Following a yearlong break, European leaders are once again colliding over migration and refugees. The European Union has postponed revamping its problematic system for dealing with the influx of people from the Middle East and Africa but the bloc has now set itself a June deadline to find the common ground. How Brussels addresses the problem will decide the fate of many – thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Greek and Italian refugee camps.
Member states are still divided and the gap is growing, which has the potential to further complicate their talks. The divisions emerged in 2015 after one million migrants had arrived in Europe, most of them fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. While richer EU countries called for their redistribution across the bloc, the four Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech and Slovak Republics) have said no to accepting Muslims in their societies. The result of this dynamic has been stalemate.
The solution to this situation was overshadowed by the Brexit talks but European Council President Donald Tusk has set a new deadline now, which put the issue back on the top agenda. A 2016 deal with Turkey to prevent large flows of migrants from reaching Europe has helped tame the influx but how to “share” the migrants throughout the bloc remains a major stumbling block. Apart from finding a solution to this issue, EU leaders are also grappling with the problem of how to improve conditions in the refugee camps and provide education for migrant children while sending back those who do not quality for asylum.
In the meantime, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is concerned that Brussels has not yet come up with policies that would address the root causes of mass migration outside its borders or to help members cope with arrivals. “We are concerned that Europe has not yet learned the lessons of 2015 and 2016,” said Sophie Magennish, the agency’s head of policy and legal support.