Home Diplomatic Pouch Covid-19 and the migrant crisis in Europe

Covid-19 and the migrant crisis in Europe


By Eugene Matos De Lara and Audrey Beaulieu.

The EU’s bureaucracy has been unceasingly placed on a reactionary mode while coordinating fragments of the migrant crisis yet still spilling over the COVID-19 pandemic. To deal with the collision of crises, the EU is orchestrating risk management teams, preparing contingencies, and recovery plans. Although the European Commission has declared the migration crisis was over in 2019, it seems that circumstances revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic have rekindled some issues.

The number of asylum seekers, risking their lives travelling through the sea, arriving on the coasts of Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, has doubled since 2019. Today’s migrant situation might bring us back to face the same questions and issues the EU authorities had during the peak refugee crisis. Nonetheless, the problem today is different and will require distinct solutions. Consequently, it is imperative to put the focus back on the migrant situation to consider the possible prospects for Europe and its migrants.

More than 13 000 migrants have tried to cross European borders since the beginning of the quarantine; the situation is challenging riparian countries’ national security, immigration, and health agencies. The number of suicide attempts is getting higher every day and camps are declared overcrowded, facilitating the transmission of the virus between migrants and making self-isolation impossible. In a single day, a camp located in Italy has noted some 129 positive cases between its members. Moreover, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has underlined an increase of migrant smuggling due to the aggravated socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on countries that were already stuck with human rights abuses, conflict and poverty problems before the crisis.

Migratory routes to Europe have shown precise and almost definitive patterns that can help us refocus our migratory policy aim. For example, most EU refugees use the Eastern Mediterranean and Eastern African route, both which have grown ever-crowded since the outbreak of war in Syria, and conflicts in South Sudan, and Congo. Indeed almost 90% of these refugees come from either Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia, and Bangladesh, and use these popular migratory routes that bottleneck in Greece, and Italy. The specificity of the route highlights the occasion for the EU Foreign Council during their meetings to inform and engage with foreign ministers of non-members states that are located on migratory paths, and target key communities that receive refugees.

Today actions have been initiated to manage the crisis. Among them, the EU is planning on increasing financial resources, extending operation’s areas in the Mediterranean and being more proactive concerning the interruption of smugglers’ vessels. Furthermore, institutions such as Europol, Frontex, EASO and Eurojust are projecting regular meetings to tackle smugglers’ networks. Finally, some mechanisms regarding the enhancement of asylum applications, emergency relocation and the whole process’s efficiency have been discussed.

Without a doubt, there is a need for successful social and economic policy building to deal with this collision of crises in the EU, demanding strategic collaboration, to monitor and assess public endeavours and initiatives surrounding the 2020 migration situation. Inter EU organization cooperation today is therefore essential to successfully manage the transcontinental issue today involving today’s migration crisis within the COVID-19 umbrella.

Lessons learned from southern coastal EU states have frequently shown how the empowerment of target communities, municipalities and provincial offices dealing with the migration crisis first hand can help in the implementation of policies. Through local investment and collective public action, the EU has decentralized how it goes about migration management and partners with several public agencies to improve refugee management.

About the authors:

Besides their current studies at the University of Ottawa Law faculty, as well as the Global Studies and International Development faculty, both authors do research with the Geneva Desk for Cooperation and work as legal and geo political analysts with the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies in Vienna. 

Audrey Beaulieu.

Beaulieu, is well versed and continuously collaborating in several projects relevant to public and private International law, international development and global politics with IFIMES and GDCOO.

Eugene Matos De Lara

Matos De Lara, is a former litigation manager and legal researcher at United Tech Corporation, and the International Water Association. Currently senior member of the International Public Diplomacy Council and serves as a Canadian Armour Officer. He holds a degree in Political Science, Public Administration, law, Public Policy and Diplomacy.

This article has been published by Geneva Desk for Cooperation – October 2020.

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