Refugee Crisis in Europe Is Becoming More Acute

The refugee problem is not new for the modern world. Streams of people in search of a better life have been flowing into Europe, the continent of the "golden billion", for decades.

 High standards of labour relations and reliable social protection have been pulling natives of less prosperous regions like a magnet. European states have been accepting immigrants with a great relish, using them to solve problems on the labour market, filling unskilled vacancies with cheap and unpretentious manpower. The stream of migrants has traditionally been originating from areas of North Africa and the Middle East. After the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 and 2007, an army of the so-called "internal" migrants from European states joined them. The migration wave – naturally economic and labour in the majority of cases – was quite well-regulated by the EU law and the national law of receiving states.

The last decade has brought what is explicitly dubbed a "migration collapse". The Arab Spring events, military conflicts in North Africa, Iraq and Syria have stirred up masses of refugees, who rushed towards Europe in search of protection from war and poverty.

Today, no one ventures to calculate the daily inflow of migrants. Tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya who cross the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats are countless. They carry no luggage or documents. Their largest point of departure is Libya. A mafia of migrant smugglers has emerged, running its own ruthless business, not only making the refugees pay through the nose, but also jeopardizing their lives. The death toll of migrants has exceeded 2,000 people. Women and children are the foremost targets.

"Fortunate souls" who make it to continental Europe face new hardships: identification, entrance to the territory of European states, accommodation conditions in special camps. There are many restrictions: compulsory regular check-ins, prohibition to leave the territory, to work and etc. The EU has demonstrated unpreparedness to solve the problems, although it is trying to take some measures, for example, trying to conduct rescue operations for refugees.

However, the EU Migrant Rescue Mission's activities are obviously insufficient. Countries of Southern Europe are stifled by the newly-arriving groups of migrants. Indisputably, states such as Hungary, Italy, Greece, Malta need special attention and assistance. Grievances of governments and the population there are mounting. Hungary's construction of a wall on the Serbian border is a clear illustration to that.

The position of EU authorities in this situation can hardly be called firm and consistent, neither can the existing points of view be deemed concurrent. They agreed upon only on one aspect: the system of granting asylum to refugees and its base – the Dublin Regulation – must be changed. However, according to the logic of liberal Europe, receiving refugees is necessary. The problem of urgent measures is on the agenda. The idea to equally distribute migrants across member states of the European Union has become popular. It was decided that 350,000 refugees would be spread across 28 member states, depending on their capacities. Notwithstanding, first of all, the army of migrants has by far exceeded the figure. Secondly, the mass of migrants seeks to stay in specific states: for instance, Germany, Sweden. The decision of Austria and Germany to close the borders for migrants storming trains and occupying train stations has slim chances to make a real difference.

Any actions regarding the European Union as a whole cannot be executed without a consensus of European leaders, which has not been reached yet. Some leaders spoke for extension of rescue operations, others advocate intensification of patrolling in the coastal zone of African states. But its length makes any such operation impossible. However, even today, the European Union is not ready to admit that the current situation is a direct result of its own policy in the now boiling region.

Debates about the migration policy continue at the top level. The problem was discussed at the Western Balkans Summit in Vienna on August 27, 2015. Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels passed an urgent action plan consisting of 10 points. High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini called it a powerful response of the European Union to the migration tragedy. Financing of Frontex, the agency protecting the external border of the EU, was increased. Operations Triton and Poseidon were highly praised as a success, resulting in salvation of 150,000 illegal migrants.

The European Union is still unable to reach an agreement on common rules of migration policy. Activities of national governments, police, armed forces, charity organizations and volunteers have not saved the situation. Slogans such as "Europe against any dissociation policy", "social solidarity and cohesion" resonate only across a very small part of Europeans. The protest sentiments are rising. Europe has found itself polarized in the face of a migration "tsunami". Native Europeans are worried about their welfare and social achievements and are unwilling to give them up for the migrants. It is reflected in the policy. The evident rising xenophobia and nationalism, solidifying influence of extreme right-wing parties are no less dangerous.

Fusion of the problem of migration and Islam should be looked upon as a real threat with unpredictable consequences. The increasing number of Muslims and radical Islamists among them who live in the countries of the European Union does not rule out the risks of terrorism-planned attacks in the countries of the Old World. Radical Islamists pursuing the ISIS idea to shift violence and terrorism to Europe are joining the common refugee mass and scattering throughout the territory of the European Union under the guise of migrants.

There is another reason for aggravation of the "European chaos" around the disorderly migration policy – the collision of various streams of migrants (external and internal), which may spark interstate conflicts. The society shows different, predominantly negative, attitude towards migrants. Emergence of new multitudinous groups of workers generates friction on the labour market, as well as in the socio-political sphere of countries they settle in.

The outcome of the collision of the two migration streams' interests is unpredictable. Members of the internal stream get special treatment and, as residents of member states, fall under the jurisdiction and protection of the EU. On the other hand, "the southern stream" excels them in numbers, motivation, and combative mood, it is dead-set on achieving its goal. This conflict is only starting to brew, but it may turn into a serious factor of social destabilization.

Migrants from Eastern European states are worried about their wealth status, discontented by the limited support from Brussels. Social protests backed by governments have already taken place. For instance, tumultuous demonstrations have erupted in Latvia over EU's plans to accommodate refugees from Syria (150 people so far) on its territory. Protests, oftentimes provoked by right-wing forces, have already happened in Germany, France, Italy.

Finally, there is a point that can become a serious problem in the near future. It is the quantity and the quality of migrants of the southern wave. As mentioned earlier, groups of radical Islamists have been incorporated into it, most likely intentionally. The lack of refugee records and documents, often destroyed purposefully, give them great opportunities to enter the European states they need. Terrorists have already opened up about plans to organize terrorist attacks in countries of the Old World. Therefore, migration and Islam have already fused into a single problem.

Even now, according to eyewitnesses, coordination can be seen in the behavior of refugees in camps. Many are equipped with cellphones used to send them instructions in the Arab language about further routes. Part of the refugees allegedly forced to give everything up before departure have been incapable of paying for train and bus tickets, food, clothes and so on. When it is needed, they demonstrate certain forms of consistent behavior: protests, unrest (as seen on the Hungarian border, during entraining, near the tunnel of Pas-de-Calais, etc.), even assault on police. Therefore, the potential threat coming from radical Islamists and ISIS members entering the territory of the EU cannot be ignored. The abovementioned can substantially complicate the process of social and professional adaption of the new inflow to the continental population.

The migration problem has aggravated the internal situation of the European Union, greatly shattering the social balance that helped it to overcome the stressful moments of the integration process. The conditions for preservation of social stability require development of a reasonable and clear strategy in the migration policy, development of mechanisms for management of migration streams.

The current situation is a direct consequence of shortsighted foreign policy of some member states. Without understanding it, the European Union authorities will have problems in the process of working out a common migration policy and neutralizing the setbacks of the Union's foreign policy. Moreover, the very existence of the EU may be at risk. It is a result of mistakes made amid the integration process and political pressure put on decision-making in the economic and social spheres.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.