Editorial: the boat people – a shared EU burden

African migrants sit on top of a border fence as a Spanish Civil Guard officer (L) stands on a ladder during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories, between Morocco and Spain's north African enclave of Melilla February 19, 2015. Around 35 migrants managed to cross the border into Spain on Thursday, and are currently being held at CETI, a short-stay immigrant centre, according to local media. REUTERS/Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda (SPAIN - Tags: SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)

PHOTO: Reuters / Scanpix

Stuffed into boats, refugees are drowning in the Mediterranean. Last year alone, 278,000 illegal EU border crossings were registered in the region. On their way to Europe, about 3,000 lost their lives. This year, the numbers are on the increase and, already, close to 2,500 have perished. Formerly regarded as a burden for the countries of destination, the crowds coming have swelled so large as to trigger the issue of EU responsibility.

The topic comes with four vital aspects to consider. Firstly, the refugees arriving in Greece and Italy are not the concern of Greece and Italy – but of the EU. For nations on the borders, especially such as border on the sea, pressure by migrants has always unavoidably been stronger. However, they are not coming to Greece or Italy. They are coming to EU. Up to now, these countries have basically been left on their own. Meanwhile, refugees always equal increased economic and social tension. In other words: dealing with refugees takes money, and ability of society to manage the newcomers as a community. Thus far, only the economic aspect has been emphasised, and naturally the crisis-stricken Greece has not been able to cope. Meanwhile, the social aspect might be more important still: is the community willing to welcome them? And both aspects need to be considered.

On paper, it may seem simple. Even so, as evidenced by Greece, the reality is much more complex. Left to itself, the nation is unable to cope with the tide of refugees, and the failure to cope is expressed in fear or feud. Herein lies another proof of why refugees are not for one nation but for the EU to manage: with extreme left indeed popping up here and there, it’s obvious that its real EU rise begun in Greece – partly due to the inability to cope with refugees alone. This is an issue worthy of more thought. Thus, greater solidarity regarding the refugees-issue is in common EU interests. 

Secondly – and this is concerning refugees more broadly than the Mediterranean ones – even with Estonia not intending short-term to alter its conservative refugee policy, a marked political difference should be drawn regarding such as flee appearances of the power we ourselves suffered under not too long ago. For those escaping Ukraine from Russian aggression, Estonia needs to open its doors more widely.

Thirdly: prudent people view all things in longer perspective. Already, it has been discovered that Europe will not manage without immigrants. Even the UK, increasingly closed up as governed by the conservatives, has admitted the state would not manage without those from abroad. Up to now, we have been thinking that the EU ought to extent a helping hand to refugees, the approach colouring the attitude. Even so, another approach is seeing those who come as a solution, sometimes.

And fourthly and perhaps most importantly: due to our inability to solve the situation, thousands are perishing at sea. Whatever the solution – shared responsibility in providing a shelter, or a more effective control of EU borders – something needs to urgently happen.