Reuters, July 5, 2018
Europe will shut its southern doors to migrants under plans to be discussed by Germany, Austria and Italy next week, it has emerged.
Germany’s hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said talks would take place between the three nations on how to close the Mediterranean route into the EU.
His announcement comes after a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and amid plans being considered by Germany’s government for new immigration measures at their shared border.
Seehofer insisted the measures would not make Austria responsible for people arriving there who had already sought asylum in another European Union country.
Kurz said the two sides agreed Germany’s plans at the border would not harm Austria and that they would instead work together on stemming illegal immigration.
The number of migrant trips across the Mediterranean has fallen dramatically, with about 45,000 people making it to Europe across the sea this year compared to over a million in 2015, but politically it has become ever more divisive.
Last week, European Union states agreed to tighten their external borders and spend more in the Middle East and North Africa to bring down the number of migrants and to set up new centres to handle new arrivals.
Earlier today, Seehofer said a new plan to establish so-called ‘transit centers’ at the Austrian border to quickly process new migrant arrivals envisions sending people directly back to where they first entered the European Union, primarily Greece and Italy.
Saying he was ‘convinced these will be very difficult talks,’ Seehofer said ‘it is a problem for all of Europe and we want to negotiate with Italy and Greece’ to send them back migrants who had already registered and applied for asylum in those countries, the main entry points to the EU.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accused Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban of failing to respect ‘humanity’ with his immigration policy, days after she made key border protection concessions to hardliners who have embraced Budapest’s anti-migrant stance.
Merkel said securing the EU’s external borders was not about creating a ‘fortress’ against people brought by smugglers on perilous journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. She said the bloc needed to sign accords with African nations to ensure legal migration was still possible.
Migrant routes to Europe: What are the long and perilous routes thousands of people are taking?
Illegal migrants seeking to enter Europe use various long and perilous routes that are evolving as authorities attempt to stem the flow of new arrivals.
Here is an overview of how people are reaching the continent.
How do migrants reach Europe?
Most arrive by crossing the Mediterranean, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with 172,000 entering through Greece, Italy and Spain last year.
The number of arrivals is down sharply from the peak in 2015, when 1.02 million entered Europe via the Mediterranean.
Since the start of this year there have been 44,370 arrivals; that is far below the 48,000 who entered Greece over just five days in October 2015.
What are the routes across the Mediterranean?
Most of the crossings last year were from Libya or Tunisia into Italy, known as the ‘Central Mediterranean’ route, says the EU’s Frontex border agency.
It was used by 118,962 people, mostly Nigerians, Guineans and Ivorians.
But arrivals via this route have plunged 75 per cent since a controversial July 2017 deal between Rome and the Libyan coastguard.
Crossings have also dropped sharply from Turkey to Greece, the ‘Eastern Mediterranean’ route. After close to 900,000 migrants in 2015, Frontex recorded only 42,000 last year, essentially Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians.
More recently there has been a sharp increase in the use of a route between Morocco and Spain.
Nearly abandoned until 2000, this ‘Western Mediterranean’ route saw 23,000 crossings last year, mostly of Algerians, Ivorians and Moroccans.
Since the start of 2018, 17,522 people have entered Europe via Spain, compared to 16,452 via Italy and 13,120 via Greece, the UNHCR says.
The renewed popularity of the route is straining Spain’s law-enforcement response and its social safety networks.
Other ways into Europe
The main secondary route into the EU is through the western Balkans into Eastern Europe.
Around 12,000 people entered this way last year, most of them Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis — a sharp reduction from the 760,000 in 2015.
Routes into Europe are constantly evolving: according to the French embassy in Slovenia, a new one is developing from Greece through Albania, Croatia and Slovenia, with nearly 1,800 crossings between January and May this year.
An ‘Arctic route’ was briefly in operation 2015 when about 100 migrants crossed a day from Russia into Norway on bicycle.
Getting through Africa
There are also several routes from African countries to departure points on the Mediterranean, some involving a dangerous crossing of the Sahara desert.
The high human toll
The UNHCR says it has registered 16,607 migrants dead or missing at sea since 2014.
To this should be added the toll for the perilous Sahara crossing, which the International Organization for Migration says is probably as high as that for the Mediterranean.
Orban said Germany could be grateful for the fence Hungary had built on its borders with Serbia and Croatia, which he said was guarded ’24 hours a day by 8,000 armed men’.
‘Otherwise 4,000 to 5,000 refugees would be arriving in Germany per day. That is solidarity — solidarity that can be taken seriously,’ he said.
Only this week, Merkel ended a tense showdown with her arch-conservative Interior Minister Seehofer by agreeing to tighten border controls and set up closed ‘transit centres’ to hold migrants on the Austrian frontier.
Merkel’s fateful decision in 2015 to leave the German border open to those fleeing Middle East conflict zones was prompted primarily by Orban’s refusal to offer them refuge and blocking the so-called Balkan route into the EU.
Merkel’s tone toward Orban had softened of late.
Last week she even thanked the Hungarian leader for his efforts to bolster the EU’s external borders, while Orban declared the ‘enormous success’ of his tough stance in the conclusions of an EU summit last week.
But Merkel on Thursday denied that she had sacrificed European principles of open borders and compassion toward qualified asylum seekers on the altar of power politics.
The German solution, however, is dependent on bilateral agreements with EU states to take back asylum seekers who previously registered in their countries.
Budapest has until now rebuffed such overtures, although Merkel noted the number of people who would qualify for return there was ‘very, very small’.