Europe: The Asylum Seekers

A new wave of asylum seekers who have fled different conflicts in the Middle East and Africa is pushing towards Europe. The continent has now put its humanity to the test.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: These faces have been haunting television screens and newspaper headlines over the past few years, telling us the harrowing stories of death, starvation and abuse.

Each year, thousands of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East steam towards the shores of Europe. Many of them have to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the world’s deadliest border, in rickety boats and on unseaworthy ships. So far this year, more than 300,000 people have embarked on this perilous sea voyage. People are on the move as never before; and an exodus of biblical proportions is under way. But the key question is, why do thousands of people from far-flung corners of the globe abandon their homes everyday and gamble with their own lives in the wild waves of the Mediterranean? Is it just for a better life and a brighter future? Or it’s a matter of life and death and migration is a last resort of helpless people in the face of adversity? These people - with all their griefs and sorrows - make up just part of the story. How about Europe and the way she treats her uninvited guests? As German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pointed out, this crisis is an even bigger test than the economic meltdown in Greece. In fact, the crisis will be the acid test for European values; equality; democracy; human rights; or perhaps a requiem for them all. Will Europe be committed to her ideals? Only time will tell.

In 2013, about 232 million people left their homelands throughout the world for different reasons. Some of them were economic migrants, pursing a better life in affluent countries; but the majority of them were asylum seekers, fleeing war, persecution and poverty.

Before the fall of the Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, the numbers of asylum seekers to the green continent were declining. But the colonel’s ouster in 2011 set off the country’s descent to the chaos, making life hard and at times impossible in this part of the world. On the other hand, the country’s deteriorating security - a serious repercussion of NATO invasion - has made Libyan coasts a stepping stone to Europe. Thousands of Eritreans fleeing long-term conscription, along with large numbers of Somalis and Nigerians head for Europe from this county. In the Eastern Mediterranean, Syrians cross in their thousands from Turkey to Greece, with other war-stricken companions from Afghanistan and Iraq.

SOUNDBITE [English] Syrian Refugee: “We are sad because we left Syria.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “Don't go inside. This is very dangerous for babies... A lot of people.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “They don't know we're human. They have to treat us like human. We need food and we need a place to sleep.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “Some women here are pregnant, so we need medical care for them.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “The way was water. We passed by sea and it was a playing with life.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “I'm a chemistry student in Damascus University.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “We went for the bus. I lost my two sons behind in the crowd.”

SOUNDBITE [English] Migrant: “Scaring, fearing, bombs, wars, killings, Daesh, Nusra ...”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: The Syrian conflict has torn the nation asunder, leaving thousands dead and forcing millions to abandon their homes. As ISIL continues its march of death and destruction against humanity, many seek refuge in neighboring countries. Yet, some of them pay traffickers to take them to Europe - whatever the cost; humiliation, deportation, capture or even death.

In the drama of migrants’ desperation to find a new life, Europe can play either a protagonist or an antagonist role; either to offer them sanctuary or to treat them like toxic waste; to respect them as human beings or to steer clear of them as if they are insects.

SOUNDBITE [English] David Cameron, British Prime Minster: “This is very testing. I accept that because you've got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, got a growing economy, it's an incredible place to live but we need to protect our border.”

Narration: On paper, the EU has a common asylum system; in reality, it hasn’t and in practice, its state members are not working hand in glove. Britain and France accuse each other of being a soft touch on asylum seekers; Hungary and Greece are building razor wire fences to keep refugees out; and Italy has reduced its rescue missions after the rest of Europe don’t shoulder part of the crisis. Claiming threats to national security and economic stability, these governments are erecting fences, patrolling the seas, pushing asylum seekers back at borders, detaining and deporting them, and denying them their right to apply for asylum. In fact, the European Union is spending more on deterrence than on improving reception conditions.

More refugees are fleeing to Europe than at any time in the last few decades, and an unacceptable number are dying in horrific ways. But as for a solution or even a policy, the EU has come up with none, remaining unable to formulate a coherent plan for the continent. 300,000 lives are at stake and yet the member states don't appear to- be in a hurry.

SOUNDBITE [English] Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greek Politician: “There is no simple, nor single, answer to the challenges posed by migration and no member state can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need this new more European approach.”

Narration: The asylum seekers have escaped war and famine to rebuild their lives in other parts of the world but how many hurdles do they have to get over before that; murder, rape, plunder, pillage, drowning, dying in trucks and still they have to sail on into an uncertain future. They’ve lost everything and they have to start anew but against a backdrop of resistance and reluctance on behalf of politicians and anti-immigration parties.

SOUNDBITE [English] Nigel Farage, Member of European Parliament: “At the moment, the European Union common asylum policy has absolutely no means whatsoever of checking anybody's background and I would say that we must not allow our compassion to imperil our safety. The only way to stop the death is stop the boats from coming.”

Narration: The world is facing a massive refugee crisis. Yet there's something missing from the international community: compassion. When the world will stop sitting on its hands, come hell or high water? 

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