The news is old, but you may have missed it, nonetheless. Three weeks ago the “EU-Turkey Deal” was passed, which involves an agreement to deport all newly arrived asylum seekers that arrive irregularly to Greece back to Turkey. Despite hefty criticism expressed by humanitarian organizations, the agreement is that for each deported migrant (no matter what their country of origin), one asylum seeker from Syria will be resettled from Turkey to Europe. The expressed logic behind the Deal is that people will no longer risk their lives trying to cross the Eastern Mediterranean to reach Europe if they know they will be deported back.
A Spokesperson from the UNHCR, Melissa Fleming, expressed her concern about the deal and stressed the necessity of “protection monitoring to ensure that refugees and human rights are upheld […]. This wish for safeguards is questioned by the unknown fate of non-Syrians who are deported back to Turkey, and by reports that Syrians who are now trying to cross into Turkey are being shot and killed by the Turkish border police.
Despite the tighter border controls at the Turkey-Syrian border, in the Eastern Mediterranean and through the Balkans (see map above), people will continue seeking refuge from violence. As long as systematic abuse of human rights persists in certain regions of the world, people will continue to flee, and will be forced to look for alternative, more risky routes, as a result of the decisions taken by political leaders.
Research released by the International Organization for Migration this month has, for instance, shown how some Syrians are now taking a so-called “West-African route”. They fly into Mauritania (which does not require visas for Syrians) from Istanbul or Tunis, then they cross Mali and Algeria, and continue north until they reach the Libyan coast. At that point, they join thousands of others, who aim to take the Central Mediterranean route towards Italy. Of course, the route depicted in the map below represents only a schematic representation.
Tighter border controls in Europe have caused new routes to emerge in Latin America as well, with reports highlighting Syrians’ attempting to reach Northern America through Central America and Mexico. There are also reports of Syrians claiming asylum in French Guinea, after crossing overland from Brazil (which also does not have visa requirements for Syrians). This highlights the unpredictability of migration and the unintended consequences that tighter borders in certain regions can set in motion. It also demonstrates the creativity and determination of people to find a place where they can continue their lives in safety and prosperity.
From our side of things at SOS Mediterrannee, we are already witnessing the surge of people coming through the Central Mediterranean by the number requiring our assistance. Just a couple of days ago we were involved in two massive sea rescue operations. A total of 116 people were rescued on Saturday, the 16th of April, and 108 people on Sunday, the 17th. Sadly, there were tragic losses as well, which added to the number of people who were packed on these unseaworthy ships when they left the North African coast. According to IOM’s Missing Migrant Project, 1232 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean so far in 2016, as compared to 1672 for the same period in 2015. This situation is unacceptable.
The stories of the migrants that we encounter, exhausted, shaking, with blank stares and scarred souls that say, “we have witnessed the suffering of the world”, have convinced us of one thing: human resilience is infinite and so is the willingness to risk one’s life to get a brighter future. We hope as new routes emerge, that regional bodies formed by civil society, the state, NGOs, activist, etc. will provide assistance to migrants who choose lesser known passages.