What is it that makes a human being flee his country, leaving with nothing but hope for a better life? What makes a human being trust a facilitator? What makes a human being board an overcrowded nutshell to cross the sea? The reasons for this probably are different for every individual but they all must be devastating. The situation can be cruel because of a civil war, because of deep poverty or because you are not well liked by the regime and you would face death or prison if you stayed. It seems as if everything is better somewhere else. And it seems to be best in the EU. A place where there is peace, freedom of speech. A place where people considered poor would still be rich in some countries.
This hope for a better life, this hope for peace, this hope for freedom is what makes people try to enter the EU on various paths. 300,000 people asked for asylum in 2012 in European countries, according to a statistic by UNHCR. This is only 0.06% of the total population of 500 million people living in the EU. This number is so small, it’s not recognised by many people living within the fortress of Europe. In fact, Europe needs immigration: in the 28 Member states the average children per couple was 1.57 according to EUROSTAT. This is not enough to sustain ourselves, not enough to keep up the 500 million people in Europe. With people getting older and older this is also a problem for our social security systems, a problem for pensions and health care. These problems are – apart from human rights – the reason why we should welcome young motivated people from all over the world.
Still, Europe is trying to stop people from coming over. Germany for example keeps less than 15% of all Asylum seekers according to “Pro Asyl”. Countries with land routes to Europe, such as Greece with its border to Turkey, and Spain with its enclaves in Northern Africa, are building higher and higher fences to stop people from entering their countries. But you cannot build a fence at sea. This is why most asylum seekers now try boats via the Mediterranean Sea to the little Italian island of Lampedusa, only 140 km away from the African coast, or even more dangerous via the Atlantic Ocean to the Canary Islands. The little Italian island has a refugee camp for 1,500 people. This is pretty big for an island with only about 4500 inhabitants. Still this camp is constantly overcrowded. This is also true for camps on the Canary Islands and in the Spanish enclaves.
For refugees and Asylum seekers in the EU there is a treaty called Dublin II. Its most important part states that refugees have to seek asylum in the country they first entered European soil through. With Italy, Spain and Greece being the countries with the most African refugees this puts pressure on these countries to deal with the problem. This is why Italy has a law that makes it illegal to bring potential illegal immigrants to shore. The recent catastrophe in the sea less than a mile from Lampedusa was made worse by this very law. Fishermen were at the scene but out of fear they sailed away without helping the people drowning in the water. According to latest figures 270 people drowned in swimming distance to the safe shore because they couldn’t swim and nobody was there to help them. One can only imagine the feelings those people must have had on the boat when the fire started. It must have been hell, made worse by seeing boats that could help you sail away and do nothing. This really was a terrible nightmare.
We need a reform of Dublin II now. We need a fair asylum process for every asylum seeker. We need an even distribution of refugees in the European Union. Politicians like the German Minister for Interior now say that we need to arrest and punish the facilitators in order to stop people crossing the sea. This is like taking paracetamol when you have a temperature. You’ll feel better but the illness is still there. It changes nothing. If we really want to help we have to let people in. We can afford it as a union. We also have to tackle poverty and stop civil wars. This will be hard. The easy way is letting people drown or, if they make it, send them home where they have no hope, no peace or no rights.