Britain and other European nations are making the refugee crisis worse by forcing people fleeing conflict and persecution to undertake covert and treacherous journeys, a report has found.
The damning report by the Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis (Medmig) project, seen exclusively by The Independent ahead of its release, concluded that the refusal to open up legal routes for those seeking safety in Europe has increased demand for people smuggling on ever more dangerous routes.
Operations to combat the thriving trade has driven the use of smaller and less seaworthy boats to cross the Mediterranean, contributing to the deaths of almost 4,000 migrants so far in 2016 – now the deadliest year ever for refugees.
Professor Heaven Crawley, an author of the report from Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations told The Independent politicians have been “wantonly ignoring” the reality of the crisis to maintain ill-informed government positions.
“The problem is there’s a huge political agenda around migration, so more pragmatic of effective alternatives are being overridden by political aspirations of leaders across the EU,” she said.
“They’ve backed themselves into a political corner where it’s very difficult to do anything else.”
Professor Crawley said the UK’s initial refusal to resettle refugees who had already crossed into Europe was “appalling” as an estimated 60,000 migrants remain trapped in Greece alone.
“All that response does is reinforce some of the perceptions that if you’re a ‘proper’ or ‘genuine’ refugee you stay in a camp and wait for however long it takes to be rescued, and those who make it to the EU are punished,” she added. “Families find that inconceivable.”
Far from combating people smuggling, the report found European operations, border closures and the tightening of asylum regulations in several countries was directly driving refugees into their hands, with every single person interviewed using a smuggler for at least one leg of their journey.
Dr Franck Duvell, from the Centre on Migration Policy and Society at the University of Oxford, said: “EU politicians and policy makers have repeatedly declared they are ‘at war’ with the smugglers and that they intend to ‘break the smugglers business model’.
“The closure of borders seems likely to have significantly increased the demand for, and use of, smugglers – who have become the only option for those unable to leave their countries or enter countries in which protection might potentially be available to them.”
One in 10 refugees interviewed in Greece for the report had attempted to find a legal way to enter Europe but failed, resorting to almost a hundred different and potentially deadly routes that often cost far more than a legal journey.
Many used smugglers for boat crossings but needed them to leave conflict-ridden countries like Syria, where hostile governments or militant groups have attempted to seal borders.
European politicians frequently depict smugglers as part of vast criminal networks but the Media report found they are often found in asylum seekers’ local communities or social networks, with names and numbers traveling by word of mouth.
State officials, the military, law enforcement, and border guards are also involved in smuggling, researchers said, citing numerous testimonies of smugglers bribing police in Greece, Turkey and other countries of transit.
Boat journeys across the Aegean Sea have dropped sharply since the controversial deal made between the EU and Turkey in March, which is seeing migrants arriving on G