In 2013, the Prime Minister of Malta warned that the Mediterranean was becoming ‘a cemetery’. He was speaking shortly after the second Lampedusa shipwreck, in which a migrant vessel capsized and at least 34 people drowned. Several thousand die each year crossing the Mediterranean, with a record 5,000 drowning in 2016 alone. The number of people making the crossing in 2017 has more than halved compared to this time last year, but the death rate has doubled.
Southern European countries often complain that the burden of coping with migration flows from outside the EU (including people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean by boat) falls disproportionately upon border countries. Malta, for example, has long-argued that the amounts provided by the EU to border countries are simply inadequate given the scale of the challenge.
In 2015, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced proposals for a system of mandatory quotas to distribute some 160’000 refugees throughout the European Union, as well a permanent relocation mechanism for future crises. However, by December 2016 the EU had only met 5% of that target. Are frontline countries being abandoned by the rest of the EU?
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
The numbers coming to Malta may not seem huge. The UNHCR estimates that around 19,000 people have arrived in Malta by boat from Libya since 2002, and less than 30% of them remained, with the vast majority moving on to other EU countries. That works out as roughly 1,200 per year (and the number has currently dropped to almost nothing as refugee flows have moved to other countries).
Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that Malta is the least-populous country in the EU, so it’s unsurprising 65% of Maltese people surveyed by Eurobarometer consider immigration to be the biggest issue facing Europe today.Curious to know more about refugees and EU solidarity? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Stephen, who thinks Europe should do more to help frontline countries in the refugee crisis.
To get a response to this comment, we spoke to Jean-Pierre Gauci, Director and Founder of the People for Change Foundation, a human rights think-tank in Malta, and a research fellow British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL). He argued that Malta was no longer really on the “frontline” of the crisis, but that it had been in the past (and it had not received the support it needed at the time):
Next up, we had a comment from Alexander from Malta, who supports some kind of EU refugee relocation scheme, but thinks that Malta should be excluded because it is too small. Malta is certainly not the only country arguing it should be exempted from the scheme. But is it an argument that Jean-Pierre Gauci supports?
Are frontline countries in the refugee crisis being abandoned by the rest of Europe? And should smaller countries be excluded from any refugee relocation scheme? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!