La Lupa

The deadliest year in the Mediterranean

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By: Chelsea Jones

What is the difference between: asylum seeker, refugee and migrant?

The terms “asylum seeker”, “refugee” and “migrant” are often confused. An “asylum seeker” is a person who asks for the recognition of refugee status and whose application has not yet been fully evaluated. Asylum seekers do not have the right to international protection. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the principal mandate of the UNHCR, which describes a “refugee” as a person who has a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group or political opinion, and is outside their country of nationality and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country. Refugees are granted international protection, including the right to non-refoulement. Migrants are different from the others because they choose to move in order to improve their lives by looking for a job, or in some cases for education, to reunite with family or other reasons. Above all, migrants are not in danger.

The differences between them are very important because of the different protocols established under international law. Each person that requests asylum has a case that must be examined individually by the state. Upon arrival to a country, a migrant can be sent back to their country. If an asylum seeker is sent back to their country, the consequences could be dire.

Facts and Figures

At the end of 2015, 65.3 million people had been forcibly displaced. This includes 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced and 3.2 million people looking for asylum. More than half of the refugees come from only three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. 2015 began the worst immigration and humanitarian crisis that the world has seen since the Second World War.

Since 2015, Europe has received 2,651,730 asylum seekers. This past year (2016) the 28 countries of the EU had attended to 1,259,265 asylum seekers, but with a very unequal distribution. For example, Germany accepted 745,265 asylum seekers, while Spain had accepted about 15,000 which is only 1% of the total.

From January 2017 to June 2017, 75,185 people have arrived to Europe by the Mediterranean. 7,731 went to Greece, 63,951 to Italy, 6,800 to Spain and 302 to Cyprus. Compared to the same period from last year, Greece saw a decrease of 97%, most likely as a result from the EU-Turkey Agreement, while the other three countries experienced an increase. The majority of the refugees and migrants enter the European Union through three main routes: the Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy; the Eastern Mediterranean Route from Turkey to Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus; and the Western Mediterranean Route from the north of Africa to Spain. 2016 was recorded as the deadliest year on record with 5,096 documented deaths at sea. Without operations Mare Nostrum and Triton to rescue the refugees and migrants at sea, there have already been 1,853 deaths in the Mediterranean since January of this year, setting it up to replace 2016 as the deadliest year on record.

Aris Messinis/AFP

In 2015, the European Union created a plan to move 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy by 2017, as a way to alleviate some of the pressure from the two countries. Despite reducing the number to 106,000 (39,600 from Italy and 66,400 from Greece) the states are far from achieving the goal. As of right now only 20,283 have been moved: 6,458 from Italy and 13, 825 from Greece. Altogether, the European Union has only given refuge to 3.5% of the 160,000 refugees.

Source: AFP

Turkey hosts the largest refugee population in the world with more than 3.2 million refugees. Approximately 2.9 million of those refugees are from Syria. Due to the large number of refugees in Turkey, 90% live outside of refugee camps. 70 percent of those refugees are women and children.

The Situation in Syria

The situation in Syria continues to worsen. The latest figures from March of 2017 reveal a tragedy of immense proportions. Between 320,000 and 450,000 people have died and 1.5 million have been injured from the war in Syria. The war in Syria has produced five million refugees and between six and eight million people internally displaced, and at least 50% of the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed.

Source: BBC

Between the Assad regime, the terrorist groups: ISIS and Jabhat Fath al-Sham, and the Syrian Resistance Army, the country has been destroyed and a large amount of human rights abuses have been committed. Some of these abuses include: attacks against civilians, murders and kidnappings, the use of child soldiers, use of chemical weapons, blocking humanitarian aid and torture. “In February alone, the Syrian government prevented 80,000 medical treatment items, including diarrhea kits, emergency health kits, antibiotics, and other medicines, from going into besieged areas” the UN said.

Manu Brabo- Associated Press

A big problem is the support of Russia and Iran for the Assad regime. Russia has helped the government use chemical weapons in residential neighborhoods, killing hundreds of citizens, including children. Furthermore, the government has destroyed hospitals so that citizens could not obtain help. As a result, there has been more than 47,325 million Euros spent to provide humanitarian aid to Syria. The European Union has contributed 9,200 million Euros and the United Nations has contributed approximately 26.425 million.

Attempts at peace in Syria have not been successful. The international community has tried: peace conversations, several cease fires, Security Council resolutions, government sanctions and aerial attacks. Peace is especially difficult to achieve because of the actions committed by ISIS. Despite being based out of Syria, ISIS has committed acts of terror all over the world, especially in Europe. Due to these attacks, citizens are afraid to help the refugees for the possibility that they are terrorists. This creates a moral dilemma for governments. Countries have to make difficult decisions, for example: whether to continue sending aid to Syria, focusing on the fight against ISIS in place of helping the refugees, or limiting the quantity of refugees they accept in order to protect their citizens. There is not one clear solution, but it is important to remember that these people need help in order to survive.

What are Europe and the international community doing to help the situation?

Since the start of 2017, there have been many efforts to help the refugee situation. The European Union and its member states are funding the “EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey” which provides 3 billion Euros to address the needs of refugees and host communities with humanitarian and development assistance. The European Commission has given 347 million Euros to “The Emergency Social Safety Net” (ESSN). ESSN is a single card social assistance program that will allow 1 million refugees in Turkey to cover their basic daily needs. This is the largest humanitarian program ever to use direct transfers of cash to cover everyday needs for the most vulnerable refugee families living in Turkey. Also, there is another program that builds off of the ESSN called the “Conditional Cash for Education” (CCTE) is funded by the EU and UNICEF and gives bi-monthly cash transfers to refugee families whose children attend school regularly.

Source: Reuters

There are other ways to help refugees like: providing refuge, clothes, food, interpreters and more. At the beginning of the year the UNHCR and 72 other organizations began the Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants to be able to respond to the refugee and migrant situation in Europe, specifically the need for a long term solution for the refugees and migrants, a relocation plan and alternative legal pathways to dangerous journeys.

The European Commission produced a new policy to protect migrant and refugee children. “It is the first EU policy to address the situation and rights of all children in migration- refugee and migrant children, children alone and with their families- linking migration, asylum, and child protection”.

However, not every state wants to help the refugees. For example, Hungary passed a new law that calls for the immediate detention of all asylum seekers, including children, for the entire asylum process. In response, the UNHCR urged for the suspension of transfers of asylum seekers to Hungary. It is very important to ensure that alternatives to detention are available and accessible to children and their families, because detention is extremely detrimental to health and well-being.

A humanitarian crisis like this should call to action every person to help in every possible way. When there are lives in danger, policy is not enough. The only solution is for the entire world to come together and help those that need to be helped.

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