Refugees struggle for asylum in western Europe

Europe is in a state of crisis. Migrants from the Middle East and Africa have been arriving in the hundreds of thousands, finding any way they can to cross the borders into European countries that can grant them asylum. More than 620,000 applications for asylum in the EU were presented in 2014, higher than any year since 1992. That number has no indication of falling in 2015, with more than 500,000 migrants already estimated to have crossed the border this year. Germany alone has estimated that they will receive 1 million applications for asylum by the end of the year; more than four times the amount for 2014.

Migrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Erirtrea and Serbia, seeking asylum from violence, poverty and persecution. Germany is the preferred destination for migrants, but countries all along the EU border are receiving an influx higher than they can handle. The stress has become a political pressure point for European politicians, who have spent much of the year in heated debate about how best to handle, distribute and care for the migrants, most of whom fully qualify for asylum. A list of common countries considered safe for migrants to be returned to has been proposed in an effort to reduce some of the stress on the European countries.

After weeks of balking, Germany recently announced the decision to impose border controls along the Austrian border. This decision puts stress on the Schengen agreement – an agreement encompassing almost all of Europe in which participating members impose no internal borders halting migration. Under the terms of the agreement, once a migrant is granted access within the border countries of the Schengen agreement, they can move with much greater ease within Europe. Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands imposed tighter sanctions on their own borders within hours of Germany’s announcement.

“The aim of these measures is to limit the current inflows to Germany and to return to orderly procedures when people enter the country,” Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a press conference on Sept. 14.

Meanwhile, Turkey has already had to toughen up its border control system. Earlier in September, the border country completed the construction of a 13-foot razor wire fence along its border in an effort to stem the flow of migrants coming into the country undocumented, with plans to reinforce the border in the works. On Sept. 15, Turkey announced a state of emergency at the Serbian border, granting police extra powers and the possibility of troop deployment. Police are mounted along the border, and migrants caught attempting to pass through illegally are sent in police buses to the registration centers.

The official and legal ways to come to Hungary and therefore to the European Union remain open,” Turkish government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said. “That’s all we ask from all migrants – that they should comply with international and European law.”

Migrants passing through Europe have been keen to skip the registration in the border country for the opportunity to reach a country further into the EU before applying for asylum. Under the EU system, migrants are able to apply for asylum and have a good chance of being granted access to the EU if they pass the border legally, but the result is a limitation on their ability to choose the country they may end up in. This is an unpopular option for many migrants, most of whom are attempting to reach Germany, which has one of the strongest internal economies in Europe.

Refugees have been attempting to bypass the Dublin regulation, an EU law that stipulates that refugees should apply for asylum in the country where they first arrive and are registered, rather than traveling undocumented across borders to reach their country of choice. Part of managing the resources available to assist migrants includes several plans to implement mandatory quotas across the EU stipulating that countries take in a certain number of refugees. This would begin the process of relocating migrants and distributing them more evenly across Europe so that no one country, such as Germany, has to take the brunt of the load unassisted. Current plans suggest a relocation of between 120,000 and 200,000 migrants.

Migrants have been taking extreme and often dangerous measures in an effort to get to and through European borders. Traveling primarily through the central and eastern Mediterranean and Balkan areas, traveling by truck, bus and boat, often illegally, in order to cross. In April, a boat carrying 800 migrants capsized off the coast of Libya, allegedly due to overcrowding. On Sept. 13, a boat carrying 100 migrants capsized while crossing the Aegean Sea, resulting in 34 deaths, including 11 children. More than 2,600 people crossing the Mediterranean area have died in 2015. In France, many migrants have been taking the chance and jumping onto trucks and trains crossing the channel into the UK, which is not a part of the Schengen agreement.

Europe is scrambling to process migrants and distribute them functionally, while migrants are attempting to secure their best possible chances, often putting the two groups at odds with each other. But with a civil war raging in Syria and poverty plaguing much of the Middle East and Africa, there is little to indicate that the crisis will ease up any time soon.

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