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Refugee crisis: ‘Europe needs to take big numbers. Until then, chaos reigns’ – The Guardian

Europe’s heads of government gather this week for a meeting billed as a last-ditch effort to resolve the refugee crisis sweeping the continent.

But the pace of arrivals has accelerated so fast that the deal some are touting as a solution to the challenge is actually more of a stopgap measure to tackle an emergency.

Politicians in Brussels have been arguing fiercely about where 120,000 refugees should be allowed to settle, even though tens of thousands more have already travelled into the continent. Borders are being sealed with bewildering speed, as columns of desperate people move from country to country in their attempt to find a haven.

And winter is only likely to bring a pause, rather than an end, to the crisis.

The sea crossing from Turkey to Greece may soon be partly “sealed” by harsh weather, but migration groups have warned that many people will die in a desperate attempt to cross before the seas get too stormy. And when spring comes again, the exodus will almost certainly pick up.

Claude Moraes, MEP and chair of the European parliament’s justice, civil liberties and home affairs committee, said: “My concern is that we have had this paralysis for so long that the numbers are now out of date. So even if we get [a deal] on Wednesday we are going to have to lift them again. The EU has worked hard on this. But these were figures for the start of the crisis, not now.”

Countries from the Balkans to Denmark are sealing land borders, setting up a chain of obstacles that may eventually all but block passage for refugees to prosperous western European nations. But the journeys from Turkey to Europe’s eastern edge will be almost impossible to stop.

Franck Düvell, senior researcher at Oxford University’s migration observatory, said: “Along the sea border with Greece there are too many routes and beaches. [Turkish authorities] can launch operations like they are doing around Bodrum now, but people will find other routes and other beaches.”

The long, irregular coastline will always be a challenge, and Turkish police and border guards have told Düvell they are stretched too thin by other emergencies to monitor it all now. “They are at the limits of what they can do, and at the moment their priority lies in the east, borders with Syria and Kurdish areas.”

While sea crossings are possible, they will continue to be made. The trip is relatively short, and although the odds of survival may seem terrifying to people watching from safety, many fleeing war or the endless suffocating limbo of refugee camps long ago decided that they are not unreasonable.

“You can’t block the border with Turkey in any meaningful way,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration. “There is the rise of expectation that you can do it, the push factor of people with Isis at their back, and the result is they put themselves at far greater risk than they would have before.”

Only an unlikely peace, a moderation of the violence in Syria or far better conditions in regional refugee camps are likely to reduce the number of boats landing on Greek shores. Tighter border controls further north will only trap new arrivals in Greece, where they will still be a European responsibility.

“If there is no progress in the peace talks and the war, and Assad continues to run riot, what we think will end up happening is that large numbers of people will get stuck in Greece,” Doyle said.

“Greece will have the burden because they won’t be able to move on, so Europe will create camps to provide shelter for asylum seekers and other migrants,” Doyle said, adding that they would probably open centres that refugees will come and go from, not locked centres.

Camps would not be a permanent solution, though, for any Syrians who made it to Greece. For years deportation has been a key pillar of Europe’s border controls, both a response and a deterrent to travellers without documents, because it adds to the risk of making a perilous journey the risk that it will all be for nothing.

That system has been shaken by the way Syria’s war has spiralled, and spreading violence in neighbouring Libya and parts of Iraq.

These countries are close enough to Europe that their citizens can reach it in large numbers – unlike those fleeing past conflicts in places such as Vietnam – and now so devastated by war they cannot be “sent back”.

The pace of arrivals could even accelerate. Over half of Syrians have left their homes, but a large majority are still within their own borders. Heavy fighting, a further spread of Isis control, or other horrors could all push more to flee.

Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, warned last week: “If Aleppo falls to the regime or to Isis, we could have another flood of a million people from one of the biggest cities in Syria.”

People who thought they were leaving for a few months to wait out the conflict near their home have given up hope of returning. Others who once clung to a semblance of normal life in Damascus, with good jobs as software engineers or mid-level managers, are packing up as the conflict creeps relentlessly into the last havens of peace.

Other Syrians who left earlier, and still have some money to travel, are also eyeing Europe. Life in countries including Turkey and Jordan means at best a hopeless limbo, at worst exploitation or poverty, because Syrians are banned from working legally there.

Camps, if they even have space, are often grim and overcrowded, with food increasingly scarce. Conditions have got so bleak for some of those who fled Syria that hundreds are considering returning, the risk of war being less terrifying than what they are currently enduring.

Both Moraes and Doyle say a system of orderly resettlement is the only way Europe will be able to stem the deaths in the Mediterranean and end the gruelling treks across the continent.

“You need a period when you take big numbers and settle down, then people feel some kind of moral settlement,” Moraes said. “Until you do that, chaos reigns.”

Refugee crisis: ‘Europe needs to take big numbers. Until then, chaos reigns’ – The Guardian

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