Europe's Refugee Crisis Returns After Pandemic Pause
As borders closed and lockdowns were rolled out around the world, the steady flow of illegal immigration that has plagued southern Europe for years was also temporarily halted. But new arrivals are now accelerating again, and some of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic are now also forced to deal with a worsening refugee crisis.
In Italy and Spain, the lack of tourism has been particularly hard on the economy and now a growing number of refugee boats are landing on the empty beaches, while in Greece, the pressure is rising in the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish border crisis, with the island camps still overcrowded and increasing popular unrest on Lesbos and other islands in the Aegean Sea.
ITALY As of June, more than 13,000 migrants have landed on Italy's shores, which is roughly 9,000 more than during the same period last year. The influx spiked last month, as many chose to embark on the dangerous journey during July when the sea was relatively calm, the UN Refugee Agency reports.
• With both COVID-19 and an economic crisis plaguing Tunisia, Italy has seen a higher-than-usual number of migrants arriving from the North African country. The rise — which is still a fraction of the amount which arrived at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015 — has prompted Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese to call the situation a health problem, claiming that migrants were bringing the coronavirus back to Italy.
• However, Italian daily Internazionale reports these claims as false, as an average of more than 200 residents in Italy have tested positive for the coronavirus every day in the last few weeks, compared to about three newly arrived migrants per day.
Refugees arriving in Malaga, Spain, on June 20— Photo: Jesus Merida/SOPA Images/ZUMA
SPAIN Spanish authorities have also reported an increase in Mediterranean crossings, with around 2,000 migrants arriving in June out of which 700 — mostly Algerians — landed on the shores of Murcia and Almeria the last weekend of the month.
• The Canary Islands are also experiencing a spike in arrivals, as increased border controls in northern Morocco are pushing the migration routes to the Atlantic side, where the closest islands are 95 kilometers west of the Moroccan coast.
• El Pais reports that at least 50 African migrants have drowned in late August after their boats sank on the perilous route that is rife with undercurrents and has limited coast guard resources. One vessels broke down off the coast of Mauritania, resulting in 40 deaths, while the second shipwreck took place near the coast of Western Sahara, and left at least 10 people dead.
GREECE The country only received 244 migrants in July, compared 5,008 the same month last year. Although, camps are still overcrowded and resources and the ability to social distance remain limited.
• While life is slowly returning to normal for Greeks and tourists alike, asylum seekers and migrants in reception centers on the Greek islands continue to be under lockdown although very few infections have been detected among the migrants.
• In addition, Doctors Without Borders reported in July that a large number of refugees with severe health and mental health conditions are threatened with eviction from their accommodation, cut off from cash assistance and left in the streets without access to shelter, protection or proper healthcare.
• As of June 1, all refugees who received international protection before May 1 are no longer eligible to stay at reception facilities. In total, more than 11,000 people are set to be evicted from reception and identification centers, camps and hotels, according to Refugee Support Aegean.