BRUSSELS – Following the death of more than 40 people off the Greek islands Friday, here are some questions and answers about the migrant crisis and what Europe is doing to respond to it.
More than a million people entered the bloc in 2015 and around 3,700 died or went missing on the way. Already in the first three weeks of this year, another 37,000 people have entered the EU, according to the International Organization for Migration.
WHY ARE PEOPLE DYING?
Most people are arriving in Greece after a 6 or 7 mile hop from the Turkish coast, though some still cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy. Often their boats are unseaworthy, and few have reliable lifejackets, if they have any flotation device at all. Also, the EU has no active search and rescue mission. Coastguards and rescue ships react to mayday calls as they are required to under international law, but this takes time. EU countries so far refuse to share sovereignty over their waters with other countries, so the bloc cannot legally establish a search and rescue mission. A new beefed-up European border agency scheme is to be announced in March, but the agency will not have proactive search and rescue powers.
WHAT HAS THE EU DONE TO HELP?
The EU has beefed up the current Frontex border agency and launched a naval operation to hunt human traffickers. To ease the number of arrivals and prevent dangerous journeys across the sea, EU nations agreed to resettle at least 20,000 refugees by bringing them in directly from countries outside Europe.
Twenty-three nations also accepted to share 160,000 refugees arriving in Greece and Italy over two years to lighten the two countries' burden. However, as of Jan. 21, fewer than 400 of the 160,000 potential refugees had moved on to new homes. This is partly because only four expert teams have been set up of the total 11 that had been planned in Greece and Italy to determine who qualifies for asylum.
On top of that, the EU is to provide more than $3 billion plus assistance and assets to Turkey, as well as to countries neighboring Libya that migrants leave or travel across to get to Europe. It hopes its investment will encourage more border police action in those countries.
WHAT MORE IS PLANNED?
The EU's executive Commission has demanded that the expert teams should be working within a month. To better control the Turkey-Greece maritime border, the EU will look to endorse before July a European border and coast guard.
In March, the Commission will introduce policy proposals to control entry and exit more tightly, better register travelers and change the rules governing the Schengen passport-free zone that allows people to travel without border checks or visas through 26 countries in Europe. Currently the rules oblige people seeking refuge to apply for asylum in the country they first arrive in, which would mostly mean Greece and Italy. Those two are overwhelmed and they, along with many others, want this system modified.