At the end of 2015, 1,015,078 refugees reportedly crossed into Europe by land and sea. They risked their lives to escape conflict and political instability in their home countries. Migration levels were increasing at an alarming rate. It was the worst migration spike ever seen in peacetime Europe by then. And many countries were having difficulty coping with the consequences. This was only the beginning of what would later be known as the European migrant crisis.
In March of 2019, just over four years on from the beginning of the crisis, The European Commission declared the end of it. The problem had been a central part of public discussion in previous years. So its questionable management seemed to have given in too soon.
In October 2019, 39 Vietnamese migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry in Essex. The seriousness of this incident shocked Britons. But it also served to reopen the discussion on the inhumane circumstances of immigration and its risks.
The migrant crisis in other parts of Europe
Over the last few months, a concerning number of immigrants, some of whom children, were left stranded in the Aegean Sea. In an interview with Voice of America, a migrant mother, Najma, has revealed that she and her two sons had had to flee Syria. They made it to the Greek islands before being detained and arrested. She then disclosed that she was amongst a number of refugees who were taken to waters outside of Greek territory and left in small lifeboats, which had neither motors nor fuel. The authorities had also confiscated their phones. One of the migrants managed to arrange their collection by the Turkish Coast Guard, after hiding a mobile phone on board.
This is not the only tragic story that has come to light recently in Greece. In September of this year, the largest migrant camp in the country – the Moira camp – was destroyed by fire. Around 13,000 refugees were left homeless as a result. Instead of reducing the animosity between the Greek government and the migrants, the incident has done nothing but fan the flames. The Greek Migration Minister has reportedly said that the fire broke out due to “the quarantine imposed” within the camp.
The crisis during Covid-19
Greece was due to receive 100 000 asylum-seekers throughout 2020 according to a local news source. This news came less than two weeks before officials in China first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Covid-19 has had an unprecedented and undeniable effect on immigration in Europe. Almost 4,900 people have crossed the English Channel in boats since lockdown began. This is more than twice the total number of migrants recorded to have crossed it in 2019. The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees also revealed that Italy has had a total of 16,491 sea arrivals as of September 2020, compared to 11,471 at the end of 2019.
At present, the UK is experiencing record numbers of asylum seekers crossing from France in boats. Around 7,000 people are estimated to have arrived in 2020 so far. The government has proposed a number of strategies to deal with the problem, including nets to capture boats, wave machines and setting up an asylum centre, 4,000 miles from the UK.
Reactions to the British government’s proposed solutions
These proposals came just months after the Home Office released a video criticising “activist lawyers” for thwarting their efforts to deport people with no right to stay in the UK. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have received backlash for their suggestions to cope with the issue. The Labour Party branded their strategies “inhumane and impractical”. Whatever stance you take towards the actions proposed by the Government, one thing is clear – neither the situation nor the solution will be that simple.
Much like the Covid-19 crisis, immigration is not something that will die down soon. Instead, it will rather keep affecting Europe in waves, with rates increasing and decreasing based on global circumstances. The pandemic has caused immigration rates to rise significantly. Without public authorities eager to deal with this crisis in an efficient and human-centred way, it will serve to further divide Europeans and risk many more lives.