While countries like Hungary are reinforcing border security and refusing to admit foreigners, others like Greece, Italy and Malta find themselves having to bear the brunt of the crisis and migrants continue to be abandoned at sea. The pandemic exacerbates the tragedy.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), so far this year 541 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea, fewer than in previous years due to the decrease in arrivals on the coasts of Europe as a result of factors such as the crisis caused by Covid-19.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) points out that undocumented migrants are exposed to great danger on the land routes as well: 1,750 people died before being able to cross the Mediterranean between 2018 and 2019. Many of them were murdered by human traffickers or did not survive the exploitation and violence.
“For too long now, the terrible abuse suffered by refugees and migrants on these routes has remained largely invisible”, asserted Filippo Grandi, a representative of the United Nations agency.
Both the UNHCR and the IOM have warned, moreover, about the exclusion of undocumented migrants from national plans to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and the absence of the minimum conditions necessary to avoid infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus among those who live in centres for immigrants.
According to announcements by the EU’s leadership, it is expected that in September the long-awaited Pact on Migration and Asylum will see the light of day, although promises on paper remain just that: promises.
Furthermore, as Commissioner Johansson noted, the central plank of the agreement is the establishment of pacts with third countries such as Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to considerably reduce the number of people who arrive in European territory.
Agreements of this type have been implemented before and been strongly questioned by non-governmental organisations since they violate the human rights of the migrants who are denied the possibility of seeking asylum, imprisoned and ill-treated.
And while the European Union (EU) postpones a solution to the migration crisis (a solution which should have been found years ago), humanitarian organisations reiterate their concern for the undocumented migrants who reach the Old Continent every day, many of whom are expelled and abandoned to their fate.
The UNHCR expressed its regret recently over the increasing number of foreigners taken by force from Greek territory and cast back to sea in rickety vessels.
The UNHCR has reliable reports showing how these people, immediately after reaching the Greek islands, are forced to return to Turkish waters.
The migrants remain adrift for a long time, usually in boats that are overcrowded and in poor condition.
The UNHCR has asked Greece again to refrain from “such practices and to conduct a serious review of the reports, which include direct and credible testimony”.
In addition, it says that saving lives must be a priority and asks the EU to help the nations that bear the greatest burden of the crisis.
In that vein, it emphasises the need for an effective mechanism for relocating foreigners, as well as the importance of strengthening the fight against people trafficking and widening the legal means of migration.
Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. With effort and cooperation from all the states it is possible to reach a situation where borders are managed in a way that guarantees the safety and protection of the migrants.
It should be remembered that on 28th February this year the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced the end of security checks in the area bordering Greece, after his country had acted for four years as a buffer against the mass arrival of undocumented migrants in Europe.
Turkey’s behaviour was questioned by EU leaders who accused Ankara of using migrants as a means of blackmailing the bloc.
Greece’s response, also heavily criticised, was to strengthen security checks, move soldiers to the border and suspend asylum hearings, among other measures. According to local media, the country rejected around 35,000 people in a week, arresting and later deporting hundreds who managed to enter their territory.
For its part, Ankara confirmed the deployment of thousands of agents to prevent the return of the migrants and refugees.
At first, the EU closed ranks around Athens and blamed Turkey for what had happened but, faced with constant claims of the use of force by the Greek authorities, it was obliged to issue a call to attention. “Forced returns are clearly prohibited. Everybody has the right to apply for asylum. We cannot protect Europe’s borders while violating our values”, said the bloc’s Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson. (PL)