The European immigration crisis is presumed to have started in 2011, when the Libyan and Syrian wars began and the unrest in the Middle East and Africa heightened. The migrants were aided by ‘smugglers’ who would transport them into the continent via boat or truck. By 2016, more than one million people crossed into Europe, the majority of which took enormous risks and embarked on fatal journeys in efforts to escape armed conflict and strive for a better life.
The sudden influx of people sparked a humanitarian and political crisis as European officials struggled to respond. Thousands of individuals died trying to reach European shores and, while some countries welcomed them with open arms, others closed their borders. By the end of 2016, nearly 5.2 million asylum seekers — from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries torn by armed conflict — reached European land. In 2018, more than 138,000 people risked their lives trying to reach Europe, and over 2,000 of them drowned.
Undeniably, among recently arrived immigrants are many who live without a residency permit and, therefore, are not citizens of any European Union or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) country, leading them to be identified as ‘illegal’. Most unauthorized immigrants entered an EU-EFTA country without authorization, overstayed a visa, failed to leave after being ordered to do so or have had their deportation temporarily stayed. A new Pew Research Center analysis based on European data sources estimates that between 3.9 and 4.8 million illegal immigrants lived in Europe during 2017. The total exponentially increased from 2014, when 3.0 to 3.7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in Europe, although little has changed from the recent 2016 peak of 4.1 to 5.3 million individuals. These numbers should not alarm European citizens as unauthorized immigrants account for less than 1% of Europe’s total population of over 500 million people living in the 28 European Union member states, including the UK and EFTA countries.
Additionally, a more recent 2018 multi-nation survey from the Pew Research Center found that the majorities in several European nations support the deportation of immigrants living in their counties. Opposedly, when asked about refugees fleeing from war and violence, the survey established that majorities across Europe support taking in the group which has often entered Europe without permission while seeking asylum.
Today, Europe has endured an influx of illegal immigrants from two primary events: the Belarus-Poland dispute and the Taliban overtake of Afghanistan. Hundreds of migrants remain stranded at Belarus’ border with Poland, as the EU enforced further sanctions on the country. Belarus is currently absorbed by mass protests triggered by an election widely believed to have been rigged in favor of long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko. As a response, Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers in addition to border guards and police. Polish officials are expecting migrants to attempt a “forceful crossing” from Belarus. By now, at least nine migrants have died in their attempts to cross into Poland. Likewise, the European Union foresees a potential wave of refugees fleeing Taliban Rule in Afghanistan. Ministers of 27 EU countries met in Brussels and formally decided that the European Union would rely on countries neighbouring Afghanistan to manage the immigration crisis. They vowed that “the best way to prevent a migration crisis is to prevent a humanitarian crisis”, hence highlighting the bloc’s end goal: avoid a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis in which over 1 million migrants arrived at European borders. Back then, Afghans were the second-largest group of refugees after Syrians, polarising domestic politics and leaving an impact that can still be felt today. Henceforth, the EU pledged to strengthen cooperation with non-EU countries to prevent illegal immigrants from reaching the continent, further earmarking 200 million euros in humanitarian aid to deal with the Afghan immigration crisis.
Undeniably, the illegal immigration crsis has permated Europe and its socio-political sphere since 2011, leaving countries to deal with unprecedented influxes of individuals seeking assylum. With growing global tensions, such inflows are continuing to rise and the European Union has to develop new policies to handle it without causing political, economic and social instability.
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