Dying to Get Into Europe (Pt. 1)

Migrant ship that actually arrived on Lampedusa in 2007. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

Migrant ship that actually arrived on Lampedusa in 2007. (Photo: Noborder Network / Flickr Commons)

Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

1.

A continued tightening and militarization 0f European immigration policy – not unlike that implemented in the United States towards it southern neighbors – along with 35 years of World Bank-IMF economic domination/strangulation of Africa have mixed into a toxic cocktail of death and suffering from the growing number of people – men, women, children – trying to escape a dangerous and empty present and a future with no end in sight of war, repression, economic and political collapse in both the MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) and Africa.

Tens of thousands just pick up and try to reach Europe where they hope to find salvation. They walk across the Sahara from the Cameroon, Mali, Somalia and Southern Sudan to the North African coast or die trying. They leave Syria and Iraq any way they can, by foot through Turkey, by sea to Cyprus and from there hopefully to Europe. But as their overland options have narrowed due to increased security at the Bulgarian and Greek borders and within Turkey itself, migrants increasingly take their chances at sea, trying to cross the Mediterranean to what they hope will be salvation of more often not is simply another version of purgatory.

While Europe’s immigrant crisis is not new – it has been going on for decades and has been the subject of moving films, studies, and reports for the past quarter century at least, since the collapse of Communism – the crisis has swelled in the past few years to even more unwieldy – and inhumane – proportions. Conflicts in Syria, Mali, the collapse of Khadaffi’s government in Libya as a result of the NATO-led invasion, along with conflicts of longer duration (Eritrea, Somali) have aggravated an already desperate, and from a European viewpoint, shameful situation. Add to this the deepening public hostility in European countries to immigration that has triggered an increasingly repressive and hostile legal framework and the explosive brew is complete.

A recently published report by Amnesty International notes that

The Mediterranean route into Europe remains the most dangerous and lethal in the world. It is also one that refugees and migrants will continue to take. This is because of the dangers refugees face in their countries of origin, the hardships many continue to face in neighbouring host countries, the sealing off of land routes, the extremely limited provision of resettlement and humanitarian admission places and insufficient regular migration channels. As long as European governments do not offer adequate safe and regular routes to Europe, people will continue to choose unsafe journeys.

European governments offer very few alternatives to migrants trying to reach Europe. There are only a few resettlement places and programs and only very limited humanitarian admissions accepted, those for Syrian refugees who have endured gravely inadequate living conditions in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. In the Middle East alone nearly 4 million refugees are registered in the countries bordering Syria and in Egypt. The EU has offered only 40,137 of them resettlement and humanitarian admission places as of 12 March 2015, (some 30,000 of these in Germany).

As the Amnesty report continues:

European governments have closed off land routes, increasingly limiting options to enter European territory via land. Asylum-seekers remain unable to get close to the land border areas between Turkey and Greece, and Turkey and Bulgaria due to heightened security on both sides. Allegations of push-backs, often accompanied by violence, to Turkey, from both Bulgaria and Greece, of people in need of international protection, continue. Push backs from Macedonia towards Greece are routine. For those who make it into Serbia, access to protection is so protracted and most often denied, that many prefer to continue their journey towards Hungary. Entering Spain from Morocco through official border check points at Ceuta and Melilla is virtually impossible for black Africans. Those who make it by jumping over fences are often sent back to Morocco without any formal procedures. Many Syrians make it only by using false documents or by hiding amongst the Moroccan workers and traders, who enter the enclaves daily in big crowds.

In the midst of this escalating humanitarian crisis, last October Italy abandoned its government-funded rescue mission called “Mare Nostrum” (Our Seas) claiming that it could not handle the growing refugee problem by itself and citing a lack of financial and organizational support from its other European partners. The resulting migration free-for-all has been catastrophic both in terms of the numbers of refugees attempting to reach Europe from North Africa and those drowning at sea trying. As spring advances and the weather warms up and the seas calm down, the predictions are that the numbers of those trying to escape a world of war, repression, economic stagnation in Africa and the Middle East will balloon even further.

Recent European migration patterns. (Map: Le Monde Diplomatique)

Recent European migration patterns. (Map: Le Monde Diplomatique)

2.

An immigration pattern that had already reached crisis proportions thus has deteriorated even more, over the past few years. The map above reveals a shrinkage to something approaching a collapse in European immigrant services.

