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This is the first of a 5-part series on the current migrant crisis in Europe.
In what the United Nations deems as the worst migration crisis since World War II, millions of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa flee the Syrian Civil War for the relative safety and stability of the European Union. Many of these citizens seek asylum in the European Union and resort to a myriad of desperate and dangerous methods to relocate their families: seeking passage with maritime smugglers or trekking through Balkan wilderness towards central Europe in search of political and economic safety.
As a result of these migrations, thousands of refugees have been detained by local European police forces and nearly 2,000 refugees have been lost at sea. The migrants that complete their journey often find themselves lacking food and medical attention in makeshift encampments while they await approval for their asylum requests.
It has become clear that the European Union faces a violation of human rights that will only exacerbate as hundreds of thousands of civilians arrive at various European countries. Without economic help and legal recognition, these refugees may starve or turn to criminal activity to survive. Both outcomes pose serious threats to Europe’s political image and economic survival, but is the European Union structurally capable of handling such an urgent multinational situation?
Several obstacles stand in the way of an effective response by the European Union in offering legal protection and economic opportunity for the migrants, the most pressing matter being the division among EU member states in accepting the refugees. Many member states have turned their backs on the migrants. Hungary has drawn the most criticism so far for its construction a 1,100 mile wall on its border with Serbia, but nations such as the Czech Republic and Croatia have shut down major border crossings into their country as well. Even Germany, which had called for other member states to accept the migrants, has begun tightening its border controls as the influx of refugees overwhelms its hostels and other forms of temporary residence. In an attempt to redress the uninspired response to the crisis by individual member states, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker called for a voluntary quota system that would distribute 160,000 migrants among EU nations, but with countries such as Germany anticipating over 800,000 new refugees this year, such measures come up short. One can only hope that these new policies are only a temporary measure before major reforms in how the European Union will handle the wave of refugees.
A look at the European Union’s track record in handling immigration indicates a lackluster outlook for the current crisis and reveals a fundamental flaw in the union itself. For years, the European Union has been unable to deflate tensions between its Eastern and Western member states as economic migrants from Eastern Europe, particularly the Roma ethnic group, illegally cross borders into Western Europe. The unwillingness of nations such as the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands to accept illegal migrants is now reciprocated by Eastern European nations such as Romania, which oppose EU measures such as the quota system. The European Union proves to be powerless in uniting its member states to resolve the migrant crisis.
One might argue that the European Union’s inability to successfully intervene in the migrant crisis is its lack of legal authority to enforce its policy measures among member states, but such an explanation ignores the fiscal negotiations that occurred between Greece and the European Union this past summer. On July 5, 2015, more than 60% of Greeks voted “no” in a referendum on austerity measures proposed by the European Union, yet the Greek far-left government was forced to capitulate to EU demands and emplace austerity measures against its own will and the will of the people. While the European Union may lack legal power in regards to its member states, its ability to impose economic policy is unchallenged. It would helpful to question such an arrangement; can Europe be effectively overseen by an institution that disregards popular sovereignty to intervene in economic policy, but fails to take the same type of action in a political crisis affecting multiple member states?
Kathryne Cui, CSN Media Chair
George Li, CSN Staff