Professor of sociology of migration at the university of Milan (1)
The number of asylum seekers in Europe reached a peak in 2015 and 2016, but is very greatly reduced since. The public opinions and the governments continue, however, to reason as if the continent was facing a “wave” of migration.
Five years have gone since 2015 entered the collective imagination of europe, as the year of the ” refugee crisis “. This year, Daech is progressing in Iraq, while in Syria the civil war has already uprooted millions of people. On 20 April, 800 people die in the sinking of their boat in libyan waters, not far from the Italian island of Lampedusa. This is the deadliest event in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the XXIe century.
Over the months, the number of deaths at sea will not cease to increase. At the end of 2015, there are 3 328 victims were verified, more than double that in 2014 (2). The tragedies of migration also occur on the land. On August 28, 2015, it is discovered in Austria the bodies of 71 people in a refrigerated truck abandoned near the Hungarian border. This drama sheds light on the flow, which, mainly from Syria, trying to reach the territory of the european Union (EU) by road, via the so-called ” Balkan route “, passing through Turkey and Greece. Hungary was the first EU country on their way, and many were gathered in detention camps and virtually abandoned.
A “walk of hope” in the direction of Germany
On the 29th of August, asylum-seekers camped at the railway station of Keleti to Budapest decide to embark on a “walk of hope” to the austrian border, in the direction of Germany. Two days later, chancellor Angela Merkel pronounced his famous words : “We have managed so many problems, we are going to manage this situation. “ This was a turning point in German policy.
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A few days later, on 2 September, the photo of the little Alan Kurdi, found drowned on a beach of the Turkish Aegean, shakes for a moment the european public opinion. Three days later, Angela Merkel decides to suspend the application of the Dublin regulation III (3). Buses and trains are sent to collect refugees in Hungary, in order to transfer them in Germany. On arrival, they are greeted by applause, of flowers, of music.
According to Eurostat, the directorate-general of the statistical information to the european Commission, the countries of the EU have received a total of 1.3 million claims in 2015 and 1.2 million in 2016. Germany was the catalyst for most of them.
Europe is divided, the borders are closing
But even during these years, more than 80 % of asylum seekers in the world have continued to be welcomed in developing countries, especially those bordering on crisis areas. Only a perspective eurocentric can power the legend of a Europe invaded by the refugees, a ” refugee crisis “. Germany is the only EU country that is among the top ten in the world in terms of the number of registered refugees : 1.1 million of applications accepted and 300 000 applications awaiting the end of 2019.
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The EU is, however, deeply divided on this issue. September 15, 2015, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban decided to close the border with Serbia. His country built a fence along the border with Croatia, a country member of the EU. In November, Austria did the same with Slovenia, then Slovenia with Croatia. In November, the terrorist attacks in Paris are sway public opinion.
Another shock to the culture of hospitality is caused by the events of the New Year in Cologne, with assaults and sexual harassment attributed to men of arab origin. The link between muslims, terrorism and rape, fueling a wave of fear and rejection of refugees. Meanwhile, a political decision with heavy consequences was made in Brussels : the institution of centres of registration and identification of migrants at points of entry to the european Union, mainly in Italy and Greece, with the obligation to identify the newcomers by force of fingerprints. In return, the european commission, chaired by Jean-Claude Juncker, proposed a distribution of asylum seekers between member States.
Wave of xenophobic
However, if the centres became operational, the redistribution did not follow. In the end, only 13 000 asylum seekers were transferred from Italy and a little more than 20 000 from Greece. However, the asylum policy have not been written in Italy, as in Greece, until now, was to facilitate the transit of migrants towards the EU, most of them demand nothing better.
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But the new centres of registration and identification, the greater the reinforcement of the border controls put in place by the neighbouring States, led to a rise in asylum claims in both countries, fueling a wave of xenophobic. In Italy, on the number of people arriving by sea, only 37 % had sought asylum in the country in 2014. The rate rose to 56 % in 2015, 68 % in 2016, to reach 100 % in 2017.
While the immigration, in Italy as in the rest of western Europe, is predominantly female and european, the perception of the most common, swollen by a hostile propaganda, identifies the immigrants to young african men, coming from the sea. This immigration, stationary over the years, is also qualified as an invasion.
In fact, as early as 2016, the entry of refugees, mainly syrians, from Turkey was stopped by the agreement of 18 march with Ankara. In exchange for a substantial package of economic assistance and political concessions, including a tolerance, not written for the turning point’s authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has assumed the role of policeman outside the european borders.
In 2017, the central corridor of the Mediterranean was closed by the agreements concluded by the Italian government with the government and local militias of the libyan. The arrivals by sea in Europe increased from 1 015 000 in 2015 to 114 000 in 2018. Nearly 90 % less ! At the same time, asylum requests have ebbed : 700 000 in 2017 ; 646 000 in 2018 ; 613 000 in 2019.
Rather than ” refugee crisis “, it should, therefore, speak of a ” crisis of the reception of refugees “. In 1999-2000, an EU smaller than today, had allowed the same number of asylum-seekers in 2015 – they came from Kosovo. Fifteen years later, public opinion scared and governments are uncertain, driven by populism, growing, chose to gradually ignore their humanitarian commitments. As shown by the violent push-back of migrants at the Greek-Turkish border in early march 2020, they have decided to retreat into a fortress Europe increasingly distant from their founding principles.
The issue of immigration irks the Europe. In most countries, it fuels the fears and fed the populist rhetoric. It also carries the division within the european Union and exacerbating tensions between the governments. That is why, five years after the “migration crisis” of 2015, three daily newspapers have declined to investigate together on the situation of migrants in their respective countries. Avvenire (Italy), Nederlands Dagblad (The netherlands) and The Cross are media of christian inspiration rooted in three different companies.
By publishing in parallel during the whole of this week their stories respective, they offer an exchange of glances, a variety of approaches which enrich the apprehension of the real. They wish to facilitate the dialogue between the peoples and to be a hyphen, Naples to Amsterdam via Nice or Paris. This partnership also emphasizes the involvement of multiple people in the reception and assistance of migrants. For christians, this support comes in a fidelity direct to the gospel message.