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How Europe turns a dystopia for migrants

Shihab Sarkar | Published: June 16, 2016 18:20:01 | Updated: October 18, 2017 01:34:58


Migrants hold a poster as they protest at the closed border between Hungary and Serbia in Horgos, Serbia, on Sept. 15, 2015.

The recent BBC report on the plight of Middle Eastern refugees stuck in the European border pockets was highly depressing. Focusing on a section of youths fleeing their war-torn countries in search of a new life in the affluent continent, the report has scathingly exposed the illusoriness of their overseas journey.
In the programme, the BBC newsman conducted some short interviews of young refugees. Both male and female, the dishevelled  and exhausted youths were found to be totally disenchanted. Many just kept roaming aimlessly in the remote areas of a border region, with little food and no permanent place to sleep. At an interview session in a barren park, the reporter found the youths in extreme desperation. They appeared to have reached the end of their tethers. As the viewers were shown, a good number of the youths had picked prostitution as a last resort. Some got engaged in drug-running, not to speak of their being finally hooked to addiction. Dodging occasional police dragnets turned out to be a routine chore. Given the ordeals afflicting them in a foreign land, when asked if they had plans to go back to their countries, most of these youths said no. Many rued the ever-worsening conditions at home.
The youths are part of more than a million war-affected migrants and refuge-seekers ending up in temporary shelters and detainment camps in the West European countries. A year ago, all their roads led to the rich countries in the region. The largest exodus since the aftermath of the World War-II saw people in droves embark on precarious Europe-bound journeys through the sea. While large numbers of people could make it to the shores of Greece and Italy en route to Germany and northern Europe, many others met their doom on the way. Travelling by overcrowded ships and ramshackle boats, hundreds of them drowned in the Mediterranean. On reaching shores, scores of others set out for indefinite journeys across strange lands. With Germany at the lead, many countries in Europe greeted the refugees with open arms. But the sheer pressure of the migrants streaming into the continent made a mess of their dreams. The previously welcoming countries later became reserved, and their patience wore thin, with the popular magnanimity replaced by brewing hostilities.
As days wore on, the Good Samaritan's approach towards the migrants just kept hardening. The spectacle has changed drastically. These days, refugees detained in centres near populated areas of these previously hospitable lands have to get used to incurring the wrath of the general people. Hate crimes and physical attacks targeting refugees have become frequent occurrences. Earlier, governments in a number of countries in the continent, including the Balkans region, had enacted stringent laws to halt the tide of refugees. A handful of the governments, however, preferred to adopt a mild stand. It invariably led to unease in the European Union (EU). A rift could not be averted. In a few months, the illegal migration from the Middle East and a few African countries assumed the proportions of a great crisis.
The deadlock over Middle Eastern migrants in Europe could have been resolved to some extent before it started spiralling out of control. Ground realities, however, proved quite adverse in the multi-pronged wars in Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Beginning in parts of Iraq in 2013, the militant campaigns of Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also called IS, took no time to spill over into Syria. Already torn by die-hard and protracted battles between government forces and the rebels, Syria had also to take in the blows coming occasionally from the fast-growing ISIS jihadists. With the rise of an old enemy dormant in the separatist Kurds, the Syrian war eventually emerged as an intricate web of hostilities. In the following days, neighbouring Turkey was also sucked into the imbroglio. It was at the height of the intensity of ISIS operations in Iraq and the civil war in Syria that the war-weary people from the region began their Europe-bound exodus.
In the beginning, Europe had few reasons to suspect any ominous developments that would surface vis-à-vis the migrants' mass-level entry. There were, however, misgivings on the parts of many quarters. These premonitions later proved true to the distress of well-meaning governments keeping the doors open to the helpless refugees.
The 2016 mayhem at a New Year's celebration in Germany's Cologne prompted lots of discomfort over the refugee influxes. Many pointed the finger at young migrants for starting the trouble. The January and November, 2015 terror attacks in Paris had already prompted France and other Western governments to stand united against the IS. The mayhem in Cologne blamed on rowdy refuge-seeking youths after the mindless terror attacks in Paris seemed to have sealed the fate of the migrants. Young militants linked to IS were found to have been behind the planning and execution of the two Paris assaults. For some, the much-dreaded suspicion finally proved correct: scores of militants entered the European mainland in the guise of wretched migrants. As a consequence, the door was shut on the refugees, most of whom were genuine migrants fleeing devastating wars and poverty back home.
In just a year, migrant-related events took a few quirky turns in Europe. Analysts searched for causes lying in the past.  While dwelling on the rise of IS extremism in Iraq, a senior international correspondent for CNN offered a reminiscence last week. He recalls the days back in the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein's Iraq was struggling under UN sanctions after it had invaded Kuwait. During this time, he says, a senior Iraqi government official would often tell him at his office in Baghdad, "Someday, a new generation of Iraqis will come with a hatred you won't be able to imagine." That official would also say, "We older Iraqis still have positive memories of the West, but they will have only hate. Remember my words."
Halfway through the year of 2016, the European scenario is virtually one of migrant-hostile. The earlier angst and dread over the Europe-bound rush of refugees are largely gone. But in an ironical twist of reality, hundreds of Middle Eastern refugee-carrying boats keep sailing towards the European coasts. Some are intercepted by patrolling navy personnel from the nearby countries; some get caught in storms or meet accidents due to overload or mechanical failures. The European destinations have long ceased to be tempting for the war-displaced and economic migrants. But the sight of hundreds of refuge-seekers from the war-ravaged Middle Eastern and northern African countries still crossing the Mediterranean turns out to be an enigma. The European destinations have been made off-limits, but the desperate voyages have not stopped.    International agencies dealing with illegal migrations point to the network of human smugglers for the unabated refugee influxes. The traffickers have been active since the crisis began in 2014. Their temptations and acts of coercion and brutalities during the voyages only add to the migrants' sufferings.
The great humanitarian catastrophe as it lies in 2016 shows little signs of abatement. The spectre of militant attacks in Europe has lately been getting uncannily more evident than ever before. Alongside, the suspected presence of terrorists in the midst of migrants has also emerged as a reality, both dreadful and distressing.
With the conflicting parties in Syria and Iraq celebrating pyrrhic gains, people displaced from the region appear to be making out little prospects for peace. For now, an accurate forecast about the migrants' fate remains shrouded in the haze of uncertainties.
author's email address: shihabskr@ymail.com
 

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