This book has traced the troubling journey through the rivers, seas, and mountains from the outbreaks of war and insecurity to some uncertain but desirable destination. The precariousness and the scale of these journeys are here, but what has been done to change this situation? Where does the journey, if ever, end? Is there an aftermath of the journey?
There are three major points we would like to address through this book conclusion.
On the 18th of March 2016, the European Commission and Turkey reached an agreement:
“In order to break the business model of the smugglers and to offer migrants an alternative to putting their lives at risk, the EU and Turkey today decided to end the irregular migration from Turkey to the EU. In order to achieve this goal, they agreed on the following additional action points: 1) All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2015 will be returned to Turkey…”
A year later, this agreement has not in any major ways “broken” the smuggling networks or reduced the suffering of the journey. It has rather added another grave risk to the refugees, who are forced to either embark on a repetitive journey or face difficult living conditions in Turkey under the fear of deportation, without even the option for an asylum application.
On the 17th of September 2015, the European Commission adopted an implementation plan to respond to the refugee crisis and relocate refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU states:
“For the first time in the history of European migration policy, the Commission proposed to relocate 160,000 people in clear need of international protection from Member States under extreme pressure to other Member States of the European Union – showing concrete solidarity between EU Member States.”
In order to meet the commitments allocated so far under the relocation scheme, around 5,600 relocations per month should be achieved as a minimum. A year later, the pace of transfers is unsatisfactory as only a fraction of people (a few hundred) have been relocated. In addition to this, the total number of persons ready to be relocated exceeds the pledges made by the Member States.
At the same time, the usually overcrowded camps, detention and relocation centers keep on operating under poor hygienic conditions and scarce provision. The violence between the different ethnic and political groups within the camps continues to be a major issue. Another –often invisible problem- that cannot be overlooked is the occurrence of gender violence and sexual exploitation. Some of these cases appear to be cruel reflections of the traumatic experiences endured in the regions from which one on the move attempted to escape.
In May, the EU Parliament Committee approved a proposal determining the Member State responsible for examining the application for international protection of unaccompanied minors:
“Responsibility belongs to the Member State where the minor lodged an application and is currently present. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that the procedure for determining the Member State responsible is not unnecessarily prolonged, and that unaccompanied minors have prompt access to the procedures for determining international protection status.”
According to the EU data in 2015, 13% out of the 88.300 asylum seekers applying for international protection to the Member States of the European Union were younger than 14 years old, travelling without their parents to the EU.
While many of them are exposed to the danger of becoming victims of exploitation by criminal gangs, including human traffickers who force them into prostitution, child labour and the drugs trade, others are feared to have been deported back to their countries under the EU Dublin Regulation and the EURODAC Regulation, aiming to "determine rapidly the Member State responsible [for an asylum claim]" and providing for the transfer of an asylum seeker to that Member State. Therefore, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU. This contributes only to the creation of a vicious circle, an endless loop of limbo. It also makes young refugees absolutely vulnerable to the legal frameworks which are unsuitable for the unaccompanied minors coming from different cultural and political backgrounds.
Today history draws new lines and humanity enters new unpaved territories, experiencing the construction of new walls and fences, and an unprecedented rise of populism, expressed in the electoral ballots.
Leafing back through the book again will hopefully make these issues more pressing for all of us. It will hopefully drive us to research the roots of the problem focusing on the human, rather than on the label (refugee, migrant, displaced, stateless), outside the context of a bureaucratic labyrinth, the EU legislative framework, while taking into consideration the Member States’ internal projection of the issue.
A child clutches a shoe as she waits with other migrants and refugees to cross the Greek - F.Y.R.O.M. border, March 2016. © Louisa Gouliamaki