EU migrant crisis: Enough rhetoric, time for solutions
When peace comes to Syria, those who have fled to neighboring countries are far more likely to return home than those who have made it to Europe
Two disasters last week resulted in the death of at least 200 illegal migrants. They occurred about the same time that the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR released extraordinary statistics: So far this year, 310,000 illegal migrants have reached EU shores compared with 219,000 for all of last year, and 2,500 have died so far this year compared with 3,500 for all of 2014.
The UNHCR said implementation this year of EU Search and Rescue Operations (SRO) has probably saved tens of thousands of lives. This is an attempt to make the EU look better compared to last year’s supposed callousness, but it only deepens the crisis of massive illegal migration.
As for traffickers, SROs mean they can now cram even more migrants into even cheaper boats, because if they begin to sink they will transmit distress signals and a vessel will turn up to save the passengers.
When peace comes to Syria, those who have fled to neighboring countries are far more likely to return home than those who have made it to EuropeAbdallah Schleifer
So the first of several solutions is a serious EU / Interpol operation against traffickers. In the wake of the two highly-publicized disasters last week, arrests are being made and the director of Europol says his organization and national law-enforcement operations are “working urgently” to catch the ringleaders of a vast international smuggling syndicate.
The next step is to move against traffickers operating in Turkey. This means coming to an understanding with Greece for heavy EU land and air patrols of the relatively narrow sea crossing, and putting migrants in refugee camps in Greece, funded by the EU, until they can safely return to their home countries.
The bizarre arms embargo against the internationally-recognized Libyan government in Tobruk - which is fighting both the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Benghazi and Muslim Brotherhood militias defending Tripoli - must be lifted as the country is a major transit point for migrants heading to Europe.
The Libyan national army must be given all necessary resources to retake coastal areas, which include oil terminals. In return for such aid, the army should crush the trafficking trade and control its borders as neighboring Egypt and Algeria manage to do.
Unless migrants are seeking refuge from war and oppression - which makes them refugees with the right of refuge - they will, in theory at least, be deported. Authorities would interview them to determine their status.
However, if given the opportunity of interviews, millions of Syrians would apply legitimately for refugee visas. Can EU nations, particularly those with high unemployment, handle such flows? All over Europe, right-wing movements are opposed to accepting more migrants, particularly those who are Muslim.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks of the problem in a humane and sympathetic voice, but her country does and will deport migrants who enter without visas and cannot establish that they are fleeing political oppression and war. Meanwhile, the number of attacks against migrant / refugee centers in Germany is rising. Given the historic record, who in their right minds would want to risk being part of an increasingly despised minority in Germany?
When peace comes to Syria, those who have fled to neighboring countries are far more likely to return home than those who have made it to Europe, and the Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish authorities will do whatever is necessary to make them return. So the EU should massively invest in dramatically improving the conditions and size of refugee camps in those countries, while making it more difficult to cross into Europe.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.