The European migrant crisis is only getting worse. Here’s what you need to know
WATCH ABOVE: People fleeing war in Syria and Libya or extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are showing up on the doorsteps of Europe. In many cases, they’re risking their lives and turning to human smugglers to guide their way. Emily Elias reports.
Please note: This infograhic in this post was updated on Sept. 2 with new numbers from the International Organization for Migration.
The facts and figures of the worsening Mediterranean migrant crisis can’t be sugarcoated. At least 71 people were found dead, likely from suffocation, and decomposing in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria, while yet another overloaded boat off Libya capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, leaving at least 180 people dead or missing.
Rescue crews have been pulling desperate migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from smuggler boats by the thousands, but more than 2,600 have died at sea so far this year.
The world is in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Here’s what you need to know.
Why is the situation so bad?
The war raging in Syria has driven more than four million Syrians from their homes and into overflowing refugee camps in nearby countries.
“It is no longer possible for them to offer the infrastructure, the services, the protection space for the Syrians in neighbouring countries,” UN High Commission for Refugees spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told the Huffington Post last month.
Knowing they likely can’t rebuild their lives and wouldn’t be safe if they tried, tens of thousands of them put their lives in peril again and head to where they may have a chance — Europe.
The journey to get there, however, is horrid for many. They spend thousands of dollars to smugglers who pile them into rafts, dinghies and shoddy fishing boats to cross from Turkey to Greece or to Italy from Libya — a country that has also been wracked by war.
In 2014, 33 per cent of the refugees and migrants arriving in Europe were Syrian. The only group that came close were Eritreans, which accounted for 18 per cent of the arrivals.
It’s a different situation for migrants coming from Eritrea. They’re escaping the “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” of their authoritarian government, including imprisonment, torture and forced labour.
In a 500-page report released in June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said thousands of desperate Eritreans “resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety.”
There are also thousands more from Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other poor or conflict-ridden countries who make those same journeys, carting few belongings and putting their faith and money into the hands of smugglers.
7 photos that tell this tragic story
Why are so many trying to enter Hungary?
Arriving on European shores is one thing, but getting to a country where you can start a new life is another. Italy and Greece have seen the most arrivals of an European nation this year, with more than 110,000 people arriving in Italy so far in 2015 and an astounding 200,000 in Greece. Once there, they are either forced to stay in reception centres that have become overcrowded and, in some cases squalid, or set up makeshift shelters in parks, garages and other on the sides of streets.
Landlocked Hungary has become the gateway to the rest of Europe and thousands of people stream toward the country, via Macedonia and Serbia after arriving in Greece.
Hungary is the entrance to the greater visa-free area of the European Union, known as the Schengen Area. While Greece is a member state, none of the countries that border it are members.
“Within the Schengen Area, concurrently, the citizens of these 26 European countries are free to travel in and out of this zone as one single country sharing equal international travel rights,” a description of the Schengen Area reads.
Getting into the Schengen Area would essentially mean the stream of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers could more easily flow across borders, relatively unchecked, into more desirable countries.
An estimated 100,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have travelled the so-called “Balkan route” to Hungary so far this year, hoping to get to places like Austria and Germany.
Germany estimates that by the end of this year it could see as many as 800,000 applications for asylum.
Is building walls the answer to controlling the flow of migrants?
Hungary is constructing a wall to cut off the path of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers entering the country illegally.
And the threat of being cut off from the Schengen Area has only led to a surge of people trying to get into the country before it’s too late.
While it may appease Hungarians (and others in Europe) who are concerned about the influx of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, officials are warning it could lead to even more horrific incidences like the one in Austria this week.
“Our view on the wall building is that this is a roundabout subsidy to the smugglers. If you create a barrier, they will just charge the people they’re transporting more money to get around that barrier,” Reuters reported IOM spokesman Joel Millman saying at a UN briefing in Geneva. “Countries do this all the time to please a domestic constituency — it looks tough, it looks proactive, it looks like you’re taking seriously people’s concerns that there are too many migrants.”
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