11 THINGS YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW ABOUT EUROPE'S "MIGRATION CRISIS"
People have always moved from one place to another – it's what human beings do.
From 2010-15, the number of people migrating worldwide grew by just 0.1 percent (from 3.2 to 3.3 percent).
What we are seeing now is nothing new and certainly not unprecedented. The crisis has never been the number of people arriving to Europe, but rather the chaotic responses of European governments.
In March 2016, the EU signed a deal with Turkey to keep refugees and migrants out of Europe by returning them to Turkey.
At the time, many countries in Europe closed their borders, leaving thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in southern and eastern Europe, mainly Greece, Italy and Serbia.
Since the deal, very few people are now crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
However, many people continue to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy in unsafe boats with the help of smugglers – a crossing which claimed over 5,000 lives last year alone - and hundreds more arrive each day through the Turkey/Bulgaria or Turkey/Greece land border with the help of smugglers.
The crisis is not over and the route is not closed, it is simply that European leaders fail to acknowledge this.
No-one who knows what is really happening inside Libya could possibly think that people should be returned there. Libya is not a safe place.
Sub-Saharan Africans are being snatched off the streets and roads and detained indefinitely with no due legal process and with no way to challenge their detention. Some of these facilities are run by gangs who extort the detainees’ families for money.
The facilities we’ve seen are dangerously overcrowded. Shortages of food in the detention centres is also a real concern – MSF is seeing adults suffering from malnutrition as well as the impact of not having access to safe drinking water.
Sometimes they have less than one litre of water per person per day. Access to toilets or showers is also very limited, resulting in high rates of skin infections and infestations of lice, scabies and fleas.
MSF teams on search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean have rescued more than 50,000 men, women and children and have documented countless firsthand accounts of the alarming level of violence and exploitation experienced in Libya at the hands of security forces, militias, smuggling networks, criminal gangs and private individuals.
Every Eritrean person we have rescued from the Mediterranean has, in a recent report, testified to being either a direct victim or a witness to severe levels of violence. On their journeys to Europe, each of the interviewees also reported being held in captivity of some kind.
Refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are not the same thing yet over recent years the media and the public have often confused and conflated these very different terms:
• A refugee is a person who has fled their country and cannot return for fear of harm due to their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group. On applying for refugee status, their claim is assessed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or a sympathetic state.
• An asylum seeker is a person who has claimed refugee status in another country, and is waiting to hear if they have been successful.
• A migrant is a person who chooses to move to another country in order to improve their future prospects.
Labels such as ‘refugee’ and ‘economic migrant’ can be unhelpful, as they fail to recognise the complexity of the situation or the vulnerability of all people on the move.
Often, people’s motives for moving change during the course of their journey.
Take one Senegalese man who was rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by MSF. He had initially left his country to escape extreme poverty.
Arriving in Libya, instead of finding work he found himself incarcerated and tortured, so his motive then became simply to find a place where his life would no longer be in danger.
Ultimately, people move for lots of different reasons. Some need more urgent protection, but all deserve to be treated with basic human dignity.
Quite frankly, the majority of these people are not risking their lives on such a deadly journey because they want free schools and medical care.
It’s that their lives are so unimaginably difficult and/or dangerous they truly feel it is their only option.
You often hear the argument that refugees would much rather stay in their region where there are far more cultural and language similarities than Europe. And most do, certainly at first.
However after years of being unable to work or study and with their savings running out, it’s only natural that families look further afield for opportunities to lead something like a normal life.
There are currently 65.3 million around the world who have fled their homes. Yet those who have fled to Europe in 2016 only represent six percent of this number.
To put this figure into greater perspective, the 361,709 people who arrived on Europe’s door make up just 0.04 percent of Europe’s population.
Over half of all those displaced globally come from three countries; Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.
Six countries in the world host the highest number of refugees, 7.5m people collectively; Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Ethiopia – all of which border one of the three countries people flee the most.
Sadly, too many people desperate to escape from war are unable to leave their country at all. Closures along Syria’s borders with Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan mean that people are stuck.
Even critically ill patients have been denied access across the border to our hospitals in northern Jordan.
This is mainly because their families judge they are better able to face such a tough journey. Sometimes they hope to join them later.
Nonetheless, the number of families, women and unaccompanied children is high. According to the UNHCR, 43 percent – nearly half – of people arriving in 2016 were women and children.
