Europe’s refugee crisis: Addressing the root causes of the mass migration is the only solution

Recently people woke up to heart-breaking images of a lifeless Syrian toddler who had drowned along with 11 others as the group tried to make its way to Greece. The images were a stark reminder of the massive tragedy that is unfolding on the shores of Europe as thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and Africans undertake an extremely hazardous journey to seek asylum in the West. The mass migration has been described as the largest refugee crisis since World War II. What has compounded matters further is that Europe itself is dealing with an economic downturn and high levels of unemployment.
In such a scenario, Europe is facing a huge dilemma. The civil war in Syria and Iraq, the increasing violence in Afghanistan and the chaos in African nations like Libya have created millions of refugees who are trying to escape theatres of war and conflict. However, at the same time thousands of economic migrants are also tagging along in search of a better life.
Take the refugees from the African nation of Eritrea. Eritreans form the second largest group of refugees seeking asylum in Europe after Syrians. However, at present there’s no conflict in Eritrea. Yet people are leaving this small African nation because of a highly repressive government that has created a totalitarian regime. This presents a tricky situation for European countries. It’s one thing to accept asylum seekers fleeing conflict zones on humanitarian grounds. But accepting economic migrants at a time when many European countries are grappling with their own economic problems may be simply unfeasible.
This is precisely why many European countries such as Greece and Italy that have seen waves of refugees land on their shores are either waving them through to Germany and other northern European countries or blocking their journey further into Europe. What has added to the confusion is that under the Dublin Regulation refugees should be screened and their asylum applications processed in the countries where they arrive first. However, given the mass of humanity arriving on European shores many countries have stopped following the rules. Add to this the fact that countries like Germany and Sweden have opened their doors to refugees, especially from Syria, even though they aren’t the migrants’ first port of call.
In the midst of this chaos, many countries are even considering re-imposing border controls, reversing the open borders policy under the Schengen system for travel among 22 European Union countries. Plus, the ongoing influx of refugees is bound to provide a fillip to anti-immigration right-wing political groups in different parts of Europe. After all, assimilating such large numbers of people from diverse ethno-religious backgrounds, all at one go, is extremely difficult. Besides, there’s also the security risk of Islamic State terrorists/ sympathisers smuggling themselves into Europe among the refugees to carry out terrorist attacks.
All of this has given rise to calls for a common asylum policy for Europe to better manage and distribute the burden of incoming refugees. How Europe does this remains to be seen. Surely, it has to address the root of the problem – the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq as well as the genuine aspirations of the people in the Middle East and Africa. In fact, the two aren’t entirely unrelated. Fighting poverty in Africa, for example, would not only stem the outflow of economic migrants but also ensure that extremist groups like the Islamic State and its affiliates are unable to make inroads into vulnerable countries.
The North African nation of Morocco was able to grasp this reality quite early. As a result, it has initiated a series of economic cooperation programmes to boost development in the African countries of the Sahara and Sahel. Plus, Morocco has been actively pushing for international cooperation in fighting trans-national terrorism with special focus on the issue of foreign fighters. Against this backdrop, there’s a strong case for European nations to boost their cooperation with Morocco and jointly work on development programmes that seek to mitigate the economic, political and developmental distortions that are fuelling both conflicts and the mass migration to Europe.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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