24th Mar 2018

Europe’s 'credibility' on brink over migrants

  • Conflict displaced a record 59.5 million people last year (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

Sixty percent of people risking their lives to reach Europe by sea since the start of this year are fleeing war and violence from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, and Syria.

The figures, cited by the UN's refugee agency, are part of much larger exodus that has reached historic proportions. Worldwide, 59.5 million were displaced last year.

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The UN’s high commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres on Thursday (18 June) described it as “an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”

Nearly half of all refugees are children.

From Syria, most end up in refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey. Lebanon is now hosting over 1 million refugees, or the equivalent to around one-quarter of its population.

The European Commission is trying to convince member states to resettle 20,000 refugees. But the plan, along with an adjoining relocation scheme, is causing grief among EU ministers.

Earlier this week at a ministerial meeting in Luxembourg they remained at odds on the binding nature of the scheme with EU heads of instead set to discuss it again next week at a summit in Brussels.


Salil Shetty, secretary-general at Amnesty International told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that such comparative refugee figures with countries like Lebanon have placed Europe in an awkward position.

“I think it erodes Europe’s legitimacy and credibility to talk on human rights to anybody else in the world. You are really compromised at that point,” he said.

Without legal ways to enter Europe and no humanitarian visas, people continue to leave on boats from the Libyan coast or try to enter by foot from the Turkish or Serbian borders in an effort to reach their final destination.

The act is not criminal.

Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri says crossing an external border without proper documents "is not a criminal offence.”

“Those people are not criminals,” he told reporters last month.

In 2014, 219,000 crossed the Mediterranean Sea, up from 60,000 the previous year. Nearly 100,000 have made the attempt since the start of 2015.

The faces

Human Rights Watch (HRW), for its part, is trying to put a face onto the numbers of those reaching Europe’s southern shores.

On Friday, it published a 33-page report with 150 testimonies from people who survived the journey.

Among them is a 30-year old lawyer from Syria who landed on the Greek island of Lesbos in early May.

“I left two months ago because I’m an activist and I’m afraid they would arrest me,” he says.

Others, like one 14-year old boy, are being recruited by rebels to fight in a conflict that has so far killed an estimated 13,000 children.

“Maybe we’ll live and maybe we’ll die,” he said.

In Somalia, Al-Shabaab militants are targeting and shutting down schools and recruiting children into their ranks.

Italian authorities say Somali children are now the third largest group of unaccompanied minors that reached its shores in 2014.

“There is no security, no hope, no health, no water, no peace since I was born,” Ismael, a Somali national told HRW in May.

This article was updated at 11.15 on Friday 19 June 2015 to include Eritrea as among the 60 percent fleeing persecution

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