“Since the beginning of the year, the number of refugees and migrants arriving [on the Island of Lesbos] and on other Greek islands has surged to full-scale humanitarian-crisis levels. Arrivals by sea have surpassed 107,000 through July, according to United Nations figures, eclipsing even the numbers of people reaching Italy. Most of those who arrive on the shores of Lesbos, a popular tourist destination just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, are fleeing the wars in Syria and Afghanistan and hoping to head deeper into Western Europe.”*
The issue is not going to go away, as the Calais situation shows: it has been a recurring phenomenon since before the opening of the Sangatte camp in 1999. Greece and Italy are neither responsible for this situation, nor able to cope with it all by themselves (although Greek authorities could do better, emulating what Turkey has done for Syrians), yet other European countries aren’t ready to accept a share of the migrants themselves.
Trying to erect higher barriers, as countries such as the UK stridently call for, only entrenches the problem, as migrants will always find smugglers to help them cross borders when needed. Backtracking on European freedom of movement would be a historical set back, at the precise moment when the young generation has profoundly embraced mobility and diversity as a way of life.
This man-made crisis will continue to fester, empowering nationalist populist movements and encouraging discrimination and violence against migrants, as long as European leaders don’t fundamentally reassess the basis of their migration policies and start making mobility a central feature of border policies.
*To know more about the situation on the Island of Lesbos, please read “On Island of Lesbos, a Microcosm of Greece’s Other Crises: Migrants” written by Suzanne Daley, published in the New York Times on August 4, 2015.