Why is the migrant crisis back in the news?

Migrant father with his children

You may have seen in the news that a large amount of rescue ships have been coming to Italy with the country threatening to close its ports unless EU members do more to help with the migrant crisis.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said in a statement last weekend “Italy is playing its part in receiving those rescued and providing asylum to those in need of protection, but this cannot be an Italian problem alone. It is, first and foremost, a matter of international concern.”

As the migrant crisis seems to be re-entering public consciousness, here are five questions that you may be asking yourself about the crisis

1) Didn’t this crisis go away?

While the crisis certainly abated from TV screens, more migrants than ever have been making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to find safety on the shores of Europe. Last year over 6,000 died or were unaccounted for, this year over 2,300 have already died making the journey.

Until last year, many of those trying to reach Europe were Syrians using the shorter route from Turkey to the Greek islands. But the number of arrivals there has plunged since the EU struck a deal with Turkey in March that year to stem the flow. More than 9,200 have made the crossing this year, compared with 158,000 in the first half of 2016.

The main journey being made by migrants now, is one from Libya to Italy. Most migrants making this journey are from Guinea, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.

2) Isn’t the crisis too big to for us to do anything about?

While this is certainly a large scale crisis it is important to not lose sight of the human element – the people making these perilous journeys are doing so to escape from war, enslavement and torture. The UK is unlikely to be able to help everyone, but we certainly can do more and every man, woman and child who finds safety here is someone who isn’t living in fear of their life.

There are currently 18 countries in Europe with a higher number of asylum seekers per 1000 population than the UK. In 2016 average for Europe was about 2.4. The corresponding figure for the UK was 0.6. This compares with 8.4 for Germany, 4.8 for Austria, 4.5 for Malta, 3.6 for Greece, and 3.3 for Hungary.

3) What is the journey of a refugee like?

The journey of a refugee is incredibly dangerous and perilous. Often people must travel or be smuggled across war zones, through different border checks and over unforgiving seas without essential means of safety. This must see video below produced by Save the Children, re-imagines what the journey of refugee would be like if the UK was embroiled in civil war and British people had to flee.

You can also try the BBC’s ‘choose your escape route’ tool, to see some of the difficult and often heart-breaking decision refugees have to make on their journey to Europe.

4) How many of the refugees arriving in Europe can legally come to the UK?

Most refugees in the UK have been relocated through schemes that have aimed to bring refugees in camps neighbouring conflict zones to safety in the UK. An example of one of these schemes is the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme.

Of the refugees arriving in Europe there are no safe and legal routes for any of them to come to the UK. One of the only schemes of this kind, the ‘Dubs scheme’ proposed by Kindertransport survivor Lord Dubs as a means for unaccompanied vulnerable children in Europe to be relocated to the UK, was stopped by the government in February 2017. The scheme was supposed to bring 3,000 children from Europe to the UK, but just 480 places were made available by the government, despite local authorities offering over 1,500 more places. As of today, only 200 children have come to the UK out of the 480 the government have said they will allow.

This means refugees that wish to come to the UK must often do so illegally resulting in many making a journey to Northern France so that they can come to the UK via boat or truck.

5) Why do they want to come to the UK, are there not safe countries they must pass through?

Neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor EU law requires a refugee to claim asylum in one country rather than another. There is no rule requiring refugees to claim in the first safe country in which they arrive.

Now stick with me here, because it gets a little tricky.

The EU does run a system – called the Dublin Regulations – which allows one EU country to require another to accept responsibility for an asylum claim where certain conditions apply.

The relevant conditions include that the person is shown to have previously entered that other EU country or made a claim there. This is supposed to share responsibility for asylum claims more equitably among EU countries and discourage people moving on from one EU country to another. But it doesn’t work.

It is clear the system means countries like the UK have relatively little responsibility for refugees compared to countries like Greece and Italy. That’s part of the reason Germany suspended the Dublin Regulations when dealing with people fleeing from Syria.

Refugees who have made a life in the UK have often said that they are treated poorly in other European nations, but have been welcomed in Britain. Often refugees have family or a connection in the UK; they might have a grasp of the language or culture and feel more connected the UK than other European nations.

As you can see, the migrant crisis is incredibly complex. Over the next few weeks, we hope that European law makers will keep an open mind and search for a better and fairer system to help both countries and refugees in need.