Migrant Crisis in 2015/2016
The dramatic rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and elsewhere and other conflicts led to a dramatic increase in the numbers seeking asylum in Europe. Many others seeking asylum also came from Eritrea Afghanistan Kosovo Albania Mali and other sub-Saharan countries.
The Refugee Convention 1951 requires states to accept refugees who by reason of well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race religion nationality or political opinion are outside the country of which they are nationals and are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of the state by reason of such fear.
The year before the Brexit referendum saw over 1 million persons seeking asylum in Europe. Many crossed the Mediterranean in flimsy crafts, and several thousand died in the attempt. Over 800,000 arrived by sea. Over 150,000 arrived by sea in Italy. In the first two months of 2016 alone, 123,000 migrants landed in Greece. The mass arrival of migrants was not seen favourably in many EU countries.
Turkey and Syrian Refugees
The prospect that Turkey might join the EU (a possibility since 1965 when the EEC and Turkey entered a customs union was highlighted in the debate and seemed to raise the spectre of further large-scale unrestricted immigration.Turkey has been an applicant to accede to the EU since 1987,but since 2016, accession negotiations have stalled.The EU has criticized Turkey for human rights violations and deficits in the rule of law.
The EU Turkey refugee agreement of March 2016 sought to limit the flow of irregular migrants who had passed through Turkey. In exchange for Turkey’s willingness to secure its borders and host irregular migrants, the EU agreed to settle on a one-to-one basis Syrian migrant living in Turkey who qualified for asylum in and resettlement in the EU.
The EU incentivised Turkey further by lessening restrictions for Turkish citizens in the EU and offering a payment of approximately €6 billion half of which was earmarked to support Syrian refugee communities living in Turkey. Turkish nationals were to have access to the Schengen passport-free area (which excluded Britain and Ireland) by June 2016 provided that Turkey fulfilled certain conditions.
Subsequently, the EU has determined that the conditions for the conditions for free movement remained outstanding. By the end of 2017, the agreement had been largely successful in limiting migration into Europe to Turkey, although a significant number of migrants have continued to cross the Mediterranean and come through other routes into Europe.
Migrants in the EU
Germany effectively opened its borders to refugees accepting over 1.5 million new asylum applicants in the period 2014 to 2017. In the same period over 250,000 applications were made in Hungary, 350,000 in Sweden, 180,000 in Austria 350,000 in France and 140,000 in the United Kingdom.
Populations, in particular in central and Eastern Europe, demanded that their government place some restrictions on the unprecedented mass movements of refugees. Borders and border controls were reinstated within the Schengen area in some places. As with the Eurozone crisis, the Schengen arrangements did not apply to the United Kingdom. Border controls remained.
Although the migrant crisis had little to do with free movement of EU nationals, it featured prominently in the Brexit referendum. An infamous poster by UKIP showed a stream of middle eastern refugees. The leave.eu campaign highlighted the possibility of tens of millions of Muslim entrants following imminent the accession of Turkey into the EU.
The apparent breakdown in the European Union’s ability to deal with critical challenges in this area, in particular, the euro crisis and migration crisis seemed to vindicate the UK’s decision to opt-out of both of these areas of EU competence.
The migrant crisis had nothing to do with the European Union free movement of people. The issue of immigration from the EU, in particular, Eastern Europe since the accession of the eight former Eastern Bloc countries played a very significant role in Brexit. It created a sense that the UK had lost control of its borders.
The Calais Encampment
A large migrant camp developed at Calais on wasteland on a former industrial site. The so-called Calais Jungle was a refugee and migrant encampment in the vicinity of Calais which existed from January 2015 to October 2016. It drew particular public attention in the UK at the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2015 and in early 2016.
There were up to 6,000 migrants living in a makeshift encampment. Most were from sub-Saharan Africa. In 2016 French authorities opened a shelter in the north-eastern part of the camp and erected 125 metal shipping containers converting them into temporary housing units. Numerous attempts were made to evict groups from within the camp which was finally cleared and demolished in October 2016.
The Treaty of Le Touquet between the French and British governments dealt with the implementation of frontier controls between Calais and Dover. The French authorities established immigration checkpoints in Dover, and the UK has immigration checkpoints in Calais and Dunkirk. Customs checks on ferry passengers are not affected by the treaty which take place upon arrival after leaving the ferry.
It seemed that most were attempting to enter the UK labour market to work illegally instead of claiming asylum in France. Some were seeking to return to the United Kingdom having worked there. Many paid smugglers to get them to Calais. It appeared that many migrants were attempting to stow away on lorries crossing the Channel.