The German Interior Ministry’s recent decision to deport newly arrived migrants back to Greece by March puts further question marks over Europe’s response to the ongoing refugee crisis. Two years ago, ‘Human Rights Watch’ accused Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia of playing ‘human Ping-Pong’ with thousands of stranded Rohingya Muslims. Now European nations appear to be doing the same, but are not being subjected to international condemnation. For refugees, life in Europe no longer guarantees safety.
Under the Dublin Regulation, EU member states have the right to return asylum seekers to the country through which they first entered the EU. Aside from being geographically predisposed towards more economically unstable countries, the convention is no longer pertinent given the rapidly evolving refugee situation. With over 60 million displaced people living worldwide, it is absurd to suggest that only a small minority of EU states should bear the brunt of crisis.
For decades, countries outside the West have been forced to deal with the consequences of regional discontent. Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, and Kenya are all nations that have taken in large numbers of refugees with varying levels of success. As of late 2016, ten countries that create just 2.5 per cent of the global economy are hosting more than half the world’s refugees. The so-called ‘swarms of migrants’ do not necessarily appear to be reaching European shores.
It must be noted that the countries in question have a far from perfect human rights record with regard to refugee treatment. Flawed infrastructure and corruption frequently lead to widespread exploitation. For example, Pakistan is a country that, over the years, has amassed a multi-generational Afghan population, and is currently attempting to forcibly repatriate thousands to appease political tensions. In the middle of the deportations, the infamous arrest of the ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Gula briefly grabbed headlines before quickly fading back into obscurity. Now in her early forties, Gula had attempted to falsify documents in order to remain in Pakistan, where she has lived on and off since her teens. Despite being a refugee who had managed to put down roots in her host country, Gula’s ultimate deportation back to Afghanistan embodies the uncertain fate of refugees everywhere.
That refugees are now facing obstacles to enter Germany is itself a considerable shift in policy in the context of the EU debate around the displacement of people. Europe’s response as whole has been far from coherent, to the detriment of refugees’ hopes for a safe haven. Indeed, with limited resources, Greek refugee camps – which house a large number of those in administrative limbo – often operate at double capacity. Conditions have recently worsened to such an extent that refugees frequently freeze to death due to inadequate shelters.
The policy, though isolated in Germany’s case, does however follow a more general trend with respect to the lack of willingness to take in refugees shown by other European nations. Some countries have expelled thousands of refugees back to active war zones, where they face the prospect of kidnapping, persecution, and violence. In Britain, unaccompanied refugee minors are only protected until they reach the age of 18. Paradoxically, young refugees are encouraged to study and complete A Levels, but then find themselves being denied any opportunity to pursue future careers in the UK and are transported back to war-torn nations.
These mass deportations affect more than just a faceless mass: there are individual lives hanging in the balance and successive generations that will suffer the consequences. Ultimately, Europe is playing a vicious game of cat and mouse with some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Image: Mstyslav Chernov