BBC World Service Newsday today asked Alexander Betts, RSC Director, whether the current high numbers of people trying to enter Europe to seek asylum is a temporary spike or part of a longer term trend. In response, Professor Betts stated that “Asylum numbers go up and down depending on the state of crisis and conflict around the world, but there’s every reason to believe that refugees and displacement will be one of the defining issues of the 21st Century.”
He highlighted that many of the people arriving in Greece and Italy are from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which are refugee-producing countries experiencing conflict and violence. He said, “The problem the world faces is that we’re collectively unable to deal with state fragility, and until we address the underlying causes of those fragile states… people who can’t get protection in their regions of origin, people in desperate situations (will) travel onwards to Europe.”
For example, the conflict in Syria has produced 4 million refugees so far, 3.5 million of whom are in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are now overwhelmed. Betts calls for a multi-pronged response, arguing that “We can’t just wait for a solution in countries like Syria. We’ve got to also enhance protection in countries that host the majority of those refugees… to strengthen their protection capacity… (and) in Europe we’ve got to have better cooperation on a regional scale.”
He also stated that people seeking asylum are being forced to make dangerous journeys to Europe because of EU immigration control policies: “One of the problems is that in Europe, the only way refugees can claim asylum on European territory is to arrive spontaneously, and yet…we do everything we can to stop them accessing our territory.” He called for the creation of alternative, legitimate migratory channels for asylum seekers.