The current migration crisis in the European Union triggered a security-oriented response instead of a state sponsored humanitarian program to deliver temporary shelter, food and basic health care while looking for a political solution to implement existing asylum and return policies and laws.
During 2015, we witnessed policies aimed at reinforcing border physical barriers and systematic efforts to keep migrants and asylum seekers stranded along the Western Balkan Route. States progressively managed to stop the flow through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. Tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers remain stranded in Greece with almost no humanitarian support, passively waiting for the EU – Turkey deal to roll out.
The lack of state sponsored humanitarian programs raises the question as to why this is the case. There are two main reasons: the first is that a full-scale humanitarian program could create a pull factor, potentially triggering the movement millions of refugees living in Turkey and the Middle East and other migrants seeking asylum or better living conditions coming from other parts of the world. The second is the fear that terrorists are infiltrating Europe posing as asylum seekers and migrants.
The native right and conservative governments sponsored in various ways the idea that Europe is facing an invasion and that terrorists use human trafficking to infiltrate their operatives. All this leaded to speculations that the crisis is an act of asymmetrical warfare carried out by terrorist groups to destabilize Europe leveraging on their tactical and operational inferiority against superior western powers that are waging war against them. This concern derives from the assessments carried out by EU and NATO in relation to the growing influence that ISIS and other similar groups in Libya have.
In October 2014 the European Union anticipated the failure of stabilization policies and prepared the “Draft Crisis Management Concept for possible CSDP operation to disrupt human smuggling networks in the Southern central Mediterranean”. EU military structures commented the draft highlighting two potential risks to the force approaching refugee vessels at sea: “The potential presence of hostile forces, extremists or terrorists” on the boats and the “threat emanating from the mere handling of large volumes of mixed migrants flow”.
EU Political – military structures also noted that while the focus of the operation is the Southern central Mediterranean, “the issue has relevance to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean as well.” NATO in August 2015 assessed that in Libya terrorist groups, militias, and criminal syndicates are the makers of human and arms trafficking, illegal migration and the refugee emergency. The same evaluation is applied to the massive population movement from Turkey to Greece and through the Western Balkan route.
Building on these assessments European Member states are approaching the crisis as an external defence threat. In May 2015 the European Council launched operation EUNAVFOR MED. The objective of the mission is to conduct a military crisis management operation and contribute to the disruption of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Southern Central Mediterranean.
Recently NATO launched a similar operation in the stretch of sea between Turkey and Greece. States along the Western Balkan route adopted a similar response that includes fencing the borders and stopping the inflow of migrants and preventing further departures from Turkey. The recent controversial EU Turkey deal is a key achievement because it allows for the deportation back to Turkey of the asylum seekers and migrants. However, the deal does not address the growing humanitarian problems faced by the asylum seekers and migrants stranded in Greece and in other countries like Macedonia and Serbia.
Europe, by defending its territory in this way, is not only attacking its own humanitarian principles but is also eroding the general principle of the rule of law, which is the backbone of a democratic European Union. By doing so, it is unintentionally supporting the European destabilization objectives of Middle Eastern terrorism.