The migrant crisis has dominated the media all over Europe for the past few months and shows no signs of abating. A series of events have supercharged emotions, however, and sparked the beginnings of action and consensus. One of the first in a string of disturbing reports and images was the discovery of the bodies of over 70 migrants in a lorry on an Austrian motorway; the group had been trafficked over the border from Hungary and, whilst locked in the back of the lorry, were swiftly abandoned by their driver. Arrests have been made, but the detention of a few traffickers and the deaths of relatively few has done nothing to stop the continued surge of tens of thousands of migrants through the Balkans. Reports of a huge backlog of desperate people on the Greco-Macedonian border saw the media descend and images of migrants streaming through a flimsy police line and down railway tracks toward Europe were beamed into living rooms across the world.
Surge in public support for nations to do more
Yet, what has really managed to swing public opinion from casual xenophobia and isolationism were the images of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach. The power of the images are comparable to those of the lone man standing in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square or of the Vietnamese Girl running away crying from a napalm attack. The photos have managed to humanise the crisis.
Even previously vitriolic anti-migrant newspapers in Britain ran the pictures and pleas for Britain to do more; the country has taken just a few thousand refugees compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands taken by other European countries. This has coincided with a surge in public support for nations to do more to alleviate the humanitarian disaster rapidly developing on the very borders of Europe. Ignoring the hypocritical shift of some of the print media toward their pro-immigrant stance, the awakening of public opinion has forced politicians to finally act. News reports are now filled half and half with thousands of migrants struggling to board trains out of Hungary and of them arriving, often in Germany, to crowds of cheering locals welcoming them with supplies. Decision makers have felt the pressure; a British petition for the government to do more has received well over 400,000 signatures and the numbers are still rising. Germany and Sweden have both pledged to accept migrants, whilst France has said it will accept 24,000 more. Britain too has earmarked some of its sizeable International aid budget to helping local councils house some 20,000 more migrants over the next five years.
Similarly, the European Commission has announced that a legally binding quota system will be implemented. Some 120,000+ migrants will be housed across the EU depending on a countries GDP, population, unemployment rate and the number of asylum applications already processed. Those countries who don’t comply will face financial penalties.
The roots of the crisis also lie well beyond the borders of the EU
The picture that the EC is painting here isn’t all rosy, however, and the quota system – whilst a step in the right direction – doesn’t deal with many of the other aspects of the crisis. Whilst Britain may have promised to house some 20,000 migrants, it has said that these will come from camps in the Middle East, not from those migrants already in Europe and who are arguably most in need. The plans also face serious opposition from Eastern European countries, some of whom have said they will only take Christian migrants, and not many of them either. There is a chance that some countries will see the financial penalties of inaction as less of a burden than the potential political fallout they may face should they comply with the quota system. Public support isn’t entirely behind the new plan either. In Britain, a rival petition calling on the government to ban all immigration of any sort has over 120,000 signatures, whilst in Germany homes and refugee centres earmarked for housing migrants are increasingly being targeted by arsonists.
The answer to these problems is not as simple as letting more migrants settle in Europe
Whilst the crisis is substantial, the EU should be able to deal with the situation; broken down, around 5,000 people arrive in the EU a day; this seems like a huge number until you consider that the Union already has a population of some 508 million people. The roots of the crisis also lie well beyond the borders of the EU; progress, as imperfect and slow as it is, is to be welcomed and should help to alleviate the crisis within Europe itself. Now Europe needs to develop a more coherent strategy to deal with some of the fundamental causes of the surge in migrant numbers, namely the continued reach of Islamic State, the dismal state of refugee camps in the Middle East, the collapse of Libya and the continued brutality of regimes in Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. Sadly, the answer to these problems is not as simple as letting more migrants settle in Europe.