But whatever their age or gender, most of the people who make it to Europe are extremely vulnerable: victims of violence and torture, people with disabilities, pregnant women, children and even babies, all of whom are leaving behind conflict, persecution or extreme poverty.
Some people seem to wonder why refugees fleeing war-torn areas don't stay in their countries and take up arms to defend themselves.
A common line of argument makes the comparison to the British during the Second World War.
But the civil war in Syria, for example, cannot be compared to a two-sided battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
While the conflict started as a popular revolution against a dictator, it has since turned into a conflict engulfing the entire region, as well as global superpowers like the US, UK and Russia.
The groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad’s government are wide-ranging in terms of ideology, and currently six million people live in territory under IS control.
Parents of teenage boys in places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq are often desperate to get their children away from armies and militias who forcibly recruit to fill their ranks and to a safe place where they can continue to study and work and live a peaceful life.
Nearly half a million Eritreans have fled their country (with a population of five million, that’s 10 percent) to escape the prospect of indefinite military conscription.
According to some Eritreans we have spoken to on our search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean, some of their countrymen have been forced to serve in the military for 20 years on a wage of roughly £30 per month.
It is little wonder that, in 2016, Eritreans were the second largest group after Nigerians to cross the central Mediterranean Sea.
Many of the people who have made it to Europe are living in appalling conditions. More than 60,000 people, including thousands of children, are stranded in overcrowded camps in Greece.
In Italy, thousands of people who have run out of money or had their claim for asylum rejected have been left destitute, living rough throughout the country often with no access to even their most basic needs.
In Serbia, official camps are also overcrowded and thousands of people have spent the harsh winter sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures, with no access to toilets or showers.
MSF medical teams in the Balkans regularly treat people for injuries associated with violence at the hands of border police, these include lesions, broken bones and even dog bites.
They also treat illnesses that are a result of the conditions these people are forced to live in like scabies, respiratory tract infections, smoke inhalation and even frostbite.
Out of desperation, most sold everything they had or spent their life savings on the trip to Europe – which went into the hands of smugglers or was stolen from them along the way.
‘Voluntary repatriation’ – or choosing to be sent home – is an option in some countries but there is very little budget and few resources to allow this to happen as well as almost no information about how people can apply.
Instead, thousands of people are left in limbo, living in camps in poor conditions, held in detention facilities or forced to sleep on the streets.
The top five countries that people arrived to Europe from in 2016 were Syria (23 percent), Afghanistan (12 percent), Nigeria (10 percent), Iraq (eight percent) and Eritrea (six percent). That’s 59 percent collectively.
A recent UN report noted that the number of civilian casualties last year in Afghanistan were the highest ever recorded.
With nearly 11,500 non-combatants – one-third of them children – killed or wounded, the number of civilian casualties was double that of 2009 – the height of the war in Afghanistan.
In Nigeria, heavy conflict is affecting the north of the country forcing one million people to flee their homes.
Many of them have sought safety in government camps and are entirely reliant on aid, which often isn’t reaching them.
MSF teams last September found more than one in seven children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Many of these people lack basic food supplies and have no access to healthcare.
In 2016 almost 7,000 civilians were killed by acts of terrorism, violence or conflict in Iraq. IS are carrying out systematic and widespread violence in the country, including holding around 3,500 mainly women and children as slaves.
Alleged abuses by troops, militiamen and Kurdish forces have also been recorded.
Reports from Eritrea say the government there forces everyone aged 17 or over to take part in indefinite ‘national service’ in the name of national security – this virtually unpaid work which has been compared to slavery can last for many years.
In 2016 a UK court ruled that sending people who’d evaded this national service back to Eritrea would put them at risk of serious harm.
Any large group of people will be made up of all kinds of personalities. The vast majority will be people just like you – people who love their families and want to live a productive, happy life contributing to society.
A small minority will be anti-social or unpleasant. One or two may even be dangerous. But the person you suspect of being an extremist is actually far more likely to have fled similar extremists or threats.
After terrorist attacks like those in Brussels, Paris, Berlin and London, it’s easy to blame people who look similar to the attackers.
But in fact, the perpetrators of these attacks were generally not new arrivals to Europe – nearly all of them grew up and became radicalised in Europe itself.
Some of the people who have arrived in Europe are keen to come to the UK.
This is only natural, considering the UK’s tradition of presence overseas and the fact that English is so widely spoken globally. Some of these people already have family ties in the UK.
But it is certainly not true that most people want to come to the UK. The majority of people are simply hoping for a safe place to live in mainland Europe until they are able to return home safely.