Coming into the school year, I was only somewhat aware of the immigration and refugee crisis spreading all over Europe. It was not until my Introduction to Public Policy class that I really got a grasp of the surrounding issues. The class focuses on immigration and refugee policy. A major group project in it is a policy brief on the immigration and refugee practices of a country of our choice. Many are part of the European Union (EU), which has an open borders policy. Open borders across Europe were enacted in 1985 as part of the Schengen Agreement, which did away with border checks. By now, 26 European countries have open borders. Although the idea was good in theory, EU countries could not have predicted its outcome in the years to come.
The citizens of various African and Middle Eastern countries attempt to escape the everyday terror in their homelands by migrating to European countries. The EU’s open borders allow for the movement of these undocumented migrants into Europe. The very high rate of immigrant movement into Europe has meant that many immigrants must wait to receive asylum from the European nation they came to. However, some European leaders are working to stop the flow into their countries. Most heads of government on the continent have made immigration a cornerstone of their political campaigns, vowing to halt immigrants at their borders.
Right-wing European leaders have been dedicated to closing off their countries’ borders. In 2017, Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front party garnered wide support with her emphasis on protecting its borders and therefore, in her view, its citizens. (Le Pen’s nationalistic message spread all over France, but ended up losing to the liberal Emmanuel Macron’s promises of centrist change.) Italy this year witnessed the rise of the right-wing Giuseppe Conte and Matteo Salvini as Prime Minister and Interior Minister after their parties’ election victory. Italy’s close proximity to North Africa means that more African migrants go there, especially those trying to escape war-torn Libya. One of the first moves Salvini made as Interior Minister was the closing of Italian ports to ships carrying loads of Libyan refugees. Viktor Orban of Hungary is yet another right-wing leader who has embraced this authoritarian approach, closing Hungary’s borders. The influence of nationalist and far-right sentiment across Europe is a testament to the rise in the number of refugees attempting to escape their oppressive and violent homelands.
How can European countries bridge the gap between implementing efficient border controls and offering refugees the opportunity to escape war-torn countries? It is easy to identify the roots of the issues involved in the immigration and refugee crisis, but crafting solutions to them is ultimately more important. Far-right and nationalist leaders have policies they consider valid solutions, and are willing to implement them, but in the process they ignore the well-being of the refugees. New policies must be created that respect the humanitarian aspect of the situation. Refugees’ lives depend on it.