Note that already it is five years old, from 2010, indicating that the current European migration crisis is nothing new, that it has been brewing for some time – for more than twenty years actually, and probably longer. As the situation has only deteriorated since, we can, very reasonably conclude that what follows are conservative estimates that have only escalated since the crisis has deteriorated. The European migration crisis has permeated all of what used to be called Western Europe, and now with the collapse of Communism a quarter century ago, Eastern Europe as well. Migration trends include human flows of people from Eastern Europe to the West, from the Middle East and Africa to Europe.

Note all the dots.

Looks like the continent has a case of the migration measles. The different colors represent different kinds of detention centers. As maps like this are both wonderful (to me anyhow) but oftentimes confusing, it helps to “take a deep breath,” a glass of alcohol, a puff of marijuana (if you are in Colorado where it is now legal), or whatever you do to relax body and mind to help one concentrate, focus.

So…

The overall immigration picture in Europe in 2010 was the following: there were at that time, as the map indicates, some 250 centers in European countries for “third country nationals,” a euphemism for undocumented immigrants, in the 27 countries of the European Union. This does not count numerous holding tanks, expulsion and processing centers in North Africa, the Middle East, and according to this map anyhow, the post-Soviet republics of the Caucuses. Again, according to this map, whose sources are listed at the bottom right of the map, these combined 250 centers have the capacity of “holding,” “processing” some 32,000 people, a statistic which becomes less and less impressive the more we realize that the predictions for migrant flows into Europe – including those that drown trying to make the crossing by boat at somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 this year alone.

The red dots and squares indicate former and present detention centers from which “third country nationals” were/are expelled. At first glance it appears there are not so many red as black dots, but a more careful examination suggests a different picture: that from every European country (and most North African ones) there are centers from which “illegal,” “undocumented” migrants are expelled. Spain has one, but Portugal three. UK – along with little Estonia both have none but France which takes the lead in rhetorically welcoming refugees (all that liberty, equality and fraternity bullshit the French are so good at) but practically expelling them, has  eleven that I could find on this map and Italy has six. Russia has one as do, Norway, Sweden and Finland (the latter I would guess expelling I would guess Russians and Eastern Europeans in the main) and Iran has two on its eastern border with Afghanistan. We can assume it is mostly Afghan refugees – of which there are more than a million in Iran – who are returned to their homeland. And then there is Algeria, somewhat surprisingly that has all of seven expulsion centers most of those deep in the country’s interior. The Algerian security forces, not known for their tradition of making nice to either nationals nor immigrants is apparently picking up migrant cross-Sahara trekkers from Mali, Somalia, Nigeria and Cameroon, and shipping them back across the desert.

The blue dots represent former and present centers holding immigrants having filed formal legally recognized requests for asylum in one or another European county. Most of these had, as the map suggests, closed by 2010. The countries with the largest numbers of such centers are/were France, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and in the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel.

The black dots – ahhh, then there are the black dots, those little blotches which overwhelm the red and the blue. These are centers that combine both expulsions and scrutiny for admissions requests. Many, many black circles, indicating a closed or former center. There were a great number all over Europe, but especially Switzerland (where there were so many that the actual map of the country is blotched out), France, Germany, UK, but also a considerable number of these former centers in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; the countries with the most being Spain, Italy, Libya, Cyprus, Malta and Tunisia. The formal structures in Libya are all virtually gone since the 2011 NATO military intervention.

So what can one conclude from all the dots and squares?
• Up until recently there have been a great many processing, holding centers for “third-party nationals”, ie. undocumented migrants in Europe. There arefar fewer today. More applicants, fewer processing centers – one of the main ways to stem the flow.
• But these centers have closed down too in the main, their funding reduced or withdrawnso that exactly at the same time that the migration crisis has intensified there are fewer resources to deal with it in any effective, to say nothing ofhumane manner.
• Most of the centers, the administrative apparatus for either holding or processing undocumented migrants have moved from Central Europe to Southern European regions of S. Spain, S. Italy, Malta, Cyprus and increasingly to North Africa.
• Increasingly the efforts have concentrated at stopping the migration flows before the migrants enter Europe.
• The strategy is to stop immigration at Europe’s borders by putting more responsibility on Europe’s southern and eastern partners. Yet for each region that becomes more effectively sealed, new avenues of transit, today mostly maritime are found. One of the many negative consequences of the overthrow of Khadaffi’s government in Libya is that in the current chaos, the Libyan coast has become a focal point for illicit maritime transit to Europe.
• Add to this the shift in European priorities from saving the lives of those trying to migrate to tightening border controls.. To date that sums up European priorities.

