The migration crisis in the European Union was the main issue of the Western Balkans Summit yesterday in Vienna, but was largely overshadowed by the deaths of at least 20 refugees who were found dead in a truck in Austria. This tragic event shocked everyone in the Summit who expressed the need for immediate actions by each and every EU member state.
What is more, a ship that was carrying migrants to Italy was sank yesterday and the Libyan authorities are fearing that hundreds of people have been dead. These deaths are added to last Wednesday’s tragedy when 50 people were found dead in overcrowded boats off the Libyan coast. It is more than apparent that the EU needs to act towards a comprehensive solution in order to accommodate the migration waves which have flooded the EU and are responsible for the deaths of thousands of immigrants.
On the one hand, the EU is providing financial aid to countries that need it the most such as the recent €1.5 million in humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants in the Western Balkans in order to help migrants cover their basic emergency needs.
On the other hand though, it seems that this kind of help that the EU is offering is not enough to calm down this crisis. The leaders once more cried out for a common EU policy but no further proposals were put on the table which could deal with migration effectively.
Migration continues to be ranked top EU problem
The number of deaths of all migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe by sea in 2015 was 2,373 last Tuesday according to the International Organization for Migration; about 1000 less compared to the whole 2014. Further, UNHCR reports the staggering figure of 158,456 migrant sea arrivals in Greece January-August year to date. This signals an increase of 750% compared to last year for Greece alone, according to the organisation’s delegation in Athens! It seems that the last four months of 2015 will increase the deaths to even higher than 2014 levels if migrants continue coming at the same pace by boat through the Mediterranean. The bad weather is certainly a reason that will make the transportation more difficult and the boats more likely to sink.
The capsize of the boat off the Libyan Coastal city of Zuwara that happened yesterday is about to increase dramatically the number of deaths according to officials. About 100 immigrants have survived but hundreds believed to be dead. The latter was the second event that involved refugees and illegal migrants. The first one was in Austria near the borders with Hungary where 20 or more people were found dead in a truck at the same time the Balkans Summit was taking place in Vienna.
EU tries to solve migration crisis through financial aid
The European Commission (EC) has approved migration programmes of €2.4 billion this month that will be distributed to all EU member states accordingly for the period 2014-2020. More specifically, the EU is determined to help Western Balkans by providing both financial and technical support for meeting their obligations necessary for membership in the EU and also dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. As Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated yesterday at the joint press conference: “The Balkans belong to Europe and the challenges we have are European ones. When we say European challenges, we don’t only mean European Union challenges; we also mean challenges of our continent, starting from the one of migration and of the refugee crisis”.
The EU already decided to directly support Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by releasing €1.5 million which will be attributed to the assistance of refugees and migrants. What is more, the EU will provide substantial financial aid to the Western Balkans and Turkey mainly through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA). In detail, Serbia will receive €8.44 million, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia €12 million, Bosnia & Herzegovina €8.5 million, Montenegro €20 million, Albania €1.5 million, Kosovo €2.5 million and Turkey €339 million. Also, a budget of 8 more million will be distributed to the aforementioned countries as of November 2015 and will last 3 years.
Financial assistance is not enough
The money that the EU is providing is a temporary solution to this problem which keeps on perpetuating. The key that the EU leaders must focus on is the implementation of common EU policies that are strong enough to contemplate the migration problem effectively in the long run.
It is true that the EC has made several proposals such as increasing the EU presence at sea, cooperating with countries of origin and transit, clamping down on smuggling networks, making returns more effective but the common will to implement all the above and most importantly the reception and welcome of migrants is definitely missing. There are countries that do not share the same EU visions and ideals and make this project very difficult, not to say impossible to be held.
All in all, the overall outcome of this Western Balkans Summit 2015 is that it didn’t provide much towards a practical implementation of reforms and policies that would provide a permanent solution to the migration issue.