Europe and the ‘Migration Crisis’
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?