Migrants Say ‘No Thanks’ to EU Distribution Plans

Colette Davidson and Sara Miller Llana, Christian Science-Monitor, July 15, 2015

Hundreds of black and blue tarps, many with thatched roofs, vie for space in this port city’s migrant camp, a testament to the powerful flow of human migration across Europe this year.

The population of Jungle 2, as it’s called, surged from 1,000 to 3,000 in the three months after spring broke, the typical annual pattern. Residents have built more than homes: makeshift churches, schools, and even restaurants selling chicken skewers and chai tea dot Jungle 2.

Camps like this are spurring some European nations to push for what they’re calling burden sharing, particularly Italy and Greece. Unsurprisingly, many of the less affected countries are opposed, arguing they have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to house and care for asylum seekers.

But they have surprising allies in their opposition: the migrants themselves.

Even as Europe’s leaders debate, refugees are focused on finding jobs and establishing community bonds. And it’s not that they don’t want to move on from the poorer southern European countries hosting them. But what they don’t want is to be farmed out to still poorer countries, instead of being settled in richer states like Britain or Germany.

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This year has seen an unprecedented flood of migrants seeking a better life in Europe. In the first six months of the year, 137,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, compared to 75,000 in the same period last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Under current rules called the Dublin regulation, migrants who enter in Greece or Italy are supposed to officially seek asylum there. But they often try to slip through those borders–a fact those countries are accused of turning a blind eye to–to file claims elsewhere.

That has helped turn Calais, the closest point in continental Europe to Britain, where the overwhelming majority of Jungle 2 residents want to settle, into a flashpoint. In 2011, 4,500 migrants were discovered trying to cross the port and tunnel in Calais. In 2015, there have been 25,000 attempts so far on the same crossing, says Gilles Debove, secretary general of the police officer’s union in Calais.

Last month, a ferry strike brought traffic to a standstill here and had many migrants sensing an opportunity. Hundreds tried to force their way onto trucks that were backed up in the traffic at the Channel Tunnel the ferry closures created. The situation led Britain to declare its intent to create a “safe zone” for trucks passing through Calais to ensure migrants won’t be able to jump aboard.

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Mostly the migrant flow runs from south to north, east to west. A typical route is the one Alpha followed, having crossed from Syria, to Turkey, Greece, Belgium, and now Calais, even spending time in jail–“several times,” he says–on his attempt to reach Britain.

“In England, there’s no Jungle,” he says. “After two or three days, they put you in a hotel. In two or three weeks, you have a place to live. Here in France, [there is only] the Jungle.”{snip}

In the heated debate on quotas, Calais’s fate might remain unchanged–or even get marginally worse. The relocation formula only applies to 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans entering Greece and Italy over the next two years. Many of the men and women in Calais aren’t even refugees, but economic migrants whose asylum cases are likely to be rejected.

European resistance

Still, they bristle at the notion of someone deciding where they should live. No one talks of heading east. And judging from political rhetoric, that is how many of these countries would like it.

The countries of Central Europe–Slovakia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary–have been some of the loudest critics of a scheme imposed on them to take in asylum seekers. Martina Sekulová, a research fellow at the Institute for Public Affairs in Bratislava, says that the issue of asylum shot to the top of the public debate in these countries for the first time ever.

“Debates were full of prejudices, stereotypes, fears, and refusal of migrants in general,” she says. Many politicians have argued that they don’t have the infrastructure to become asylum welcomers, but she says her country, Slovakia, has the capacity to create a well-functioning system.

“Slovakia should recognize the importance of the issue of humanitarian migration and its role–already as a well-developed, rich, secure, and stable country–in the wider geopolitical context.”

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