Although the European migration crisis seems to have had its peak in 2015, last month has shown that the crisis is far from over. The situation in the Middle East has become more volatile, creating ripe conditions for new conflicts that could drive groups of migrants out of the region, especially now that Turkey has launched an offensive into North Syria.
The Greek islands, the busiest European entry point for migrants and the location of Europe’s biggest migration camps, experienced a surge in arrivals of migrants over the past month. A total of nearly 10,000 migrants arrived in Greece last month, the highest number in the three years since the EU and Turkey implemented a deal to shut off the Aegean migrant route. Although this is still a fraction of the number of migrants arriving in Greece at the peak of the refugee crisis, the camps are already filled beyond capacity. The EU has been strongly criticized over conditions in Greece’s largest refugee camp Moria, where 13,000 people are living in a facility designed for 3,000. Other Greek islands, including Kos and Samos, are also struggling with over-capacity. Recently, a fire in Moria killed a woman and child, triggering protests among migrants. Following this incident, the UN called for migrants to be immediately transferred to other European countries, but so far, the redistribution of migrants across the continent has been sluggish. This has triggered France and Italy to call for a new system to automatically redistribute migrants across the EU.
Last month, Turkish President Erdogan threatened to “open the gates” to Europe for the 3.6 million Syrian migrants it hosts. Erdogan called on Europe to increase support for Turkey’s efforts to ensure security in Syria’s Idlib to avoid further migration. Under the 2016 agreement with the EU, Turkey has curbed the number of migrants reaching Europe over the Aegean Sea, but only €2.22 billion of the pledged €6 billion of aid were disbursed to improve living conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Erdogan’s threat to open the floodgates could pose major problems for a Europe still recovering from the latest migrant crisis.
While the EU is still struggling with the migrant crisis resulting from the Syrian civil war, another frontier is posing similar challenges. Besides supporting Turkey, the EU has funded the Libyan Coast Guard to keep migrant boats from North Africa away from the continent. As a result, tens of thousands of migrants are trapped in Libya, where they live in dire conditions in cramped detention centers, sometimes being sold as slaves or forced into prostitution. In a New York Times interview, Camille Le Coz, an expert with the Migration Policy Institute in Brussels says: “European countries face a dilemma. They do not want to welcome more migrants from Libya and worry about creating pull factors, but at the same time they can’t leave people trapped in detention centers.” The bloc’s approach to migrants has been sharply criticized by humanitarian and refugee-rights groups, not only for the often-deplorable conditions of detention centers, but also for the small number of migrants that are actually able to gain asylum on the continent. Now, as a way to keep migrants out, Europe plans to sign an agreement with Rwanda, which will take in about 500 migrants evacuated from Libya and host them until they are settled in new homes or sent back to their countries of origin.
- The question remains how sustainable Europe’s “solutions” to keeping migrants away are. Especially since steep increases of migration in the near future are not improbable. Research indicates that climatic conditions, i.e. severe droughts and related armed conflict, already contributed significantly to rising numbers of asylum seekers between 2011 and 2015. By mid-century, there could be over 140 million climate-migrants, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, as a result of tougher crop-growing conditions, poverty, erratic food prices, and conflicts over scarce resources forcing people from their homes. We’ve previously described the risk of climate migration in the Risk Radar.
- Migration rhetoric will further color the political landscape in European countries. Erdogan’s threat shows that despite the fact that fewer migrants and refugees are entering Europe, anti-migrant rhetoric is persistent.
RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 1: Tensions throughout the Middle-East, large-scale migration
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