Europe is facing a renewed migrant crisis as more people attempt to reach its shores through new and dangerous routes, amid the ongoing conflicts, poverty and human rights abuses in their countries of origin.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 135,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea since the start of 2023, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea. This is a significant increase from the previous year, when about 95,000 people made the same journey in the same period.
The majority of the arrivals have been through the Eastern Mediterranean route, which involves crossing from Turkey to Greece or Cyprus. However, this route has become more difficult and risky due to the increased patrols and pushbacks by the Turkish and Greek authorities, as well as the deteriorating conditions in the overcrowded camps on the Greek islands.
As a result, many migrants have opted for alternative routes, such as the Central Mediterranean route, which involves crossing from Libya or Tunisia to Italy or Malta. This route is considered the deadliest in the world, as it exposes migrants to the perils of the sea, the abuses of smugglers and militias, and the lack of rescue operations.
Another emerging route is the Western Balkans route, which involves crossing from Turkey or Greece to North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia. This route has seen a surge of arrivals in recent months, especially from Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, this route is also fraught with challenges, such as harsh weather conditions, violent border guards, landmines and lack of humanitarian assistance.
The influx of migrants has put a strain on the European countries that receive them, as well as on the solidarity and cooperation among them. While some countries, such as Germany, Sweden and France, have welcomed and resettled large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, others, such as Hungary, Poland and Denmark, have rejected or restricted them. The EU’s common asylum policy has been hampered by disagreements over how to share the responsibility and burden of hosting and integrating migrants.
The migrant crisis has also sparked political and social tensions within Europe, as it has fueled the rise of anti-immigration and populist parties and movements, which have exploited the fears and grievances of some segments of the population. The crisis has also exposed the human rights violations and discrimination that many migrants face in their host countries, such as racism, xenophobia, hate crimes and exploitation.
The EU and its member states have been trying to address the migrant crisis through various measures, such as strengthening border controls and external cooperation, enhancing legal pathways and integration programs, supporting humanitarian aid and development assistance, and promoting dialogue and solidarity among stakeholders. However, these measures have been insufficient or ineffective in tackling the root causes and consequences of the crisis.
The migrant crisis is not only a challenge for Europe, but also an opportunity to reaffirm its values and principles of human dignity, solidarity and diversity. It is also a chance to foster a more inclusive and cohesive society that respects and protects the rights and needs of all its members.