Deflated dinghies, discarded life-jackets and a dead toddler washed up on a beach. The reality of the refugee crisis in Europe has been captured from every angle. The tragic stories of death, desperation and survival and the response to refugees by individual countries have dominated the political and media agenda in Europe for almost a year.
2015 will be known as the year a million migrants arrived in Europe. The latest figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN’s refugee agency reveals that more than 911,000 people had arrived on European shores since the beginning of the year.
More than 3,600 have died trying.
While countries argued over paltry quotas and built unofficial borders, many media organizations stopped using the term ‘migrant’ and instead referred to the people fleeing conflict as refugees and asylum seekers. The differentiation was made — and put into practice.
Violent protests erupted on the Greek border with Macedonia after hundreds of people from Iran, Bangladesh and Morocco were held back from being able to cross into Greece. The authorities separated people depending on where they came from.
Those from Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria were allowed to pass; everyone else considered an ‘economic migrant’ — held back. Protests have since erupted on the Greek island of Lesbos after a group of people from Morocco were held back by police preventing them from registering or leaving the island.The route between Turkey and the Greek islands soon became the irregular route of choice for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe, overtaking the journey from Libya to Italy which had become increasingly deadly.
More than 800,000 migrants traveled from Turkey to Greece. Lesbos is now the main gateway for refugees entering Europe. Despite predictions that the cold wintry weather and difficult sea conditions would see the numbers of refugees dissipate, the numbers of people arriving by boat in December is higher than in June and July.
The average number of refugees arriving each day is 3,338. In July it was 1,771.
European leaders have continuously come under fire from human rights organizations for failing to get a handle on the humanitarian crisis on its country’s borders. The subsequent US$3.2 billion deal between the EU and Turkey led to further condemnation.
“It’s official, the EU has outsourced its dirty work,” according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) which tweeted its response to the news that Turkey has “rounded up” 1,300 asylum seekers to stop them from traveling to Europe.
Next, the European Council (EC) announced plans to abolish the EU border agency Frontex and replace it with a centralized border authority and coast guard to control all the external borders of the EU, in order to preserve the bloc’s freedom of movement principle.
Commenting on the EC’s inability to tackle the refugee crisis and announcement of a new border force, Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation said: “EU leaders are completely failing to step up to the scale of the humanitarian crisis inside and outside the EU.
“It is deeply disappointing, and makes life more difficult for the refugees and communities struggling to host them, that our leaders have done little more than agree to carry out previous decisions. Barriers are not a solution. Europe must welcome refugees in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility,” said Visentini.
Almost five times as many migrants have arrived in Europe than last year, reaching the million people mark. According to the UN, the number of forcibly displaced people around the world would “far surpass” 60 million by the end of 2015.