In 2015 alone, over one million people crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe, a worldwide phenomena known as the “Syrian refugee crisis” which influences a myriad of political debates from security to humanitarian rights, challenging the cohesiveness of the EU.
During a crisis, leaders often react with the short-term solutions influenced by public opinion and media rather than data analysis. In November, terrorists attacked Paris, killing 130 people and spurring a strong anti-immigration sentiment throughout Europe; consequently, most EU members appear to lean towards increased border security, complicating the already difficult journey for migrants headed west. To make an informed decision, policymakers need current data covering all aspects of this crisis to uncover its causes and effects. On Tuesday, April 19, The GU Institute of International Migration hosted Heaven Crawley, a lead researcher on Migration and Human Security for the MEDMIG project. The project, led by the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University along with a number of other UK universities, is part of the “Mediterranean Migration Research Programme” which has been established through the Economic and Social Research Council’s £1 million Urgency Grant co-funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. Its goal is to better understand the crisis in the region “by examining the journeys, motivations and aspirations of people in Italy, Greece, Malta and Turkey.”
Crawley explained how MEDMIG gathers empirical research in order to insert as much factual evidence as possible into the current debate. As a geographer, Crawley emphasized the two routes through which migrants cross the Mediterranean: the Central Route from Libya to Italy and the Eastern Route from Turkey to Greece through the Aegean Sea. The vast majority of people travel through the Eastern route in numbers around 850,000, whereas about 153,000 take the Central route. Syrians represent over 50% of sea arrivals and 84% of sea arrivals came from the world’s top 10 refugee producing countries in 2015. While these crossings have previously occurred (approximately 200,000 people crossed the Mediterranean in 2014), the recent influx pushes many governments to focus on stopping the flow.
The EU worked for almost half a century to open its borders; today it makes a blatant effort to keep people out as part of an effort to keep victims out of media headlines. However, the cascading border closures between Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Greece will only contribute to the humanitarian crisis. In fact, in Crawley’s view, the crisis revolves less around the people arriving in Europe and more in the EU’s handling of the situation. She described this as “a failure to establish a credible system for responsibility sharing.”
The study also strives to understand how an individual’s personal characteristics interacts with opportunity structures available to them. Crawley insists that traditional push and pull factors of migration do not apply in this case because too many components exist: not only do people need to reach a place of safety, but this place must also provide the means to build a life. People often leave their homes for economic reasons but find themselves in refugee-like situations elsewhere. Furthermore, a lack of complete information leads to policies that neglect how complex routes shape a migrant’s journey. According to Crawley, effective policy must be nuanced and tailored to certain populations that reflect these flows. The complexity of the issue requires targeted policy responses that reflect diverse, stratified, and increasingly complex flows. The expected completion of MEMIG’s study in September will could pave the path for improved policies. For more information on the study, see www.medmig.info.
Christina Johnson is an International Politics: Security major in the SFS who enjoys analyzing today’s global security challenges, human rights, and regional conflicts. Outside her interests in international affairs, Christina shows her Georgetown spirit in organizations like Hoya Blue and Club Sports. She is also a member of the Overseas Studies Student Board and Jack Crew.