Refugee crisis

‘An unprecedented failure by the EU and its member states’

With the beginning of the summer weather, migrant crossings from Libya to Malta and the Italian coast have picked up again: almost a thousand people have drowned over the past few days.

Published on 4 June 2016 at 12:48

Commentators across Europe have almost universally condemned EU countries’ migration policies and their obsession with security.

"Given this consistency in the development of laws promoting human rights, it is deplorable to witness the exponential failure of the EU to deploy a comprehensive political solution that effectively tackles the refugee crisis Europe is facing", Christina McCollum and Anastasios Antoniou argue in the English version of I Kathimerini. For the two lawyers –


EU efforts to address either the causes or effects of this crisis have been largely ineffective and contaminated by various political agendas. The Union has passively observed the transformation of the Mediterranean into a vast graveyard, doing little to allow those refugees arriving on European shores safe passage into Europe and increasingly looking to the militarization of borders as a stopgap solution […] Shortsighted political agendas must not be allowed to diminish the European Union. The unprecedented failure of the EU and its member-states to take action to prevent loss of life and uphold European values poses a risk to the very existence of the Union itself. The refugee crisis has gruesomely unmasked a vacuum at the heart of civilized society which transcends the ethical and legal angles of any human rights debate. As the crisis unfolds it becomes increasingly evident that protection of the human being, her life and her dignity, is not at the forefront of our European civilization. If only our leaders were to realize that it is not so much the physical borders of Europe that are at risk but rather its ethical and moral boundaries.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

At least 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean last week. But that has barely affected Europeans. “They have got used to these deaths right at their borders,” Maximilian Popp laments in Der Spiegel.


The photo of Aylan Kurdi, dead, became a symbol of Europe’s failure and of its neglect towards refugees. Another photo, taken by Sea-Watch [showing a dead baby in the arms of a coast guard on the Libyan coast] sends a different message: Europeans have got used to the fact people are dying at their borders. Drowned children in the Mediterranean, Syrians gunned down by Turkish border guards, families living in misery in Greek camps – faced with all this, Europeans now at most give a tired sigh. [...] There was a time when the EU had at least tried to give the impression of caring about this catastrophe. [...] Now it does not even put up the pretence. [...] The series of deaths of refugees at Europe’s borders is accepted and considered collateral damage. And yet, shipwrecks like those of last week are not caused by some random tragedy, but are the result of Europe’s migration policies.

“Once again, tragedy in the Mediterranean. It returns each spring. It is the season when, in the middle of the sea, people start dying en masse,” Oliver Meiler observes in Internazionale. For the Rome correspondent of Tages-Anzeiger and Die Süddeutsche Zeitung,


the tragedy is that after all these years Europe has not managed to create a shared vision for dealing with this recurring horror. We continue to silently hope that the images of capsized boats and floating bodies will deter migrants from making the crossing. As we can observe, it is a cynical and totally futile calculation. There may be no easy solutions, as we are continually told. But it is dubious to insist on this point. In part, this poverty of ideas is down to the lack of political will: in this time of hardened hearts and raging populists, it is politically difficult to appeal to non-negotiable values and principles. Certain countries have built physical walls against refugees. It is time to think with more courage and ambition. And not simply when the crisis reaches its peak, but also in the long term. [...] A utopia perhaps? But looking at the tragic images that, like every year, have started to reach us from the middle of the Mediterranean, only courageous ideas will be big enough.

"The current system is pushing desperate people to cross the Mediterranean at risk of death. The criminal trafficking industry is raking in profits to the tune of billions of euros”, Sydsvenskan writes. For the newspaper —


There must be a better system. For example, a serious debate within the EU on what criteria to establish for a sustainable and well-functioning asylum system. The pressure of migration and refugees is no temporary problem. It is high time to consider alternatives to the current system. Particularly because the establishment of a new set-up – inasmuch as that is possible – will take several years. In the meantime, we must continue rescue operations in the Mediterranean. [...] We must diversify legal immigration procedures for refugees and apply a fair resettlement programme within the EU.

In the Polish daily **Gazeta Wyborcza***, Łukasz Woźnicki cites a press release from the organisation Sea-Watch, which describes itself as forced to “sail in a graveyard for refugees. It is the result of the EU’s foreign policies.” Woźnicki argues that NGOs are not alone in criticising the EU for its draconian approach. As he observes,


the spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, William Spindler, appealed to the EU to ensure the maximum number of ways to offer legal entry to refugees. He has condemned as shameful the fact that only 2,000 migrants have been resettled despite a relocalisation plan for 160,000 people. [The EU ‘Sophia’ military mission] "is meant to stop traffickers from bringing over migrants from Africa. [...] But the consequences have been opposite to the desired effect. Human traffickers have begun using inflatable vessels and the risks of shipwreck have increased.

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic