photo credit: theguardian.com
With competing rebel groups ravaging the Syrian landscape from every angle, the actual toll of the Syrian Civil War lies with that country’s population. The war has torn many Syrians from their homes, leaving them persecuted and unsafe within their own country. Many have chosen a difficult road out of Syria in hopes of finding a good life for themselves and their families within the EU, but the obstacles to entering Europe have proven to be difficult to navigate.
As Syrians flock out of their embattled country, they join a stream of other migrants and refugees from other Middle Eastern and African countries vying to cross the Mediterranean and apply for asylum within the EU. Many of them don’t survive the crossing; those who do step into yet another unwelcoming landscape.
Although certain member states in the EU have endeavored to accommodate refugees, the overall response in Europe has been ineffective and negative. The policies of the EU have proven to be insufficient to cope with the growing influx of migrants, while major politicians have stunningly pronounced their unwillingness to grant asylum to Muslim applicants.
As the Syrian Civil War rages on a continent away, those displaced by that conflict find no solace within the EU. This second part of Migrant Mayhem will examine the problems existing within EU policy, and the discrimination leveled against Muslim asylum seekers within European countries.
The migration routes across the Mediterranean are extremely dangerous.
The map above shows the number of Migrant deaths per world border. We hear about many dangerous places in the world these days, so perhaps this figure is surprising: The crossing into the European Union across the Mediterranean is the deadliest in the world. The question, of course, is why?
Part of the huge number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean today is of course in part due to the huge number of migrants trying to cross into the EU—In July of 2015, Frontex (The EU border security entity) reported that “the number of migrants detected at EU’s borders more than tripled to 107,500,” surpassing 100,000 entries in one month for the first time since the global refugee crisis began.
The sheer volume of migrants would naturally lead to a larger number of casualties, but it doesn’t altogether account for the unacceptable amount of deaths incurred during the crossing. Also contributing to the numerous deaths is the EU policy of carrier sanctions, or “fines on private transport companies that carry persons who do not hold the necessary visas and/or travel documents to enter the territory in the EU.”
The inability of private carriers to assist refugees without a visa has, according to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, contributed to the difficulty asylum seekers face in trying to gain entry to an EU member state.
But carrier sanctions have contributed to another far more dangerous phenomenon: Without legitimate companies to assist refugees with the crossing, many turn to smugglers. The sanctions do not prevent desperate refugees from trying to cross the Mediterranean, but rather compel them to cross the sea on dangerous and barely seaworthy rafts, often run by untrustworthy individuals who are not held accountable for their passengers’ safety.
Also questionable is the amount of funding that has gone to the EU entity responsible for border-control, Frontex. In October of 2013, the Italian-run search-and-rescue program called Mare Nostrum, credited with 100,000 migrant rescues, “was replaced by Frontex’s Triton program, a smaller border-control operation with a third of Mare Nostrum’s operating budget.” Although the Triton program was later supplied with more funding, Frontex “refused to broaden its scope to include search and rescue.”
The replacement of Mare Nostrum with an entity less dedicated to search-and-rescue prompted a terrible situation in the Mediterranean: “While the number of illegal border crossings into Italy for the first half of 2015 remained high at 91,302, the rising death toll and the deteriorating situation in Libya have pushed many migrants to seek out alternate paths to Europe through Greece and the Balkans.”
The EU’s asylum laws are not suited for the current economic situation in Europe, and they do not adequately address the EU’s ongoing refugee influx.
I’m truly hard-pressed to find an easy way of expressing just how ill-devised the EU’s asylum application laws are. The jargon of the laws, coupled with certain specificities within them, has produced a truthfully untenable legal situation.
For one thing, migrants coming into the EU are labeled according to the context they came from, and often (illegally) in accordance with standards devised by a specific member state. The EU defines asylum seekers as “fleeing persecution or conflict, and therefore seeking international protection under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.” A refugee on the other hand is an approved asylum seeker, though “the UN considers migrants fleeing war or persecution to be refugees, even before they officially receive asylum.” Meanwhile, an economic migrant is “a person whose primary motivation for leaving his or her home country is economic gain.”
Obviously, there is severe overlap between these groups. While these definitions may look simple enough, in some cases they have led to unfortunate and illegal decisions made by certain EU member states. Melissa Fleming for UNHCR writes that “three Member States used lists of so-called safe countries of origin as a basis for decision making. Yet all three lists are different.” This is a huge problem: If member states in the EU are individually defining who they will accept as a refugee, they are more capable of refusing asylum applications if they do not want to accept migrants.
