By Cynthia Sularz
July marked the height of the refugee crisis taking place in the European Union. In that month alone, 107,500 refugees reached Europe’s borders. Although often referred to as a “migrant crisis,” the situation could be more accurately described as a refugee crisis.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated, “Conflating refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees.” Referring to these individuals as “migrants” dismisses their original reason for emigrating, and takes away the legal protection afforded by refugee status.
The refugee situation is marked not only by a rise in violence and crime, as refugees suffer mistreatment at the hands of smugglers, but also by mass discrimination in Europe.
On August 31, about 200 refugees were recovered from a series of vehicles in Austria. This incident follows an investigation launched after the discovery of a truck filled with 71 dead and mutilated bodies. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner commented on the increase in security checks, “We are seeing that the smuggler gangs are acting in ever more brutal and ruthless ways and we must counter them with stronger and harder measures.”
These checks have been instituted in Austria, Hungary, and other EU nations as the number of refugees seeking asylum continues to grow. However, many criticize these border checks, claiming that they violate the EU’s Schengen information system (SIS). The SIS is a intergovernmental database that grants passage for travelers within the Schengen Area without having to show documentation at borders. While there are some EU nations that run their own national database on travelers, Austria is not among them.
Helmut Marban, spokesman of Austria’s Burgenland state, which borders Hungary, said that these checks are not meant as border control, which violates Schengen law, but rather, ensure that police can take action against human trafficking. Marban also stated that the checks have been approved by Austria’s neighbors: Germany, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Growing political strife has accumulated across the European Union. On August 26, Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed while speaking at a refugee center in Eastern Germany. The heckling resulted from Merkel’s statement that there would be no tolerance for “those who question the dignity of other human beings.” Since the end of World War II, Germany has dealt with the far right advocating for the deportation of Turkish migrant workers who immigrated to help rebuild the divided nation. As the refugee crisis escalates, political protests are increasing against all migrants and refugees entering Germany.
The crisis has also been marked in recent weeks by the sinking of two boats in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya. It is estimated that as many as 500 refugees were aboard the boats. The United Nations estimates that more than 300,000 migrants and refugees have attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea.