Europe and the ‘Migration Crisis’

Daniel Trilling

The European Commission says the ‘migration crisis’ is over. It has published a fact sheet aimed at countering both the far right, who tell lies about migrants and refugees, and humanitarian campaigners who point to Europe’s complicity in the imprisonment and torture of people in Libyan detention camps. It acknowledges that some ‘structural problems remain’.

But what is over, and who is it over for? The number of people entering the EU in search of asylum has fallen from around a million (0.2 per cent of the EU’s total population) in 2015, to around 150,000 in 2018. This is a sufficient decrease to reduce the panic among EU bureaucrats and most European governments, and to push stories about refugees well away from the front pages. The ‘crisis’ was a European problem; the aftermath can largely be reframed as the responsibility of national governments: obscene conditions on Aegean islands are the Greek government’s fault; a demagogue stripping rights from thousands of people and harassing those who defend them is Italy’s problem; arson attacks on refugees’ homes are a story about German identity. Bosnia? That isn't even in the EU.

When I first started writing about the experiences of refugees and migrants at Europe’s borders, almost seven years ago, there was no ‘crisis’. There were thousands of people in dire situations caused or made worse by European systems. Today there are still thousands of people in similar situations and the systems are harsher, more militarised and stretch further into Africa and Asia. What happens the next time there is a war or an environmental or economic disaster in what EU policymakers like to call their ‘neighbourhood’? What will Britain’s role be?

Political language is often blunt – OK, fine – but my first thought on reading the latest announcement was to call the various contacts I’ve made over the years and ask them how they feel to be told it is over. I won’t, because I’ve bothered them enough. But still, I wonder: is it over for the people still waiting for documents four or more years after they arrived? Is it over for the young man with the recurring trauma whose torment has been made worse by renewed threats from government to kick people like him out? Is it over for the woman with a stable home and rights and a family but who can’t ever let her children out of her sight, not even for the short walk to school, because of what happened to them on the journey? Or for the Europeans who rushed to help in 2015 and 2016, many of whom developed similar signs of burnout or, in some cases, picked up criminal convictions? And what of the new connections made, the suggestion that there might be new, better ways of doing things?


  • 7 March 2019 at 6:12pm
    Rod Miller says:
    It won't ever be "over". The only just but politically realistic course is to strictly implement refugee law (for Real refugees, not 'economic refugees'), i.e. accept anyone fitting the criteria set out in the 1951 Convention and probably house them in camps (nice camps, but camps -- or whatever lovelier word one might think up). And send economic migrants home.

    Any other course of action is either illegal (a breach of the '51 Convention) as well as being immoral or -- if governments simply let everybody in -- political suicide.

    • 19 March 2019 at 7:15pm
      Anaximander says: @ Rod Miller
      But no government's going to "let everyone in", so I'll dismiss that and get on to real difficulties.
      The EU's actions show it cannot enforce its stated policy, which is to spread asylum seekers around according to quotas. Yet they are supposed to stay in the first EU country they arrive in, which is usually Greece or Italy. The refugee camps in those countries are despicable insanitary cesspits as if designed to crush all dignity. Go and have a look, Mr Miller.
      The likes of Orbàn refuse to accept any quota, and should be severely sanctioned, or even expelled. A country too racist to accept the four freedoms (and the Labour one is modifiable to some extent, not that T May has used this) has no place in the EU.

      I write from having seen many Afghani refugees in France. Why did they suffer dangerous 2,000km journeys to end up in the Calais Jungle?
      First, they knew people, rellies or friends, in Britain.
      Among the languages they spoke was English rather than French.
      The incomes they're given are pitiable in both countries.
      Britain is seen as less xenophobic, which is probably true.

      The ones I know allowed themselves to be dispersed around France when the Jungle was destroyed. They ranged, intellectually, from illiterates in any language to engineers, lawyers, scientists.
      Their journeys have been horrific, and our job is to get them health treatment for the many ailments they now suffer.
      Many, of course, saw unspeakable barbarity inflicted on familiy and friends by the Taliban, so mental instability is common.

      They're quite willing to integrate in British society -- they even love cricket, their national sport -- if given the chance.

      But internment camps, no way.