migrants from the Syrian coast and especially from the port of Tartus to minimize the problem faced” by the state. The head of the Interior Ministry said that the government does not intend to turn Cyprus into a vast immigrant camp.
According to Die Welt, German national daily newspaper, Austria has categorically opposed the European Commission’s demand for the distribution of refugees from Italy to other EU countries. According to Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, the distribution of refugees is not the solution but part of the problem; the EU needs to abandon this idea and focus on the effective return of refugees who do not have the right to remain in Europe.
The issue of combating illegal migrants has become much more urgent for the British authorities in recent months. More than 6,000 asylum seekers entered the country illegally in 2020, three times as many as in all of 2019. Most illegals arrive in the kingdom from France, crossing the Channel in small boats. As part of a crackdown on illegal migration to Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson recalled the other day one of the key reasons behind Brexit – Britain’s exit from the EU: “To regain control of the borders after leaving the EU.” To this end, in June, the Conservative Party will submit a bill to parliament for discussion, designed to fundamentally change the migration law, some provisions of which have already caused discontent in Berlin and Paris. As this bill states, “access to our asylum system should be given to those in need, not those who can pay for the services of smugglers.” In doing so, London intends to draw a clear line of demarcation: anyone who arrives illegally across the Channel loses the right to a lengthy stay and can only count on temporary asylum. In addition, the reunification of a migrant with his family by moving his relatives has become practically impossible. Also, asylum seekers in the United Kingdom will await a decision on their status not in Britain, but in the islands that make up the state’s overseas territories (at present, these are the Ascension Islands in the South Atlantic, which is more than 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) from London). Asylum seekers in Britain who reached through third countries, such as Belgium or France, where they could have applied, cannot be admitted to the British asylum system. Furthermore, due to the fact, the United Kingdom is no longer subject to the Dublin III Regulation, which allows asylum seekers to be returned to the first EU member state, following its exit from the European Union. According to MEPs, the post-Brexit British authorities apply extreme and harsh measures against newcomers from the European Union, writes The Guardian. This situation has caused extreme dissatisfaction in Europe. The slightest suspicion that someone may enter Britain to work is often enough for a person to be sent to a detention center for foreign nationals.
But Britain is not the only one seeking to tighten migration laws faster. The Danish Parliament, in particular, has already passed a law that would give local authorities the right to deport applicants for refugee status outside of Europe while their applications are being processed. The initiative alarmed both charities and EU authorities, who saw it as an attempt by Copenhagen to evade its responsibilities within the bloc.
Euronews reported, with up to 1.8 million refugees and irregular migrants arriving in the EU since 2015, many European countries, including Greece, have implemented a more aggressive strategy to curb attempts to enter their territory illegally, For example, along the Evros River, which divides Greece and Turkey, numerous physical and virtual barriers have been tested in recent years, including an acoustic cannon. The American Technology Corporation developed this nonlethal weapon to disperse demonstrations. Over the past five years, the European Union has invested three billion euros in a wide variety of border security technologies. Human rights activists and left-wing European parties fear another attack on the fundamental rights of citizens.
As for Athens’ “controversial” policy toward asylum seekers in Europe, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Spokesperson Ömer Çelik accused the Greek Coast Guard on April 19 of trying to “pour gasoline on and burn asylum seekers” and of “pushing back” over 80,000 refugees in the past three years. On April 17, the Turkish Coast Guard said it had sent teams to rescue 41 refugees off the coast of Izmir, including one with a burn on his leg. Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu tweeted that Greek forces “seek to burn people by pouring gasoline on them.”
Spain fights off an unprecedented influx of migrants from Morocco with the army. Due to the influx of illegals, Madrid increased the presence of internal security forces in the country’s southern region. Not only additional police forces but also army units are being redeployed to Ceuta.
Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.