Amid intense debates on the future of the eurozone and whether it is protected against a potential Greek default and exit, Europe is faced with an additional humanitarian crisis. This is related to the ongoing drama of hundreds of refugees who are attempting to reach the continent from Africa or the Middle East. Approximately 900 lives were recently lost off the Italian coast during a shipwreck. The same also happened in 2014 when 366 people died as their boat sank off Lampedusa, in Sicily. Similar but smaller accidents take place on a regular basis in the Mediterranean.
According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 218,000 migrants are estimated to have crossed the Mediterranean in 2014 and 3,500 did not survive. Migrants are attempting to reach Europe in order to escape poverty, chaos, and war to seek better opportunities. Greece, Italy and to a lesser extent Spain, Cyprus and Malta are naturally their first destination, offering a base via which they might have the chance to travel to other European states, find a job and start a new life. Migration patterns are cyclical: as spring comes, temperature increases and the sea becomes less turbulent. Therefore, migrants consider the natural conditions better to take the risk of approaching either Greece or Italy by boat. However, the process is both difficult and illegal. Migrants tend to pay unbearable amounts of money to smugglers, who often deceive them about the safety of the passage, overloading them on old ships.
Although the EU is monitoring the problem, and plans to employ a new agenda on migration, Italy, Greece, Spain and also Cyprus and Malta are isolated. Other European countries find it convenient that migrants and refugees do not reach their borders first but have to be dealt with elsewhere. Germany, for instance, is more interested in the high number of asylum applications it receives than in the rescue operations of migrants in the Mediterranean. For its part, Britain did not hesitate to withdraw its support from these missions last year.
The organization of European summits to discuss the challenge of migration can be helpful but should not be considered as decisive initiatives as long as only existing tools are used.
EU member states are not prepared to economically share the burden. Greece, for example, lacks the appropriate personnel for treating arriving refugees, as well as the proper infrastructure to provide them with food and shelter. The assistance offered by the EU is poor. Athens often complains not only about the limited support provided to its police and maritime authorities but also about the lack of pressure exerted by the EU on Turkey to improve controls on its borders. Innocent lives are at risk in the Mediterranean and solidarity at the European level is equally important. Nonetheless, the ongoing discussion is synthesized around the symptoms of the problem and not its roots. Migrants are paying a heavy price for instability at home. This instability has not been the result of their own policy choices and decisions but of foreign interventionism, from Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003 to the bombardment of Libya four years ago.
Finally, the ongoing instability in the Middle East, where the possibility of a ground war against the Islamic State could not be excluded, constitutes an additional deterioration factor.
European leaders should not only search for remedies in times of crisis but also act preemptively in order to avoid similar problems in the future. An effective migration strategy cannot be implemented if a wise and modest foreign policy model is not practically applied.