Another outstanding problem in EU asylum laws is the Dublin Regulation. This law “stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in the first European country they enter and that country is solely responsible for determining migrants’ asylum applications.” On the surface, this seems to make sense: The countries in which refugees arrive process them before allowing them to enter the EU. But this also means that “the burden of responsibility falls disproportionately on entry-point states with exposed borders.”
Such “exposed” entry states are, in this case, Italy, Greece, and the Balkans: that is, the states “hard effected by the economic crisis” that “do not have the money to support asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants.” Most of the refugees in Europe are therefore trapped in countries wracked by economic crisis, and the influx of refugees has only worsened the position of such countries. As Jim Yardley and Gaia Pianigiani note, this means that “many Syrians find themselves trapped in the south, living illegally in Italy, and hiding from the police” as they try in vain to “sneak past border guards and travel north.”
The geographical problem is only augmented by a provision of the Dublin Regulation, stipulating that “migrants who travel to other EU states face deportation back to the EU country they originally entered.” Of course, this in theory means that counties without exposed borders have no legal responsibility to accommodate for or process any refugees.
Fortunately, the Dublin Regulation is not necessarily enforced in practice. Many of the countries with exposed borders “allow migrants to pass through secondary destinations in the north or west of the EU” and in August of 2015 “Germany announced that it was suspending Dublin for Syrian asylum seekers.” Let it be noted, though, that the following month “Germany reinstated border controls along its border with Austria… after receiving an estimated forty thousand migrants over one weekend.”
Also in question is the regulation of the Schengen Zone, an area of the EU within which a traveller doesn’t need a visa to cross internal EU borders. This zone has long held a “huge symbolic value” in uniting Eastern, former-Soviet union Europe with Western Europe. However, the ease with which refugees can navigate the borders within the zone has now called it into question, with many countries reinstituting border controls and many politicians opposing the continued policy of free movement within the EU.
None of the EU’s policies are designed to ease a refugee’s life, and on top of poor policy, many reports have concluded that asylum applications are not properly considered by EU member states. UNHCR, for example, observed that “applicants were not always afforded personal interviews, or were not given enough time to prepare for interviews or explain their claims. Interpreters were not always available or qualified.” These flaws in the asylum application system are breaches of international refugee law. In some cases, though, the attitude adopted by EU member states borders on negligent: “In one country, UNHCR found 171 identically worded interview reports,” strongly indicating that this particular country either failed to conduct any interviews at all, or did not give them any individual consideration whatsoever.
EU member states do enact discriminatory and illegal bans on Muslim immigration.
All of these questionable EU responses to the refugee crisis would perhaps be legitimized if all asylum seekers were being properly processed, and if all refugees were being held in equal regard. This is not the case. Many prominent European politicians have explicitly articulated their preference for Christian refugees, and their unwillingness to accept Muslim refugees into their country.
This is not exaggeration. The main example of prominent anti-Muslim politicians in Europe can be found in Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who in reference to accepting Muslim refugees into Hungary said with candor, “We don’t want to, and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country. We do not like the consequences of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries.”
Viktor Orban is not alone in his antagonism of Muslims. The Interior Minister of Slovakia argued that “in Slovakia, we have a really tiny community of Muslim people. We don’t even have mosques. That’s the reason we want to choose people who really want to start a new life in Slovakia.” Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic stated that “refugees from a completely different cultural background would not be in a good position in the Czech Republic.” He also argued that Muslim migrants are potential terrorists.
It’s difficult not to classify such statements as explicitly discriminatory, but these politicians have gone out of their way to argue the opposite. Almost all of them share a common opinion: It’s the Christians that European nations are suited to help. Ewa Kopacz, the Prime Minister of Poland, claimed that as her country is “a Christian country,” it “has a special responsibility to help Christians.”
Finally, Andrew Carrey, speaking on behalf of Operation Safe Havens, contends that “there are Christian minority communities in Syria and Iraq, which are particularly vulnerable and at risk, and we’d argue priority should be given to those. If that’s regarded as discriminatory, we think that’s wrong.”
Perhaps we have been building to show this statement for how utterly ridiculous it is. The claim that Muslims are not in danger in Syria while Christians are is completely incongruous with the facts of the conflict. At its core, the Syrian Civil War is in some sense about resources and security. Zachariah Mampilly noted that “rebels have a strong political incentive to demonstrate that they can provide services and stability in areas they control—while the regime has just as strong a reason to undermine those efforts through indiscriminate rocket fire, denial of humanitarian aid, and other seemingly irrational military acts.”
