The refugee crisis has finally made the subject of refugees’ fates a topic of discussion around the world. But little has improved for most of them, says Oliver Sallet.
The situation in Greece is orderly once again. The chaotic tent camps at the Macedonian border have disappeared. Life in the filth of smoke, garbage and human waste has ended. The Greek government has cleaned up. And now, with the evacuation of Idomeni, authorities have cleared the last of these horrible camps. Europe can take a deep breath and relax, for its citizens no longer have to look at images of refugee children living in mud.
But the Greeks cannot lift the accusation that Europe is failing in the refugee crisis. For the refugees’ suffering continues – just not in public. More than 50,000 of them are still in the country, most in official camps under the care of the Greek government. And the situation in those camps is no better than before. The United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) has called conditions there inhumane. But since aid organizations and the press are not allowed entry, nothing is likely to change.
Refugees worldwide: 60 million
Yet the fate of those stranded in Greece is merely a footnote to the overall global refugee crisis. The United Nations has reported that some 60 million people are displaced worldwide, half of them children. Those people’s fates are largely unknown to Europeans, as most of them never get close to the continent. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s civil war are encamped in Zaatari, Jordan, or in Turkey. In Libya, an estimated one million people are waiting for the chance to try to reach Europe.
Their reasons for fleeing are many, and the theaters of individual crises are spread around the globe. In Mali more than 200,000 people are fleeing war and destruction. In Myanmar the government is driving out the Rohingya people. And even in countries that Germany officially deems “safe countries of origin,” like Pakistan and Afghanistan, many people continue to flee for their lives.
The new normal: Razor wire at the Schengen borders
We are desperately trying to get a grip on the situation because we want refugee numbers to go down. Turkey is keeping refugees in tent camps, and thus from arriving at Europe’s door, a favor for which the EU is paying them six billion euros ($6.7 billion). Austria and the Balkan countries have simply closed their borders. It seems almost normal these days that the Schengen border is lined with endless spools of razor wire.
The vicious circle of illegal border crossings and deportations is in full swing. And we have arrived at the same place we were last summer, with unscrupulous human traffickers promising transport to Europe in hopelessly overfilled boats and rafts. Almost 3,000 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean this year alone – almost 1,000 more than at the same time last year.
And yet, politicians in Europe try to pass off their inadequate measures as successes. True, the number of new arrivals has decreased dramatically. And with that, people are being misled into thinking that the refugee crisis is under control. The message: there are fewer refugees, so the problem must have been solved. It is a policy of looking away, of sweeping things under the rug. It is a political course that is intended to calm us here in Europe, but one that cannot be topped in its hypocrisy.
For the refugee crisis will continue beyond Europe’s borders. No global solution exists. And pressure is only exerted upon governments in Europe when their own citizens are directly affected – something that happens less when refugee numbers recede.
The deadly moat of ‘Fortress Europe’
A real solution would require addressing and solving the root causes of migration. Yet as long as fighting continues in Syria, people will keep trying to make it to Europe. No razor wire will be able to stop them. Only the Mediterranean, which appears to be turning into the deadly moat protecting Fortress Europe, is keeping some of them at bay. The EU’s agreement with Turkey and the closure of the Balkan route are driving down the number of refugees arriving in Europe – but at the same time they are driving up the numbers of dead in the Mediterranean.
In Germany, we still welcome refugees, but they face death trying to get here. It would be good to finally put an end to this cynicism, and create possibilities of legal entry for those in need of protection – entry to the whole of Europe, not just to a “coalition of those willing to help.” At least that might provide a new opportunity – perhaps even for those millions of refugees around the world whose fates are barely registered here in Europe.