Europe’s Shared Burden? Collective Responsibility for Migrants at Sea
Volume X of the Irish Yearbook of International Law, Forthcoming
8 Pages Posted: 3 May 2017
Date Written: April 11, 2017
Over the last two years Europe has been shaken by a crisis at least partly of its own making. Well over a million migrants have made the journey across land and sea to settle in the European Union (EU) since the start of 2015, but it is clear that the burden of reception and resettlement has hit some states much harder than others. Whilst the overall scale of migration flows, as well as the number of refugees seeking asylum in particular, are comparable to those witnessed in other parts of the world, the crisis in Europe is perhaps unparalleled in its social, political and legal complexity. Furthermore, it has taken on a particularly stark humanitarian dimension due to the thousands of lives lost each year during perilous crossings of the Mediterranean Sea in often unseaworthy and unsafe vessels. It is in this context in particular that Ireland has come to play a most pivotal role, having taken the decision to deploy a number of vessels in successive search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean since the start of the crisis in 2015.
Nevertheless, at the start of 2017 this crisis shows little sign of abating any time soon. With 2016 now proving to be the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea, a rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment across the continent (perhaps reaching its starkest heights with the UK’s vote to leave the EU in June), the decision to close and effectively dismantle the “Jungle” camp in Calais, as well as March 2016’s controversial ‘Joint Action Plan’ agreed between the EU and Turkey (preceding by only a few months the failed Turkish coup attempt and the unfinished political fallout that has followed), if anything, the crisis has only deepened in its political complexity and seeming intractability.
Keywords: Migrants, EU, Sea, Mediterranean, Migration, Refugees
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