This observation about the Syrian Civil War should be taken into account by EU policymakers. If the regime’s approach to warfare is “indiscriminate,” it stands to reason that Christians are no more endangered than Muslims. We must also account for the division between different Muslim groups fighting one another, and recall that Muslims are just as targeted within Syria as anyone else. The EU cannot enforce its asylum laws based on who they believe is more deserving of help.
The future of Muslims in Europe is at this time uncertain. Some countries are opening their borders and becoming more welcoming to new migrants, while segments of the European population become more hostile toward migrants. Leonid Bershidsky found in voting statistics a trend toward anti-migration policy. He believes that two groups are gravitating toward “right-wing populists. The first one is the disenfranchised, who are ‘driven by diffuse fears of encirclement and invasion and by growing resentment over the fact that they have been abandoned by the rest of society.’ The second one consists… of individualistic ‘new professionals,’ young people who have created their own jobs.”
Laurence Peter has also observed this growing sentiment of anti-immigration in Europe. He points out that “Far-right Jobbik won 20% of the vote in Hungary’s 2014 parliamentary elections, making it the most successful anti-immigration party in Europe. But even in the powerful, long-standing EU member states many mainstream politicians have taken a tough stance towards migrants.”
Hopefully this “growing ‘fortress Europe’ attitude in the EU” doesn’t continue to gain momentum. For the moment, however, hundreds of thousands of Syrians and other refugees reside, often illegally, in a progressively more hostile Europe. It is my hope that EU policymakers will come to understand that not having a preexisting Muslim community is not a sufficient reason to reject asylum requests from Muslim migrants. In fact, there is no good reason for such an action.
It is the hope of the Collie that a thorough understanding of the problems inherent in the EU’s asylum laws, as well as a broad discussion of the mishandling of asylum applications in certain EU member states, will contribute to a reexamination of EU migration laws. It is also the hope of the Collie that Syrian refugees be treated in accordance with the civil war that displaced them, and that Muslim Syrian refugees not be denied entrance to the EU simply because they are a majority in their home country.
The point of accepting refugees is not to question whether or not they require help. It is also not sufficient to say refugees cannot enter a country because they do not share a common culture—if anything, this claim is so ridiculous as to bear no merit whatsoever. Instead, the EU needs to adopt a pro-refugee climate, creating a true safe haven so that refugees of all creeds may create a new home.
 Frontex. “Number of Migrants in One Month Above 100 000 For First Time.” 2015-08-18. http://frontex.europa.eu/news/number-of-migrants-in-one-month-above-100-000-for-first-time-I9MlIo
 European Council on Refugees and Exiles. “Carrier Sanctions.” http://www.ecre.org/topics/areas-of-work/access-to-europe/7-carrier-sanctions.html
 Park, Jeanne. “Europe’s Migration Crisis.” CFR Backgrounders, September 23, 2015. http://www.cfr.org/refugees-and-the-displaced/europes-migration-crisis/p32874
 Fleming, Melissa. “UNHCR study finds inconsistent examination of asylum claims in EU.” unhcr.org, 26 March 2010. http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/briefing/2010/3/4bac9ae19/unhcr-study-finds-inconsistent-examination-asylum-claims-eu.html
 Jim Yardley and Gaia Pianigiani. “Out of Syria, Into a European Maze.” The New York Times, November 29, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/30/world/middleeast/out-of-syria-into-a-european-maze.html?pagewanted=all
 Peter, Laurence. “Migrant crisis: Five obstacles to an EU deal.” bbc.com. 3 September 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34105989
 Aljazeera America, “Amid refugee crisis, Hungary prime minister says Muslims not welcome.” September 3, 2015. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/9/3/hungary-prime-minister-says-muslims-not-welcome-amid-refugee-crisis.html
 Rettman, Andrew. “EU states favour Christian migrants from Middle East.” EU Observer, 21. August, 2015. https://euobserver.com/justice/129938
 Lynch, Marc. “The Political Science of Syria’s War.” Foreignpolicy.com. http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/12/19/the-political-science-of-syrias-war/
 Bershidsky, Leonid. “Ignorance Fuels Europe’s Anti-Immigration Victories.” Bloomberg.com. June 19, 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-19/ignorance-fuels-europe-s-anti-immigration-victories
If you have any desire to take a look at the EU’s Dublin Regulation, check here: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32003R0343&from=EN