The most terrible stage yet of Europe’s refugee crisis might have just begun. Fed up with the European Union’s failure to cobble together a common policy that would share the burden fairly, distribute the risk and assume a viable continent-wide policy on the problem, countries have started to do whatever they want. On their own.
“As long as there is no European solution, we will have to take national measures,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz admitted.
So to Austria’s introduction of strict asylum caps. On Friday, it said that it would limit the number of migrants who can enter and claim asylum there to 80 per day. It will also allow a maximum of 3,200 migrants a day to transit to Germany, the single-largest destination for asylum seekers. It has also said it won’t even consider Afghans.
Meanwhile, at a meeting in Zagreb on February 18, the police chiefs of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia quietly struck a deal on how to deal with migrants.
They agreed to organize joint transport from the Macedonia-Greece border all the way to Austria, where they will have the chance to stay or continue their journey to Germany. Police in each country will guarantee the passage of the migrants while within their countries’ limits. All the migrants will also be profiled by officials of all five countries.
With Austria limiting the numbers that it will allow to transit to Germany, expect the following fallout:
A huge backlog of people, which will grow exponentially, as Kirk Day, Europe representative of the International Rescue Committee, puts it. “You’ll have upward of 20,000 to 40,000 people getting stuck over the next few days,” he says, pointing out that on a “continent that says it is founded on the principle of human rights. Right now, all we see is a race by countries that don’t want to be the last one to close their borders.”
The second consequence of this race to close borders and take unilateral action by European countries is that migrants may switch back to the treacherous route to Europe that runs through violent Libya and across a far greater expanse of sea to Italy.
So perhaps we should expect more drownings?