As record breaking numbers of refugees arrive in Europe on Greek shores in the first two weeks of January (in comparison to last year’s figures), despite the snow, gales and risk of hypothermia and drowning, volunteers and NGOs alike are worried that politicians and governments across Europe are beginning to try to implement dangerous and divisive tactics in an attempt to halt the crisis.
This week the EU Council of Ministers are meeting to discuss new rules around who can claim asylum. Chaos has already been created by the closing of the Macedonian, Serbian and Croatian borders to all non-SIA refugees (non-Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan) towards the end of 2015 and new proposals being tabled in the coming days include the further narrowing down of this criteria, across borders EU, to only SIA refugees who are women, families and unaccompanied minors. This effectively means that single men or groups of men will not be allowed to enter the EU, whatever the strength of their asylum claim. Of course, non-EU countries like Serbia and Macedonia, would undoubtedly follow suit.
The dangers inherent in this new proposal are manifest. Many men are travelling alone to spare their families and young children the risks of dangerous sea crossings. If this policy comes to pass, we can expect to see an upsurge in the most vulnerable types of refugees; children, the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. These people will be the first to drown and the first to succumb to hyperthermia. And where will the groups of men left stranded behind borders be warehoused? And who will look after them?
Denmark and Switzerland, countries that have had relatively few asylum applications, are trying to pass legislation which would mean refugees have to give up cash and valuables to help pay for their upkeep. As if losing their family members, their homes, their jobs and their futures wasn’t enough already, people fleeing war are now being stripped of what little they have left by two of the richest countries in Europe.
Turkey is stepping up its policy of seemingly arbitrary border policing and arrested 1,300 refugees from Ayvacik, the main crossing point for people to Lesvos. What will happen to these people? Will their human rights be protected? Why are people running away from war zones being detained?
On Lesvos, police have been arresting people for crimes that don’t seem to have taken place. Everyone has seen the environmental disaster that are the hundreds of thousands discarded lifejackets that litter the island. Five volunteers were arrested for taking some of these to make bedding for refugees. Volunteers from Proem, a Basque lifeguard organisation and Team Humanity have been charged with people smuggling for their search and refugee efforts with refugees in freezing temperatures. Everyone is worried that these kinds of problems with the island authorities will lead to more deaths on the Aegean.
Europe desperately needs a joined up response to this refugee crisis. If other countries, aside from Germany, Sweden and Austria, don’t start to do their fair share to help, death and disaster awaits.