A fishing vessel packed with refugees was the reason that EU’s foreign and interior ministers held an emergency meeting in Luxemburg last week in order to discuss policies directed to refugee flows. The fishing boat sank near the Libyan coast and took the lives of hundreds of refugees who were trying to reach the shores of Europe. The same day a boat sank in one of most known beaches of Rhodes, Greece taking the lives of three people, including a child.
Much attention has been given to these recent incidents in the past weeks, with the large refugee wave only now catching the attention of the mainstream media in the European Union and the EU itself. Yet these stories are not new. Refugees from war-torn states have been arriving in the European shores for years; the numbers increased after the eruption of the Arab Revolutions in the Middle East, which led to the civil wars in Syria and Libya.
When it comes to Greece, the reality is that it did not have and does not have a concrete policy for refugees. Even though subsequent Greek governments have taken some steps regarding the issue, these steps do not have long term results. On the one hand, the previous government, in order to tackle human trafficking – or illegal immigration as it was framed both by the state and the Greek media – decided to build a fence in the Evros River which would make it more difficult for refugees to reach Greece from the northern borders with Turkey. On the other hand, although Syria did not hold its reactions during the period it was in the opposition, it has yet to present a viable plan that will tackle the issue of human trafficking in its core, and will provide those arriving in Greece with safety and the reassurance of a better future. Even though the left leaning government did discuss an immigration reform it was more focused on the detention centres and citizenship rights but failed to focus on the way they would handle human trafficking.
However, the Greek government’s hands are tied simply because the refugee flow is not a Greek or a Mediterranean issue alone, it is a European issue. If it were not for the accident in the shores of Italy that killed a massive number of people, the European Union would have kept ignoring every day incidents with sinking boats; if it were not for those people who were lost at sea, the truth is that the European Union would not have held the emergency meeting in Luxemburg, and it would have never come to a ten-point plan. Additionally the proposed ten-point plan seems as if it has been quickly drafted in order to avoid scrutiny from major media outlets. The proposed plan fails to look at the reasons which lead refugees to flee their countries and puts too much focus on preventing smuggling when in reality smuggling is only one piece of the puzzle.
When the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa are torn in never ending wars, those who live there will always look for a better future or they will die trying. Even if the EU manages to fight human trafficking, it will fail managing refugee flows, because you cannot manage human despair by short-term and short-lived policies. The EU needs to finally decide that it has to act as the global actor it claims to be and create concrete and at the same time long-term policies that will focus more on a bottom-up conflict management strategy rather than ten bullet points.
The article was initially publish on Vocal International.
Marianna Karakoulaki is a freelance journalist and editor. She is Articles Editor and Director of the Editorial Board of E-International Relations, and co-founder of the online magazine The Globalized World Post. Follow her on Twitter at @Faloulah, her blog, and Facebook page.