3.

In a few days in April, two incidents more than a 1000 people – refugees from the Middle East and Africa – trying to make their way to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean have drowned underlining the seriousness of the European refugee crisis. Let us keep in mind that, like immigration to the U.S. from Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been an “immigration crisis” in Europe of long-standing with people coming from a wide range of countries, mostly from war-torn and economically ravaged countries in the Middle East and Africa.

This has been going on for decades. Desperate people trying to get to Germany, France and across the English Channel to Great Britain.

The Europe migration patterns have changed:

• Between 2007 and 2011, large numbers of undocumented immigrants from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia crossed between Turkey and Greece, leading Greece and the European Border Protection agency Frontex to upgrade border controls.
• In 2012 immigrant influx to Greece by land decreased by 95% after the construction of a fence on that part of the Greek-Turkish frontier which does not follow the course of the River Marica (Evros). That year, the Greeks added 26 extra boats and more security staff in an effort to seal the border.
• In 2014, 280,000 migrants irregularly entered the European Union, mainly following the Central Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes. 220,194 crossed EU sea borders in the Central, Eastern and Western Mediterranean.
• In 2015, Bulgaria followed by upgrading a border fence to prevent migrant flows through Turkey. Bulgaria is the process of building a 100 mile fence to stop refugee flows from northwestern Turkey into southeastern Bulgaria, many of these migrants coming from Syria, hoping to gain access to Europe.The Bulgarian government justifies the project, claiming that the Turkish-Bulgarian border has been a transit area for ISIS fighters coming to and from N. Syria and Iraq, but there has been little evidence to substantiate this claim. It appears to be more a pretext than an actual problem.
• Unable to make the overland crossing through Turkey to Bulgaria or Greece and then north, migrants have increasingly attempted boat voyages to Europe due to civil conflicts, unrest, persecution or economic reasons.
• The migrants come from a variety of countries including: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Zambia.
• Of those, 141,484 of the travelers ferried from Libya. The migrants had come from Syria (42,323), Eritrea (34,329), Mali (9,908), Nigeria (9,000), Gambia (8,691), Somalia (5,756), and other areas
• In particular, a flare up of conflict in Libya in the aftermath of the civil war there has contributed to an escalation of departures from the country.

As the possibilities to make the journey successfully overland have become increasingly limited, more and more people have made the journey by sea – either from the eastern or southern Mediterranean coasts. Nothing – certainly not fear of death or the knowledge that they are being taken for a ride by the illicit shipowners who make a financial killing on the deal – seems to stop them; they come in wave after wave.

The most recent statistics are dramatic:

• Already in 2015 some 35,000 migrants have tried to make the crossing by ship, mostly from Libya – some 91% of all refugee maritime crossing come from there – but also from other southern Mediterranean countries. In one weekend in April as many as 10,000 migrants tried to make the journey from Libya.
• In April 2015 alone, at least five boats carrying almost two thousand migrants to Europe sank in the Mediterranean Sea, with a combined death toll estimated at more than 1,200 people. The UN points to 50-fold increase in deaths amid European government inaction.
• According to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, last year (2014) some 218,000 refugees crossed; of those as many as 3500 died, almost all from drowning, a 296% increase compared to 2013.
• According to the International Organization for Migration, overall estimates are that between 2000 and 2014 over 22,000 migrants died.
• Lampedusa, an island which is the most southerly point of Italy – nearer Africa than the Italian mainland. Locals say that since January – when the EU took control of patrolling Europe’s maritime borders – between 9,000 and 10,000 migrants have arrived there.
• A Maltese member of parliament, one Joseph Muscat told the BBC: “What is happening now is of epic proportions. If Europe, if the global community continues to turn a blind eye… we will all be judged in the same way that history has judged Europe when it turned a blind eye to the genocide of this century and last century.”

Rob Prince is a Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. He frequently writes about economic and political developments in North Africa, especially Algeria and Tunisia. He blogs at View from the Left Bank.